Shannon Pronto and Roy St. Dennis reached another milestone Saturday on their long journey to sobriety and wholeness.
The Billings couple got married.
In a room at the downtown Billings Center for Children and Families, filled with about 50 people, the pair recited their vows to each other. U.S. District Judge Susan Watters presided over the ceremony.
Watters, until she was sworn in as a federal district judge in December, served as a state district judge and oversaw the Family Drug Treatment Court. That’s where she met Pronto and St. Dennis, who are now about three months from finishing the program.
“They’ve come so far since they’ve been in the family drug court and done so well and we’re so very proud of them,” Watters said before the ceremony. “And we’re just really happy now that they’ve made the commitment to get married and be a family with their kids.”
The couple has done so much of their work at the downtown center, the couple asked if they could hold the wedding there. The staff agreed, then offered to decorate the rooms for the ceremony and reception and bake cupcakes.
Montague’s Jewelry donated rings, pictures were provided by Paul Bellinger Photography and flowers were donated by Gainan’s.
On Saturday, St. Dennis looked on, smiling, as Pronto walked down the aisle with her father, Leonard Pronto. Pronto’s attendant, Susanne Moore, came after her, with Michael, the couple’s son, and Savannah Little Son, Pronto’s daughter.
After the pair spoke their vows and exchanged rings, St. Dennis knelt down and told 8-year-old Savannah how much their relationship means to him and special he feels when she calls him daddy.
He promised his new daughter that he would always be there for her, and even play Barbies with her, which prompted a big smile from her. And then he placed a ring on her finger.
The guests broke into applause. Then, after Watters pronounced St. Dennis and Pronto “man and wife,” they exchanged a brief kiss.
Pronto, 29, and St. Dennis, 43, met in June 2011. Both were clean and sober at the time after previous drug addictions, but that changed after about three or four months, Pronto said before the ceremony.
The couple got back into methamphetamine. When son Michael was born to the pair about 18 months later, the infant tested positive for the drug and state child protection workers removed him from their custody.
Savannah, who was living with Pronto’s mother, also was taken away. And by then, St. Dennis was in jail on a variety of charges, including drugs.
For Pronto, who became Shannon St. Dennis on Saturday, that was a turning point. Savannah’s biological father is an alcoholic, Pronto said, and he left his daughter.
“And I thought how awful is that going to be that I do the same thing that he did,” Pronto said, tears falling as she spoke. “So one day at a visit with her, I just promised that she was going to come home … and I promised her that I would stop.”
St. Dennis, who grew up in a dysfunctional family did drugs most of his life. He’s also been in and out of jail and prison for a variety of crimes, including slamming into another driver in 2006 while drunk and causing her multiple injuries.
In jail, he found a faith in God. And after more time went by time, he finally got to the point where he knew he had to turn his life around.
“Enough was enough,” St. Dennis said on Saturday. “Just the pain of hurting others and myself was too unbearable to keep doing it.”
Pronto and St. Dennis entered the program on Oct. 4, 2012. Participants work with a team of professionals, including Dr. Brenda Roche, a member of the drug court team and director of clinical and evaluation services at the Center for Children and Families.
“They’ve gone through all kinds of levels of treatment, a significant amount of drug testing and they’ve done very well,” Roche said.
What Pronto and St. Dennis started drug court, Roche said, they didn’t know whether they wanted to stay together. But they got into therapy and worked on their communication skills and they did the hard work to solidify their relationship.
“They’re really role models for other participants they go to treatment with,” Roche said. “And their children are doing amazing.”
In the course of their treatment, the couple received custody of Savannah and Michael, now 16 months. Then because of how well Pronto was doing, her treatment team wrote a letter recommending she be allowed to return to work in day care, and the request was granted.
St. Dennis works for MasterLube and serves as a peer mentor at the center to others who are working on their recoveries. He hopes to go to college, possibly as early as next summer, to earn a degree as an addictions counselor.
Along the way in his recovery, St. Dennis realized he didn’t want to do things halfway anymore, in his recovery, his parenting or his relationship with Pronto. That led him to propose.
She remembers that moment this way: “I think it was in one of our last two times of couples counseling. He said ‘Everything is great, but there’s one thing missing. Will you marry me?’ ” Pronto said.
On Saturday, as a friend was applying her makeup, Pronto said she was scared, excited and happy.
“But I knew I wouldn’t do it with anybody else,” she said. “He’s a wonderful man.”
Asked what he loves about his new wife, St. Dennis said she helped him through very difficult times. She builds him up and “she’s a true partner.”
“What’s so special about her?” he asked. “Her smile. Her eyes. It was meant to be.”