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A Love Ignited By Golf, Sustained By Religion

Special to The Courant

John Abdalla walked up to Irene Dauphin, a newcomer at work, and said he would give her a golf lesson at lunch. "The next day we went out at lunch," to Stanley Park in Hartford, John says.

With one hour and 10 minutes for a lunch break at Stanley Works in 1951, it was easy to practice golf swings at a nearby park, John says.

"After that first date, she shocked me by saying, 'Would you like to come over to my house on Sunday for dinner?'" he says.

Irene, 19, was seventh in a family of six boys and four girls. John, 25, was seventh and the youngest of his siblings.

After dinner with Irene's family, "It was one day after another," John says. "In the evening we'd go for a milk shake, an ice cream, soda or a movie."

But at the end of the evening, when John thought he would kiss Irene good night, she said, "Let's say the rosary."

"She was from a very religious family," he says.

Irene was Catholic and John was Greek Orthodox. "She taught me how to say the rosary with her," after which "I would get one or two kisses before we said good night."

In August the following year, John stopped by Irene's parents' house to see her, but she was away. She had gone on a spur-of-the-moment trip with her brother to visit relatives in Canada for the weekend, and had not had time to call John.

"I was very disturbed," he said, adding that he thought, I've got to get engaged to this girl soon."

He put $10 down for a diamond ring, and on Sept. 8, Irene's birthday, he proposed to her at her sister's wedding.

Five months later, on Feb. 7, 1953, they were married and drove to Florida in John's 1949 Studebaker for their honeymoon. They lived with John's mother when they returned, eventually buying the home from her.

Irene and John had started working at Pratt and Whitney, but Irene stopped to have the first of their five daughters 10 months after their wedding.

In the early 1960s, John switched careers to become the assistant golf pro at Shuttle Meadow Country Club in the Kensington section of Berlin. He moved to Shaker Farms Country Club in Westfield, Mass., in the early 1970s, and a few years later was invited to design a golf course in Agawam, Mass.

John made another major change in his life during those years. After accompanying Irene to church every Sunday, John converted to Catholicism. He became very active in their parish, St. Joseph Church in New Britain, and in 1970, when the Catholic Church began training men to assist with the priests' duties as deacons, John enrolled at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.

"I was very happy; he was very excited," Irene says.

John served as deacon in New Britain until 1974, when the family moved to Somers. John was the deacon at St. Patrick's Church in Enfield for four years, and spent the next 35 years at All Saints Church and St. Catherine's Church in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor.

"I was on fire with it. I was gung-ho. Nothing was too hard," John says, even though he was still working full time on the golf course.

He has preached, led religious education, and has performed weddings and, by his estimate, more than 1000 baptisms.

"We were all very much involved" in John's religious work, says Irene, who taught religious education classes and helped in the office.

As a family, they went on day trips to the Connecticut shore, and as the girls grew up, Irene and John went on a few short bus trips to New York, Pennsylvania and Maine.

At age 75, John retired from working at golf courses, and in 2012, he retired from his deacon assignment. He still is on fire when it comes to his religious work, he says, and is happy to help out wherever he is needed.

"I like preaching. I like the privilege of being a deacon," he says, adding that he has enjoyed the blessing of baptizing their 10 grandchildren and twin great-granddaughters.

Irene "was at my side all the way," John says.

Over the past ten years, as John lost his sight, Irene became his driver, and now assists him with the readings, if needed, though he has memorized most of the religious rituals over the years.

John has a great sense of humor, Irene says: "That's what attracted me to him. He would make the people at work laugh."

John also led several variety shows at his churches to raise money for special projects. "He could always make people feel very comfortable," Irene says.

"She was the kind of girl I always wanted," John says. "She didn't drink, she didn't smoke. She was very, very friendly and talked to everybody."

Their daughters have treated Irene and John to cruises and trips to Disney World over the past several years and look forward to returning to Disney with their parents this fall.

"They both worship one another," and never argued, their daughter Sue says. "We never had much money, but we felt like we had everything."

There is a reason for this, John says: "Our Lord gave most men a woman to marry, but, our Lord gave me an angel."

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