Dean of Students Paul Chebator and his wife Mer Zovko, an assistant director of the Students Programs Office (SPO), concluded this year’s Agape Latte series on Tuesday evening with a discussion about relationships, trust, and faith.
In their talk, hosted by the Church in the 21st Century and Campus Ministry, the two offered students a rare look inside their relationship and how their faith developed over time.
Chebator and Zovko met at Boston College in 1989, when Zovko accepted a position in SPO. Chebator was an associate dean in the Office of the Dean for Student Development at the time.
Before Chebator and Zovko crossed paths at BC, Chebator had only ever been in one serious relationship-he dated a peer in college at 19 and married her at 23. Their friends and family expected them to get married after dating for four years, and so the two accepted that they would, Chebator said. But 13 years into their marriage, after Chebator was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness, he began to reflect on his life and on his marriage. In what he described as the most difficult time of his life, he realized that he no longer felt joy in his marriage, that he was generally dissatisfied with life, and that he felt alone. Chebator and his wife separated soon after.
“But it was also a time where I realized that I did have some kind of inner strength-that I could reach down into my core and find this sense that I called faith, with a small ‘f,'” he said of his separation.
“Being able to walk forward and move along, I realized and began to understand afterward that that faith was God working within me and helping me through this period,” said Chebator. Zovko had a similar experience with a relationship. In 1989, when she left Boston University to accept the job offer at BC, she was in a serious relationship with a musician. The two lived together in Boston and she felt certain that they would spend their lives together. She loved him, until she realized one day that he didn’t love her for who she was. She said he was bothered by her enthusiasm-an important part of who she was.
“There were times during that time of my life where I would [think] … ‘I don’t need to be married. I can just go life solo,'” Zovko said. “But I think I would say that on the outside, but deep in my soul I was thinking, ‘Am I really ever going to find this forever person for me?'” Zovko carried that question-and the disappointment of a failing relationship-with her when she arrived at BC in 1989. She was tasked with working to develop the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), which the University had just created the year before. That was how the two met.
“I found Mer to be unlike anyone I had ever met before,” said Chebator, who also worked on building the program. “We understood and shared kind of a common vision about what a relationship should be. And it kind of began to grow and develop from there.”
Despite her enthusiasm in most situations, Zovko was never enthused about coming to BC. She was intrigued about the opportunity at first, but soon felt a little uneasy about working at a Catholic school.
“I thought I knew what God was, but everything they were showing me was very confusing to me and it seemed like it was what God wasn’t,” Zovko said.
“[But] I just thought, ‘I’ll repress this. That’s the easiest way to do it,'” she said of her negative feelings.
When Zovko decided to take the job at BC, she said all those feelings resurfaced, and she felt overwhelmed. Two months into her employment, she and some other colleagues met and had a conversation with Rev. Bill Barry, S.J., who was the University’s rector at the time. During the whole conversation Zovko said Barry talked about God and spirituality. She felt immense anxiety-she had always felt so odd about God-and she asked Barry to stop using the word.
“Father Bill Barry looked at me and with the most gentle eyes said to me, ‘You know, I really never cared much for that name, either,'” Zovko said. “He said, ‘You know, it’s just not what I imagine when I imagine this being.’ He said, ‘I think it should be called the mystery.'”
“For me I continued on never, ever again having an issue with the word ‘God,'” she said.
Barry was the same Jesuit who helped Chebator acknowledge that God was helping him through his divorce. It was with similar feelings about their faith and their past relationships that Chebator and Zovko met. After working on the ELP project together the two started to become friends, and then something more. They both realized that they shared a strong connection-they loved to spend time together; Chebator loved Zovko’s enthusiasm-a plus, considering her last boyfriend’s dislike of it; and Zovko felt genuine ease around him. They got married in Florence, Italy in 1997.
Zovko said there are three important questions to ask about a relationship: “Does my partner accept me for who I am? Do they inspire me to be the best version of who I can be? And do they bring joy to my life?”
“Joy is not the same as happiness,” Chebator said. “Sometimes Mer doesn’t make me happy, sometimes I don’t make her happy. But, in the core of our relationship there is an undercurrent and an essence of joy.”
Both agree that that fundamental joy-fused with a set of core values that the couple shares and a genuine enjoyment of being in each other’s company-is what has allowed their relationship to flourish.
Both Chebator and Zovko plan to retire from BC at the end of this semester.