Next Saturday evening, Dec. 18, Deacon Steve Greco and his wife, Mary Anne, will enjoy the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade from one of their favorite spots: a table at the harbor-fronting Rusty Pelican restaurant.
Two of their three children will be joining them, along with two grandchildren.
The holiday viewing is a tradition, but this year it will be even sweeter: Dec. 18 marks the Grecos’ 50th wedding anniversary. The longtime parishioners and church leaders at Irvine’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton have kept busy over the years with various faith-based activities including Deacon Steve’s weekly radio show, “Empowered by the Spirit,” on the Diocese of Orange’s Relevant Radio – AM 1000.
The secret to their successful marriage, they say, is no mystery.
“We both have worked with engaged couples,” Deacon Steve said. “One of our programs is called, ‘Marriage in the Lord.’ I always ask each couple, ‘What’s the most important thing about a successful marriage?’
“They say things like trust, communication, spending time together. Almost never do they say, ‘Putting Jesus at the center of the marriage.’”
And that’s the key, according to Deacon Steve and Mary Anne.
“It’s the glue,” Mary Anne said. “Things don’t always go smoothly in life, but we always have God and prayer.”
Adds Deacon Steve: “Very early on, we got heavily involved with Bible studies, charismatic renewal, etc. We were prayer group leaders, too. Putting activities of the church and the Lord at the center of our marriage has helped us bond and grow together.”
MET IN JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
Deacon Steve and Mary Anne met in the seventh grade at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Glendale, where they both grew up.
“I was Boys League president,” Deacon Steve recalls, “and she was Girls League president.” They went on their first date – Disneyland – on graduation night at Glendale High School. They continued dating while Mary Anne studied social sciences at USC and he studied history and education at Loyola Marymount University.
Deacon Steve is a lifelong Catholic. Mary Anne converted to Catholicism before they married in 1971.
“To be united in your faith is incredibly important,” Deacon Steve said. “I felt very strongly that I really needed to marry someone who had a very strong faith in the Lord and who put Jesus at the center of the marriage.”
Mary Anne added, “I thought it was very important for us to practice the same religion when we had children. To be centered on God was very important.” Today, their children — Laura, 47, Paul, 44 and Mark, 42 – remain active in the church.
A ‘BORN COMMUNICATOR’
Members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton since 1974, Deacon Steve, despite his heavy involvement in the church, never wanted to become a deacon until then-Pastor Father Tom Pado, now retired, asked him to consider.
Ordained a deacon in 2007, Deacon Steve’s now one of Orange County’s senior deacons (there are around 120). He retired from executive management in the biopharmaceutical industry in 2016.
Deacon Steve has written seven books and has been on several overseas missions. He helped raise money to build a church in poverty plagued Tondo, in Manila, the Philippines, and his missionary work also has taken him to Indonesia and Egypt, among other countries.
“I really feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in a major way working with the poor,” he said.
Deacon Steve has been active on the radio since 2015 after he founded Spirit- Filled Hearts Ministry in 2014.
Jim Governale, radio program manager for the Diocese of Orange, calls him a “born communicator.”
“I was taken initially by his almost childlike enthusiasm and zeal for evangelization. I don’t think I have ever met someone who is so ‘on fire’ for his faith,” said Governale.
The Grecos, who have led 15 pilgrimages together, have more advice for a long, successful marriage.
“Learning to forgive is a biggie,” Mary Anne said.
“You have to reinvent yourself, forgive one another and be there for each other through thick and thin,” Deacon Steve said.
They married young – at age 21.
“We had to grow up together,” Mary Anne said, “and even to this day, we’re still learning things about each other. It’s always an evolution.”
They also try to be encouragers for each other.
“If one of us gets down and gets negative about ourselves,” Deacon Steve said, “we say to the other person: ‘Don’t receive that on your behalf.’”
“Or,” added Mary Anne, “we’ll say, ‘Tell me three things you like about yourself.’”
The couple shared a favorite Bible verse, Romans 8:28:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
“You can try to do something,” Mary Anne explained, “but if you don’t do it right, God can turn it to work toward good. That gives us peace.”