PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Another weekend in New York City means another engagement proposal photo shoot for Queens-based photographer Aj Tolentino, who has no complaints about the business that has come his way during the pandemic.
“I’ve seen way too many proposals in 2021,” Tolentino said, “more than any other year, and I’m assuming this will continue in 2022.”
Tolentino spends time during the photo shoots talking with the couples in order to get them comfortable in front of the lens. The tone of the love stories he’s encountered leads him to conclude that the uptick in numbers has a direct correlation to the way people felt during lockdown.
“Based on the stories I’ve heard this year, it’s a lot of human emotions which bring about those decisions,” he said.
Some wedding industry vendors have also seen a promising rise in sales numbers. In 2020, jewelry retailers Kay, Zales and Peoples saw double-digit percentages of growth in engagement ring sales compared to the same period in 2019, according to Jamie L. Singleton, president of Signet Jewelers, the parent company of Kay, Zales and Peoples. She told the Washington Post that the traditional “engagement season” between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve brought in bigger sales than usual for those jewelry emporiums.
“What we’re learning is that the people that we quarantine with, for the most part, have become the nucleus of [our] lives,” Singleton said.
Even as engagements are on the rise nationwide, local data also suggests that increasing numbers of couples — if they’re Catholic — aren’t shying away from saying ‘I do’ at the altar.
At St. Francis DeSales Church in Belle Harbor, pastor Father William Sweeney says sacraments, matrimony included, are in high-demand.
“We’re up in everything,” Father Sweeney said. “We have over 20 weddings scheduled for 2022.”
That total is on pace to meet, or exceed, the total of 27 weddings celebrated at St. Francis DeSales in 2021, and more than the 16 weddings held there in 2020. What the pastor noticed was that even if couples are choosing to have “destination” weddings, they still want to get married in the church first and receive the sacrament.
“I think they have faith and they’re trying to do the ‘right thing’ to get it blessed by the church,” Father Sweeney said. “All the kids down here have a connection with the church from the time they were little children.”
One bride-to-be preparing to get married at the Queens church this fall is someone who grew up learning about her faith at St. Francis DeSales School and Fontbonne Hall Academy, Bay Ridge. Annette Scotto, 28, and Giuseppe DeLuca got engaged in June 2021 after four years of dating. Scotto’s uncle, who serves as a deacon in the diocese, will be the celebrant at their wedding ceremony. She says that getting married in the church is a no-brainer.
“I grew up Catholic, I received every single sacrament,” Scotto said. “I don’t know why I would stop at [having a Catholic church] wedding.”
Out of the 12 weddings Scotto plans to attend this year — not including her own — at least half of them are getting married in the Church and are practicing Catholics.
According to a 2007 report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), more than half (55%) of Catholics say their faith “very much” influenced their view of marriage. The number is even higher — 62% — for Catholics who say they practice their faith and attend Mass regularly.
For Frankie Ferdinand, 41, after more than 15 years of knowing the family of his fiance Evelin Zulay Castillo, 31 — and after formally dating her for a couple of years — the pandemic only solidified that she was who God had in mind for him.
“If there was anything the pandemic brought up front, it showed me that this is who I’ve been praying to God [about] for a long time,” Ferdinand said. “It only brought us closer.”
Ferdinand proposed on Christmas Eve 2020. The couple plans to be married this May at St. Clare’s Church in Rosedale, a church that holds a special place in the lives of Ferdinand’s family.
“My sister got married there,” he said. “That’s also the church [where the funeral service was held] when my mom passed away; we did everything at that church. It has so much significance for me that it was really important that I had the wedding there.”
While wedding ceremony totals in the Diocese of Brooklyn are on an upward trend, it wasn’t always that way, according to data from The Kennedy Report, the official directory of statistics for Catholic dioceses across the country.
From 2015 to 2016, the number of weddings in the Diocese of Brooklyn dropped by 61 from 2267 to 2206. By 2018, weddings declined even more, with only 1,993 recorded. Kennedy Report officials said statistics for 2019 were not available, but in 2020, the latest numbers rebounded dramatically, to a high of 3,053.
“The pandemic has brought about a new sense of thinking outside of the box with regards to romance and family and what it means to be together,” said Christian Rada, the diocese’s Director of Marriage, Family Formation and Respect Life Education.
“From a marriage preparation perspective,” Rada said, “we have seen the numbers for couples who are engaged and going through pre-Cana go up since 2020.”
More than the white dresses, bouquets and multi-tiered wedding cakes, the joy of the journey from wedding preparation to the celebration of matrimony at the altar of their chosen church isn’t lost on grooms- and brides-to-be in Brooklyn and Queens.
“I don’t know what unforeseen things the future will throw at us,” Ferdinand said, “but it just showed me that we definitely can do it, together.”