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Something Brandeis, something bleu

By chriscal

Section: Features

August 28, 2009

Newly weds: Pictured are Erin and Matt Slattery along with Father Walter Cuenin, who officiated at the couple’s wedding.<br /><i>PHOTO COURTESY OF the Matt and Erin Slattery</i>

Newly weds: Pictured are Erin and Matt Slattery along with Father Walter Cuenin, who officiated at the couple’s wedding.
PHOTO COURTESY OF the Matt and Erin Slattery

The sun flooded through the stained glass windows of Saint Pierre de Montmartre early that July morning. The weather – cool and sunny – was perfect. The church – picturesque. The backdrop – ideal.

Outside, classical Romanesque architecture supported the famous church and tourists gathered to catch a glimpse of the happy couple inside, hoping to capture a piece of this picture-perfect moment in time.

Inside, the bride walked down the aisle in a dress made of Chantilly lace – bought in France for the occasion, and sewn into a gown by the groom’s mother.

The couple’s friends and loved ones had traveled a long way to witness the marriage of Associate Director in the Office of Donor Relations, Erin Warnke and her fiance, Matthew Slattery. They came from Great Britain, Scotland, the United States, France, Serbia and Hong Kong.

The priest, too, had come a long way from his usual parish – Brandeis.

As the couple exchanged rings and vows, Brandeis’ own Rev. Walter Cuenin gathered the 40 wedding guests in a circle around the alter. As Brandeis’ Catholic chaplain, Cuenin was accustomed to celebrating Mass, and had even been a guest at the weddings of various Brandeis employees.

This, however, was his first wedding ceremony in Paris.

The Slatterys married July 18 in the City of Lights in a Roman Catholic ceremony performed by Cuenin. For Erin Slattery, an employee of Brandeis’ Office of Donor Relations, the wedding had Brandeis connections all over, not ending with Cuenin’s involvement.

So how did the newlyweds and Cuenin find themselves in this fairy tale moment? It begins with Valentine’s Day 2008.

Erin and Matt Slattery were introduced when she moved to Boston for graduate school. The couple had been dating for five years when they left for a trip to Paris in February 2008.

Though the location for their February vacation to the City of Lights was already romantic enough, Matt Slattery had secret plans for something a bit more romantic – a wedding proposal. Initially planning to propose to his girlfriend in front of the very church they eventually married in, Matt Slattery was forced to improvise when an unsuspecting Erin Slattery requested to spend the day at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris’ Montmartre neighborhood.

“We had just flown in and I wanted a full day at Montmartre, not just the afternoon,” Erin Slattery said.

Since Paris is filled with romantic spots, Matt Slattery made do with his girlfriend’s request and proposed at the location of that day’s outing. She said yes, and the planning began.

When the time came to choose a location for the wedding, Paris came easily as a top choice. After all, Paris held special meaning for the couple – Matt Slattery studied abroad there; the couple had been there together before and loved it; and of course, there was that romantic engagement to consider. As for choosing a venue for the Mass, it didn’t hurt that there was a beautiful medieval church – Saint Pierre de Montmartre – the couple had fallen in love with while there.

“Of all the places where you can picture yourself getting married, when I pictured myself in that church, it just seemed right and it was right for [Matt] too,” Erin Slattery said.

Now that the idea had been settled, all that was left was the planning. So the couple wrote a letter to the church to look into a possible ceremony there. Conversational enough in French to get by, but not completely fluent, Erin Slattery asked Prof. Hollie Harder, head of Brandeis’ French department, to help translate her letter.

After the letter was signed, sealed and delivered, all that was left was the wait. After a few weeks and still no response, the couple decided to write another letter, this time enlisting the help of a friend in Paris to hand deliver the letter to the church. This time they heard back right away and got the good news – they could marry in the church.

But then came the dilemma – who would marry the couple? After all, what’s a Catholic ceremony without a priest?

Matt Slattery had a Scottish relative who would’ve helped, but he was going to be in the United States the weekend the couple had chosen to wed. And it turned out the church’s priest was going to be out of town that same weekend, too.

Back at Brandeis, Erin Slattery asked for help with paperwork from another familiar Brandeisian – Rev. Cuenin. “I’d seen Father Cuenin around campus and he’s this great guy…so nice. So I contacted him and said ‘Can you help me? I’m a little overwhelmed with this process.’”

It turned out Cuenin, who had lived in Paris for a few years, knew the church very well and had performed Mass there before. Out of interest, Cuenin asked who was going to perform the ceremony. Out came the bride’s confession – she really didn’t know yet, and would Cuenin have any suggestions? Any colleagues in Paris or friends who might consider a ceremony in English for the couple?

It just so happened Cuenin was going to be in Paris the same weekend, on vacation with his sister and brother-in-law, and was happy to help.

<i>PHOTO COURTESY OF the Matt and Erin Slattery</i>

PHOTO COURTESY OF the Matt and Erin Slattery

For Cuenin, who had presided over the weddings of three Brandeis employees this year alone, the choice was a natural one. The Catholic chaplain once performed over 100 ceremonies a year as a priest in Newton and had even wed a couple at St. Peter’s in the Vatican. This one, however, would be his first in France.

Performing this ceremony and getting to know the couple over the course of the preparations was a delight for Cuenin. “As I got to know them in preparation for the wedding, just knowing them as a couple made it joyful for me to be there as well,” he said.

“She’s a very bright, very interesting young woman and he is as well, and I felt happy to be a part of that relationship.”

Cuenin also became a part of the wedding plans because, even in a digital age, planning a wedding from across county is bound to pose certain obstacles. For Erin Slattery, though, the opposite rang true for two reasons, one being Cuenin. From that initial meeting, he proved an invaluable confidant for the couple, easing them through the process and even recommending locations for their reception.

“He’s been really helpful,” Erin Slattery said. “He made [the paperwork] very easy and he actually was able to help us out with recommendations. He’s just given us personal advice and talked to us and [the process has] been really smooth.”

The French locals, too, were more than happy to assist the couple. “You’d be surprised, planning a wedding in Europe is probably easier than planning a wedding here,” she said. “I think it’s just because there’s only so much you can do from here.”

Call it travel barriers or typical French “laissez faire,” but Erin Slattery’s laid-back attitude fit that famous French ease. The locals she dealt with in planning exhibited the same laid-back attitude, too.

And when in Paris, do as the Parisians do. In keeping with their surroundings, the couple mixed certain French themes into the wedding and reception from the invitations to the music and food.

At Les Noces de Jeanette, guests dined a la French style on champagne, pâté, filet mignon, chocolates, wine and wedding cake at a “banquet that never ended,” Cuenin said.

In keeping with the French theme, Erin Slattery’s colleagues even threw her a French-themed bridal shower complete with French décor, deserts, cheese and bread before she left for Paris.

So how does one top a wedding in Paris? And where did the newlyweds choose to honeymoon? Since so many of their family members and friends had already made the trip to Paris, the couple made sure they got their money’s worth. The couple spent the weekend with guests, taking in the city, cruising down the Seine River and dancing the night away at a jazz club.

After spending a few days with family and friends in Paris, the couple headed to Provence, where they ate good food, enjoyed the beautiful countryside and took in the famous Tour de France.

It was a seemingly seamless wedding, and a big part of that was due to those Brandeis connections Erin Slattery had.

“I just want to emphasize how great it has been to be at Brandeis while this is happening,” Erin Slattery said.

“Prof. Harder and Father Cuenin have been wonderful in offering personal, emotional and professional guidance through this somewhat complex and delicate process.”

“I can honestly say that if I were not at Brandeis and had access to such a wonderful community of people, this process would have been much more frustrating and challenging – and, honestly, I think the Paris wedding may not have been possible.”

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