The story of Marriage Encounter began in Spain where, in the 1950's, a priest by the name of Fr. Gabriel Calvo began developing a series of conferences ending in questions that encouraged husbands and wives to become more open and honest. in 1962 he brought together 28 Spanish couples for the first "Encuentro Conyugal".
The movement grew within the structure of the Christian Family Movement (CFM) and spread throughout parts of South and Central America. The Marriage Encounter movement in the English-speaking world began in August 1967 at the close of the CFM conference at Notre Dame University.
At the Notre Dame conference, a Mexican couple and an American Missionary priest from Mexico presented the encounter program to seven American couples and a few priests and nuns. From that beginning, Marriage Encounter has grown worldwide to include 1.25 million people, with a growth rate of some 200,000 per year.
Following a 1968 weekend, a number of couples made the decision to actively bring Marriage Encounter to as many couples as possible.
The New York area quickly became a center of ME and developed as the core of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter movement, under the guidance of Ed and Harriet Garzero, a couple active in CFM, and Fr. Charles A. Gallagher, SJ, a Long Island youth retreat master. Marriage Encounter began scheduling a weekend every month, then two per month. Couples urged their friends to experience the encounter and, by the beginning of 1970, an encounter was scheduled for every weekend.
Certain couples were selected each weekend to receive further training. They became "team couples", able to present weekends along with a priest to help others rediscover the love that brought them together.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter's first overseas expansion came in 1971. American team couples were sent to Belgium, and later to England, and then on to more and more countries to the point where there are now 72 countries that have experience the weekend.
To keep Marriage Encounter alive and strong, a follow-up program was initiated, based on a system of local communities for support. Most importantly, the encounter technique - the technique of dialogue to enable couples to communicate their deepest feelings - was improved and refined.
Encounter weekends have always been open to all faiths. But in 1971 the decision was made to introduce Marriage Encounter to the Jewish and Episcopal faiths. The Catholic movement supported them financially and with guidance while their programs began. Since then, many religious faiths, including Methodist, Lutherans, the Reorganized Latter Day Saints, Presbyterians, etc., have developed their own expressions.
Expanded Marriage Encounter programs, offered to the entire Catholic Church, are growing and spreading. They include sessions for couples, evenings for parents, parish growth programs, family weekends and premarriage instructions.
Solving individual marital problems has never been the goal of Marriage Encounter. Instead, during the weekend a husband and wife are given the opportunity to share the emotions that so often are kept buried inside. They are taught how to make such communication a part of everyday life.
Marriage Encounter emphasizes the beauty of belonging totally to one another. Marriage Encounter teaches that marriage is a joyous celebration of God's plan for men and women, shared with the person chosen to be loved.