A Harlesden Irishman hit the headlines in local American newspapers in Indiana after a very public proposal to his girlfriend.
Harlesden-born James McLoughlin used a reunion trip to Madison to surprise his now-fiance Catherine Smith.
The 30-year-old, who now works for Birmingham Catholic Youth Service (BYCS), moved to his mother’s native Pettigo, on the border of Donegal and Fermanagh, as a child.
James first got familiar with Madison as a teenager when he visited there with the Ulster Project. In 2001 James made his first visit to the Illinois city as part of the group that brings young people from Northern Ireland to America for a month, to bridge and build relationship between Catholic and Protestant youths.
And, keen to continue the work that helped him as a teen, James has been returning on the pilgrimage for the past seven years, after becoming a team leader for the Ulster project.
It was in his fulltime job, working for the Kenelm Youth Trust in Alton where he first met Catherine. The colleagues formed a friendship that would last years but it is only of late that their relationship turned romantic.
He now works as a Youth Ministry Development Worker for BYCS, and planned the proposal and trip to America just a month or so after meeting Catherine, but as he says ‘when you know it’s right, it’s right’. Catherine had suspicions that the trip could be life-changing, and having already met his relatives in Ireland, felt that she had met the rest of his extended family once she landed in Madison.
She also knew something was up when shortly before they left for the States, he was desperate to get rid of her to have a quiet moment alone with her family, where he asked for their permission. And just a week into their trip, James had the proposal plans sorted, as he arranged to have the lettering changed outside the traditional-style cinema, the Ohio Theatre.
Having gone to get a coffee on Main Street, where the cinema is located, the couple could hear a choir singing, before James asked Catherine to turn around and have a look at the marquee lettering above the theatre’s entrance.
Bold letters, that normally highlight the film listings, read: “Catherine Smith, will you marry me. Please, please, please.” And by the time she turned around to get her bearings, James was down on one knee with an engagement ring, in the same jewellery box his father Mick had used to propose to his mother Teresa with before.
The pair are now looking to plan a wedding for June of next year, and are busy taking Skype and FaceTime congratulatory calls from all their nearest and dearest on this side of the Atlantic.