Ashleen McDonough and Patrick Loughnane
December 30, 2017, in Villanova
A group of Villanova students settled around a table at Kelly's Taproom one winter night in 2013. Pat took the seat across from Ashleen. They introduced themselves and marveled that they hadn't met before: They had lived in the same dormitory during freshman year, and had scads of mutual friends.
Instantly comfortable together, Ashleen, an English major from Newtown Square, and Pat, who grew up in Royersford and was studying electrical engineering on an ROTC scholarship, talked mostly to each other. He loved her stories from her semester abroad in Ireland. She thought the parallel structure of their families was cool: They are the same age, and her two siblings are the same ages as his two siblings.
"You're the prettiest girl in the bar," Pat told her, and they both laughed really hard — there were only three women in the entire place.
The next morning, Ashleen found a text greeting on her phone from a number she didn't recognize. "Who is this?" she asked. It was Pat, who got her digits from one of their mutual friends, trying to break the ice.
"I was really happy," Ashleen said.
After a second group outing, their first official date was dinner at Chili's.
"I really liked her sense of humor," Pat said. "She's so fun, and that's her demeanor in everything she does."
"I thought he was really handsome and approachable and nice," Ashleen said. A stuffed narwhal taught her he is also attentive, thoughtful, and sweet. She and her friends collected round, fluffy creatures called Squishables, and she had mentioned her quest for the narwhal in a random conversation. He gave her one on their first Valentine's Day.
Pat's ROTC commitment required a lot of training exercises. One night, he was walking alone in the woods in the dark, trying to find his way around without GPS or any kind of guide. "She had a pet name for me, Bugaboo, and I was thinking about her calling me that," he said. The thought made him very happy, and also made him miss her so much. He realized he was in love.
They were also apart when Ashleen came to the same conclusion. "He went away for a whole month. He would write me letters by hand," she said. During that Seattle training exercise, no phones were allowed, Pat explained. Every day, Ashleen rushed to her mailbox. "I was so excited to check for those letters," she said. "I had never felt anything like that before. It was a telltale sign."
Turns out that month apart was nothing. After basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., in fall 2014, the Army took Pat overseas. Now a first lieutenant, Pat has been stationed in Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Italy, and is currently a field artillery officer with the 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, based in Bavaria, Germany.
Ashleen, a practice transformation coach at the Delaware Valley Accountable Care Organization, is based in Newtown Square.
They see each other about five times a year, here or abroad. "Having a date set when we will see each other next is really important," Pat said. "I know she will be here the week before Easter."
In between, no matter what else is happening in their lives, they text daily and schedule blocks of time for real conversations. "We have dates where we watch the same Netflix movie together while FaceTiming," Ashleen said.
In 2016, with their four-year dating anniversary approaching and her airline miles to Europe racking up, Ashleen wanted to be absolutely sure they had the same goals for their relationship. "Where is this going?" she asked one day. He smiled big and said, "We'll have to see," in a way that made her know they were on the same wavelength but that he wanted to keep some things as a surprise.
Pat brought a ring home with him on Christmas leave. "Then she mentioned that when we did get engaged, she wanted it to be just the two of us," he said. There was no chance for that with all the family celebrations, so Pat took the ring back to Germany.
In late January 2017, Ashleen flew in for his unit's military ball in Nuremberg. The next day, they walked to the city's famous castle. Back at the hotel, Ashleen was packing for home when Pat gave her a gift — new scrapbook pages he had made about some of their trips for an ongoing chronicle he is making. "That's sweet!" she said. The next thing she knew, Pat was kneeling. "Will you marry me?" he asked.
The couple, now both 26, married on the campus where it all started, in the St. Thomas of Villanova chapel. The traditional Catholic ceremony was led by the pastor at Ashleen's church.
In the weeks before the wedding, the bride and groom each lost a beloved grandparent: Ashleen's grandmother Eva, who had been in hospice, and Pat's grandfather Stephen, whose death was more unexpected. Both were remembered during the prayers of the faithful, and Ashleen wore Eva's diamond watch.
"The wedding brought a lot of joy and celebration to our families at what had been a very tough time," Pat said.
Their 175 guests celebrated at Overbrook Golf Club. The couple walked into the reception hall beneath an arch of Army sabers. Ashleen's dad toasted Pat's family, saying he was glad this was the one his daughter was now part of. Pat's sometimes shy brother didn't display even a hint of stage fright during his kind words. Ashleen's aunt said a beautiful prayer. And then they ate and danced.
"The band was playing, and we were at our sweetheart table in a room full of people who love us and wanted to celebrate us. It was an awe-inspiring moment that made all the wedding planning and stress worth it," Ashleen said.
The night ended with "Love Train" and a conga line that wrapped around the room.
"Our ride to the venue together — I wish it were longer," Pat said. "I hadn't seen her since the rehearsal dinner; this was our only moment together. I finally got to talk to her, besides saying the vows."
"It was a, 'Whoa! We're married' kind of thing," Ashleen said. "The rest of the day, everybody wants to talk to you, which is awesome. But I'm really glad we had that alone time, for one mile down the road."
A bargain: Getting married during the Christmas season saved on decor, because the church was already filled with flowers.
The splurge: In homage to their shared Irish heritage, the couple hired a bagpiper to play as guests entered the church. Also, the bride's dress cost 25 percent more than she had budgeted for. "I loved it, and you've got to do what you've got to do," she said.
A week in Aruba.
Come this fall, FaceTime dates are over. "I will be back in the U.S., with my wife," said a very happy-sounding groom.
Officiant: The Rev. Michael A. Colagreco, St. Anastasia Church, Newtown Square.
Ceremony venue: St. Thomas of Villanova Church, Villanova.
Reception venue: Overbrook Golf Club, Villanova.
Music: Sunday James Band, Philadelphia.
Photography and videography: Duca Studio Photography & Video, King of Prussia.
Flowers: Accents by Michele, Newtown Square.
Dress: Elizabeth Johns, Ardmore.