An instant attraction formed between Julie D’Agostini and Joe Pirra as they stood “innocently checking one another out” in the airport in Rome. They were booked on the same flight back to the U.S., but instead of letting nature takes its course, Julie’s mother assumed control of the situation. “She blatantly asked if he was married or had kids,” says Julie, reliving her sheer embarrassment. But Joe didn’t seem to mind; he was as eager as Mrs. D’Agostini to get to know his fellow traveler.

After an extended long distance romance between Joe’s life in Chicago and Julie’s in Washington Township, MI, the time was right to put a welcome end to the back-and-forth. During the holidays, when Julie was visiting Joe, he suggested they take a breezy walk to enjoy the Windy City all dressed up in its Christmas splendor. When they arrived at Buckingham Fountain, glowing against a sparkling skyline, Joe asked Julie to start a new life with him in Chicago. “It was beautiful,” beams Julie. “I called my family Christmas morning and asked if they were getting ready for church—and if they would say a prayer for me and my fiancé. They started screaming.”

For both Julie and Joe, family is everything. So much so, actually, that it became the unspoken theme of their wedding and all its many decisions. They chose the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago because it was the exact balance of grandeur and comfort they wanted for the reception that would follow a very personal ceremony (in the church where Joe had once served as an altar boy). “Our wedding evolved into a very traditional, warm, family and friend-oriented weekend. It was about our union and being surrounded by those who care about us,” says Julie with a smile.

And during their vows, Julie and Joe’s bridal party surrounded the couple tightly to bear close witness to promises made to each other. Together, the bride and groom then read a beautiful prayer, asking for God’s blessing upon their marriage and listened as several relatives performed readings that clearly touched the congregation.

Adding authentic Italian charm to the cocktail hour, an older gentleman singing and playing the accordion was a big hit with guests. In the ballroom, tables were adorned with graceful centerpieces made of grouped arrangements in low, antique-looking silver vessels that facilitated the flow of lively conversation. At each place setting, a bundle of Jordan almonds, a traditional wedding favor that Italians refer to as confetti, beckoned for a nibble. The odd number of sugar-coated almonds in each fabric pouch was indivisible, symbolizing the bond of marriage. Julie and Joe also gifted each guest with a bottle of imported Italian wine reminiscent of the red wine they love to share on cold Chicago evenings.

Julie’s father made a toast with another very special glass of wine that was made by his father before his death decades earlier. Joe kept his late nonno (grandfather) close throughout the day by carrying a coin he had given him, and which Joe made into a keychain, in his pocket. And as a tribute to their beloved sister and her new husband, Julie’s four sisters (she was the first to be married) created a film about how the couple fell in love. It began with footage of Mrs. D’Agostini at the airport in Rome, recounting the story of Julie and Joe’s first meeting and ended with warm wishes from relatives abroad that could not be there to celebrate with the couple.

Having changed into a strapless bustier from a top designed with long sleeves for the ceremony, Julie danced the night away with her new husband. Loved ones took breaks to enjoy the multi-course dinner, elegantly designed wedding cake and an array of confections in the dessert room that included “Grandma’s Cookies” personally baked by the bride and groom according to Julie’s grandmother’s age-old recipe.

And once the couple retired, Julie gave Joe a card which once again expressed her deep gratitude with one final reminder of how they came to be so blessed. “Inside was the original ticket stub from our American Airlines flight from Rome with the date and my maiden name,” recalls Julie. “He loved it.”