A Pandemic Courtship

Juan Carlos and Bridget met online and fell in love

Juan Carlos Paredes had been discerning his vocation for several years, “waiting to see where God was calling me.”

He participated in several retreats with the Diocese of Sacramento’s Office of Vocations and with some religious communities. He also was dating to “see if God was calling me to the specific vocation of matrimony, but I never saw something clear.”

Juan Carlos, 36, has been co-host since 2012 of Radio Santisimo Sacramento’s (1240 AM) popular bilingual “Spanglish” show, “Young Soul - Alma Joven.” He received the gift of a lifetime when his friends, a married couple who wanted him to be married, bought him a six-month subscription to CatholicMatch in November 2019.

He has been involved in many ministries at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Sacramento for the past 14 years. “I was praying to mother Mary and St. Anne, for a girlfriend who would like to be a saint and also married in the Catholic Church,” he says. “I have a special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, so I prayed to her very strongly for the profile I placed on CatholicMatch.”

On April 1, 2020, Juan Carlos received a notification that Bridget Horan of Concord had looked at his profile after she had reactivated her account. He read her profile, looked at her photos, and decided to send her a message.

Bridget, who is a construction engineer in the Bay Area, didn’t reply for two weeks. “I thought she was playing me for April Fool’s Day,” Juan Carlos laughs. “When she replied, she explained that her delay was because she was praying and discerning if it was the right decision to continue our conversation.”

BRIDGET: I’m from Eagan, Minnesota and was raised Catholic. I’ve always been into my faith and discovered it on a deeper level at Iowa State University. After college, I did a two-year mission in the Philippines with a Catholic organization, which was formative in my faith life.

JUAN CARLOS: I was born and raised in El Salvador. I came to the United States when I was 19. In 2007 in Sacramento I lived the experience of SEARCH (diocesan youth retreat) and that’s where I met Christ. Since then I’ve always been trying to be loyal to the Lord.

BRIDGET: In 2014, I joined CatholicMatch. I’ve been on and off it the past seven years. I’ve had previous relationships with men I met on the site. I’m serious about my faith and I wanted a husband to have a shared mission of raising a Catholic family together and evangelizing the world. It seemed CatholicMatch was the best place to meet someone who was like-minded.

I went through a breakup around January 2019. I decided to take some time for healing. For a year and a half I intentionally did not date. I went on a pilgrimage in June 2019 to El Tepeyac in Mexico City to pray to Our Lady, with the intention for my heart to be healed from the wounds of past relationships and the wounds of life.

When the pandemic started, I was furloughed from my job for a few weeks. I thought maybe this was the right time for me to be open to a relationship again. I jumped back on CatholicMatch, as I hadn’t been on for a while. I’d had such a wonderful period of deep prayer and healing. But I was trying to discern, pray and decide if I should date again or not.

JUAN CARLOS: When she replied, what a beautiful apology she offered me. It was my last month on CatholicMatch. I thought, maybe this is it Lord. We started some beautiful conversations online. Then we emailed. We exchanged phone numbers to text and started doing video chats. We didn’t want to meet in person yet because of COVID-19 restrictions.

On May 5, we decided to meet in Fairfield for a picnic in a park. It was closed due to COVID-19. Since we were close to Holy Spirit Church, I suggested we have our picnic in the small garden by the statue of Our Lady. Bridget was enforcing six feet apart on my blanket out of caution for her co-workers. There was a lot of hand sanitizer after I held her hand. The following Tuesday we had our second picnic in the same place.

BRIDGET: Soon after, he took me to the Sundial Bridge in Redding, as I’m an engineer and I had never seen it before. We spent four hours walking on the trails and talking.

JUAN CARLOS: We prayed the rosary for the first time together there.

BRIDGET: I didn’t know all the prayers yet in Spanish. I was learning.

JUAN CARLOS: I asked her to be my girlfriend on May 25 and she said yes. We started the tradition of dating on Thursday nights and I would drive to her apartment. We had dinner, talked and grew to know more about each other.

BRIDGET: We wanted to be chaste in our relationship. We talked about that from the beginning, because for both of us that hasn’t been an easy challenge in the past. We agreed it was a huge priority and were open to it. As it progressed it ended up being a good thing. It wasn’t easy, but it was rewarding.

JUAN CARLOS: I met Bridget’s parents in June on FaceTime. I was nervous, but it was so pleasant from my backyard and I gave them a tour of our fruit trees and they met my dogs. I felt they embraced me since day one. I felt we knew each other for years.

BRIDGET: We went to visit my parents in July at their house in Eagan and again in October.

JUAN CARLOS: Two weeks later I had a secret video meeting with her parents, asking for their blessing and permission to propose marriage. I wanted it to be a surprise. We said a prayer together, asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and they said yes. Eileen, her mom, asked what day I would propose and I said on Our Lady’s feast day, Dec. 12.

Eileen and Jim looked at each other. Eileen said, “We shared our love story with you, but we never told you we got engaged 33 years ago on Dec. 12.” That is when I felt the confirmation of the Holy Spirit.

BRIDGET: On Dec. 12, the shrine was just open for adoration. He had a few of his closest friends and family there, some of my friends, and my parents were on FaceTime. All were hiding in the side chapel. We brought flowers to Our Lady and I could see people videotaping us, but I didn’t think too much about it. We walked off the altar and he was fumbling in his jacket for a microphone. He started to talk and cry a bit.

JUAN CARLOS: I couldn’t say everything I wanted to say. So I said, “Since the first time I saw you I knew we were going to love each other like crazy.” I couldn’t picture a life without her. Then I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me.

BRIDGET: When I said yes, I heard his best friend yell out, “She said yes!” It was very touching and I was really surprised. I was thrilled. Then on our wedding day, June 5, I turned 32.

Bridget and Juan Carlos are wed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

JUAN CARLOS: I always joke that there’s only going to be one day to remember for the rest of her life.

BRIDGET (LAUGHING): He chose that very wisely.

BRIDGET: I recommend dating online as you can meet great people. As a woman you need to take precautions. There’s not necessarily a screening process, so it was important to me that a guy showed interest in meeting in person sooner rather than later. One of the dangers for women is we can give too much of our heart away just through conversation. You can’t start a relationship without meeting to see if there is a connection on both sides.

I don’t think it’s healthy when it drags on for more than a few weeks online. Don’t be afraid to say I’m not interested if you are not. If you get a weird vibe from someone it’s best to cut it off. Based on what our past experiences are, we can have this idea in our minds that we need to be open, but we also need to guard our hearts.

Even with those warnings, CatholicMatch is a beautiful thing, because without it I would never have met Juan Carlos. We live more than an hour away from each other and in the normal course of things we would never have crossed paths.

JUAN CARLOS: Before getting into online dating, know yourself and love yourself, because you cannot give what you don’t have. Have an open mind and an open heart for what the Lord is going to bring. Follow the example of St. Paul. He speaks to men as the future head of the family – to be faithful, to be loyal, and to take care of women. Practice your faith and prayer life, and you will form into a better person. That is my advice to young men. This is not just about dating. It’s about looking for your future spouse. It’s not a game.

BRIDGET: My prayer life was super strong when we met and that’s absolutely key. If you want to be in a relationship, be faithful to daily prayer, because it doesn’t get easier. Relationships can distract from your personal prayer, so you need to have that routine in place, otherwise it becomes too easy to give it up. Without having that anchor, the ups and downs of a relationship are too much for us to handle. As frail human beings, we need that connection with our Lord.

Learn More

About marriage preparation for engaged couples in the Diocese of Sacramento at www.scd.org/engaged

Catholic Herald Issue