Two Wheeling families come together for a big celebration of one couple’s love.
Wedding photographer James Carl has photographed his share of weddings at Wheeling’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a Neo-Romanesque structure designed to resemble some of Florence, Italy’s finest basilicas. But he’s only seen standing-room-only crowds at this gargantuan house of God on two occasions—Christmas Eve mass, and the wedding of Katelyn Gompers and Alexander Peluchette.
“Both our families are big Catholic families,” Katelyn says. Her father is one of 12 siblings, and Alex’s father is one of 10. “My dad joked—you had to find the one other family in Wheeling as big as ours,” she says.
Strangely enough, it wasn’t until Alex and Katelyn were attending West Virginia University that these two Wheeling natives finally met one another. “How we never crossed paths before is mind-blowing,” she says. “All our aunts and uncles went to high school together. Our grandmothers were in the same kindergarten class.”
Although they attended separate high schools, their brothers played football against one another, and Alex remembers seeing Katelyn at those games—that’s why he had a mutual friend in Morgantown connect them. Not surprisingly, they quickly found they had a lot in common and began dating.
The couple resided in Morgantown while Alex finished his bachelor’s degree and Katelyn attended pharmacy school. Then he moved to Washington, D.C., for an internship. A short time later, Katelyn moved to Ocean City, Maryland, before eventually relocating to D.C. But by that time, Alex had moved back to Wheeling to help with the family business. The long-distance relationship wasn’t always easy, but they made it work. “We were constantly living out of each other’s cars,” Katelyn laughs.
Katelyn and Alex had been dating for seven years when he proposed. They had talked about it—and they both knew they wanted to spent their lives together—but Katelyn just figured the time wasn’t quite right. “I always thought I would eventually come back to Wheeling and he would wait until I came back.”
Alex had other plans. In September 2016, the Mountaineers were scheduled to face Brigham Young University in Landover, Maryland. Katelyn was living in D.C. at the time, and both her and Alex’s families were in town for the game. Alex arrive a little early, dressed up and wanting to go out for a drink. But Katelyn had just finished a 13-hour shift and wanted to stay home. The next morning, Alex suggested they get breakfast. Katelyn didn’t think it would be good idea, since their families would be arriving soon. “I was like, ‘We don’t have time.’ Once I have a plan in mind it’s hard to change my mind.”
He persisted, and they drove to Georgetown, parked the car, and headed to the restaurant. They were walking along the canal when he finally got her attention—Katelyn turned around to find Alex, down on one knee, accidentally holding the ring upside down. “It was a total shock,” she says. “I was hysterical. My first words were ‘shut up.’ But I said ‘yes’ immediately after.”
It turns out the family visit that had Katelyn so stressed was all part of Alex’s plans. He made dinner reservations that night for everyone to celebrate. “He did a great job. He had everything down to a tee.”
The Planning Begins
Now, with a ring on her finger, Katelyn began making preparations to move back to Wheeling. The couple also began planning their August 2017 ceremony right away. Alex had asked for Katelyn’s parents’ blessing a few weeks earlier. “My mom, being a very big planner, she already started calling the cathedral and calling St. Mike’s, and finding out what dates they had available.”
Katelyn knew she wanted a traditional church wedding. “I always envisioned myself getting married in a church. And it meant a lot to my dad and grandfather.” Her family attends St. Michael’s Church in Wheeling, but one of Katelyn’ cousins was recently married at St. Joseph’s. “I knew right away that we wanted to get married there.” The church doesn’t usually allow non-parishioners to be married there, but her mom was able to convince the church to book the date.
With the cathedral’s medieval-style stained glass windows, ornate altar, and huge mural, Katelyn knew she wouldn’t need to do much decorating. “A lot of people will put all these flowers behind. I didn’t want anything to take away from the altar and the colors,” she says. She decided decorations would be limited to small arrangements of roses hung on the outside of the first few pews to signify where the bridesmaids, groomsmen, and the couple’s immediate families would sit.
For the reception, Katelyn didn’t want to risk an outdoor event. “Thank God we didn’t, because the day of our wedding a hurricane came through.” Instead, the couple chose a banquet room at another well-known Wheeling institution—Oglebay. Decorations here would also be elegant but simple. They rented chandeliers from Windswept Party and Event Rentals in Pittsburgh as well as white drapes to hang from the ceiling. “It turned it into a whole different room,” she says.
Finding the Dress
When it came time to pick out her dress, Katelyn first went to a boutique in Washington, D.C., with her mom and dad. “I didn’t want to find anything. I was just getting an idea.” Then she visited Bridal Beginnings in Pittsburgh, where three of her cousins had recently bought their own wedding dresses.
She visited the shop with her mom and mother-in-law-to-be, where she quickly found the one—a form-fitting dress covered in layers of lace with straps, a deep v-neck in the front, an open back, and cutouts on the sides. “I wanted simple and romantic. There’s no sparkle on it. I wanted to be able to look at pictures 20 years from now and not say, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’” she says. “I’m a little partial but I thought it was breathtaking.”
Katelyn bought her bridesmaids’ dresses at Bella Bridesmaids in Pittsburgh, deciding on a gown that could be worn as a halter top, strapless, or on one shoulder. Alex picked out the tuxedos at Sorelle Bridal Salon in Washington, Pennsylvania. “He wouldn’t show me a picture,” Katelyn says. “He said, ‘You won’t show me your dress, why should I?’”
This worried Katelyn at first. “He kind of has a crazy style,” she says. But he finally relented: He wanted to wear a white tux jacket like his grandfather and father had at their weddings. Katelyn wasn’t sure, so they compromised. Alex would wear a standard black tuxedo for the ceremony, but a white jacket for the reception.
Tying the Knot
Given their families’ history together, Katelyn and Alex knew their wedding would be a big event. So to avoid the wedding becoming a big reunion, Alex’s mom threw a big rehearsal dinner for everyone at Oglebay’s Stiefel Fine Arts Center. “It was more like a rehearsal party,” Katelyn says.
The next day, Katelyn got ready at her parents’ house before heading to St. Joseph’s. Her dad had not seen the dress—“He said, ‘No, I don’t want to see it until the day of’”—so there were some tears when he walked in and saw her all dressed up. “It was probably one of my favorite moments.”
Alex didn’t see Katelyn’s dress before the ceremony, either. “I know a lot of people do first looks, and we were both super opposed to that.” That led to some intense emotions—for both bride and groom—when Alex first saw Katelyn coming up the aisle. “As soon as we got up on the altar, we were like, OK.”
The couple marked their nuptials with a full Catholic mass, which included readings by one of Katelyn’s brothers and one of Alex’s groomsmen as well as songs by Katelyn’s aunts. “For me the ceremony was by far my favorite part of the entire day,” Katelyn says.
Once the ceremony was complete, everyone headed to Oglebay for the reception.
The resort’s kitchen staff catered the event. Hors d’oeuvres included dilled shrimp and cucumber, stuffed cherry tomatoes with goat cheese, roasted tenderloin with red pepper coulis, and charcuterie boards. Dinner began with a cucumber-wrapped dinner salad topped with goat cheese and cranberries. For the entree, guests could choose salmon in a chardonnay butter sauce served with mashed potatoes and haricots verts or a roasted beef tenderloin served with stone-ground grits and grilled asparagus.
For dessert, guests enjoyed a five-tiered white cake with almond icing decorated with flowers from Bellisima Floral Shop in Wheeling. But that cake wasn’t the only sweet available at the reception: The cookie table also attracted lots of attention. “It’s a thing in the Ohio Valley. Our moms were insistent about it. Everyone made cookies for days,” Katelyn says.
But Katelyn’s favorite part of the reception was Alex’s wardrobe change. In addition to a white dinner jacket, he completed the look with white-and-black wingtips. “He looked phenomenal,” she says. “I loved it.”The couple had their first dance to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” before guests hit the floor to the sounds of Hit Play, a five-piece Top 40 cover band from Wheeling. The dance floor was filled for the rest of the night, except for guests’ frequent visits to the cookie table.
Alex and Katelyn honeymooned at a resort in Jamaica. They are now making their home in Wheeling, writing the next chapter in an old family story.
Sarah & Tom Gompers
Nancy & Paul Peluchette
James Carl Photography
Bridal Beginnings, Pittsburgh, PA
Bella Bridesmaids, Pittsburgh, PA
Fluhme Glam Bar, Pittsburgh, PA
GROOM & GROOMSMEN’S ATTIRE
Sorelle Bridal Salon, Washington, PA
Bellisima Floral Shop, Wheeling
Hit Play, Wheeling
St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Wheeling
written by Zack Harold