The Benincasas, Carmine and Gilda, alongside daughter Theresa Franco and her husband Frank. The Benincasas are marking their 70th anniversary this year, while the Francos will mark their 50th anniversary. Photo courtesy the Benincasa family

Love, faith key to 70 years of marriage

  • February 8, 2024

For Gilda and Carmine Benincasa, their love story began inside a school in their Italian homeland. 

“We met in the local school when we were in Grade 3,” Gilda recalled. “Of course, we met each other again five or six years later, but I remember it started in grade school.” 

Not long after, and despite she being from Malito and Carmine neighbouring Belsito, the two would find themselves together not in the schoolyard, but inside the beautiful chapel of San Giovanni Battista Church in Carmine’s hometown. Gilda and Carmine were married alongside their siblings, as Carmine’s sister Ida and Gilda’s brother Guiseppe completed the double wedding on March 6, 1954. 

Shortly after, Carmine and Ida immigrated to Canada. A year later Gilda followed with her brother, with the help of her husband. 

“My father worked very hard to pay for the ticket to bring her over,” Theresa Franco said with her mother listening by her side.  

As their new life began in Canada, the couple’s shared Catholic faith became a pillar on which their marriage was, and continues to be, upheld. Holy Name Church on the Danforth in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood is where they would attend countless Masses, services and celebrations. 

“We would go to Holy Name Church together with our four children every Sunday,” Gilda said. “Everything from baptism, communion, confirmation and marriage our family has done there.”  

Oftentimes, joyful celebrations would carry over from attending Mass to the family’s personal lives, a testament to the importance of the Church in Gilda and Carmine’s lives. 

“When I look back at pictures from the past, every time there was a family gathering, it was always after Mass,” Franco recalled. “Everybody would gather at somebody’s house after Mass, that was something important to the family.” 

Seventy years is the milestone the Benincasas will be celebrating at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica on Marriage Sunday Feb. 11, an annual ceremony where the Archdiocese of Toronto highlights the importance of the institution of marriage rooted in faith. Archbishop Francis Leo will preside at a special Mass to honour married couples, with special recognition for those celebrating 25th, 40th, 50th, 60th and 60+ wedding anniversaries this year. Each couple is invited to renew their marriage commitments.

Also attending the Mass will be Franco and her husband Frank, celebrating their own milestone of 50 years together this June. Franco said witnessing her parents loving relationship with each other and Christ helped her through her marriage.  

“Two things that have always affected me are their display of genuine generosity and hospitality all in the centre of the love of God. For us to listen to and respect one another, that God would always provide for us through thick and thin, that’s what they taught us,” said Franco. 

With her own unique experiences through both faith and marriage, which included working more than 15 years as pastoral and chapel coordinator with the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Franco is adamant that her sense of gentleness and hospitality was something passed through her parents. 

“I feel very grateful for my upbringing and for all the people who have supported my faith journey, and there have been many. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have all those people in my life, including my parents,” she said. 

With 70 years of memories and achievements to look back on, Gilda did not hesitate to list her loving family in whom she takes immense pride in. A mother to four, grandmother to nine and great-grandmother to five, generations of the Benincasa family continue to grow in faith through this couple’s example. 

“We didn’t grow up with an abundance of material items. We grew up with an abundance of love and generosity and joy,” Franco proudly recalled. “For my mother and father to be able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labour is a real gift.” 

Gilda also commented on the secret to a long and happy marriage. Her answer? 

“Because we love each other,” she said with a smile. “When I pray I say, ‘Jesus, we don’t want to be rich, we don’t want anything but to be blessed and have a little bit to eat every day.’ God is present in our everyday lives and our deep faith in God has helped us through life’s many challenges. My husband and I are grateful for our faith and know we are truly blessed to still have each other.”

Franco confirmed that it really can be that simple, saying the key is to practice the simple things such as praying together, respecting each other and growing together rather than apart.

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