Tara Pizzo & Jeffrey Braconnier
May 7, 2021, in Cape May, N.J.
Tara’s profile kept popping up on Jeffrey’s dating app. “Way out of my league,” he told himself the first several times. But the algorithm’s persistence outlasted Jeffrey’s resistance, and in March 2018, he sent her a joke:
Why can’t melons get married? They cantaloupe.
Tara loved it. “Not many guys reached out to me first, and then he made it funny,” she said. Then Tara realized she recognized his face. She didn’t tell him that — yet — but she replied:
What do you call a piece of candy that sings? A candy rapper.
Jeffrey, whose multi-job career includes teaching music at Cardinal O’Hara High School, had a snow day and wanted more of this woman’s personality right away. “Here’s my number,” he typed. “If you’re comfortable, text me.”
After two weeks of texts they met at the door of the Firepoint Grill in Newtown Square. Jeffrey was nervous — he had not dated for a long time. Tara was charmed, but experience had made her skeptical. “Do you want to get a table?” he asked. She had eaten at a work event specifically to avoid a first-date dinner. “Let’s sit at the bar,” she suggested.
So they did. For three hours.
“One of her first questions was, ‘Can you explain to me what you do for a living?’ and just that took a good 30 minutes,” said Jeffrey, who is now 30. In addition to teaching music at Cardinal O’Hara, he is the school’s communications director. And he is director of Catholic Community Choir, which he cofounded with his sister, Aimee-Kate, in 2007. They help K-8 students from 40 different Delaware Valley Catholic parishes put on theater productions. He is also a pianist, organist, and singer at St. Kevin Parish in Springfield, the town he was raised in and never wants to leave. Tara, who grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and Swarthmorewood, and is now 34, told him about her job as member engagement manager for the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.
They discovered people they knew in common and times when they had almost previously met. They talked about their families and other typical it’s-going-well first-date topics. And then Jeffrey got to the hardest thing he wanted her to know before things went any further: He had been previously married, to Stephanie. She had a rare genetic disease. In 2016, 14 months after their wedding, she died suddenly. It was devastating then, he said, and he hoped it wouldn’t keep Tara from giving him a chance.
Tara did not hesitate. “It’s OK,” she said. Then she told him that four years earlier, the man she was going to marry had shattered her heart. “I have a past, too.”
Both were so hungry by the time they said goodnight that they swung through separate Wendy’s drive-throughs on their way home.
In July, Tara took her Springfield-lovin’ man on a city date. They had dinner at XIX on the top floor of the Bellevue, where her office is. They got a drink at the Ritz-Carlton, where Jeffrey introduced Tara to his cousin Patrick, the head chef. As they walked around Penn’s Landing and Old City, Tara saw Jeffrey fall a little bit in love with Philadelphia and began to admit to herself that she was falling in love with him.
They were at Nick’s Roast Beef when Tara saw a sweet, goofy look on his face. “What?” she asked him. “Nothing,” he said. “What is it?” she insisted. “I can’t tell you here,” he said. Sitting on his couch later, he said, “I just need you to know that I love you.”
“Why did you have to go and say that?” said Tara — which was just about the response he expected. A month later, the night before she was leaving on a family vacation, she told him she loved him, too.
There’s a lot to love about Jeffrey, Tara said. “Definitely his persistence. If he sees something and he wants it, he does everything in his power to get it, from his work to me. He’s passionate about everything. He is respected in the whole community.”
Jeffrey said Tara has “the most generous, loving heart ever. She has opened me up to things. She helped me find happiness and see the joy in life again. And she embraced my dogs, Dexter and Zoey.”
They were firmly into coupledom when Tara told Jeffrey that his profile picture had looked familiar, and a little online sleuthing revealed why. Back when her heart was really hurting, she wanted the solace of Mass, but at a church where no one knew her. The Sunday night Mass she found had the most beautiful music — her favorite part. It was at St. Kevin’s, the songs sung and played by Jeffrey.
In August 2020, the couple headed to Cape May to stay at the Grand for the weekend. Jeffrey suggested a walk on the beach before dinner. As the sun was setting, he asked Tara if he could take her picture. When she turned around, she heard Billy Joel singing “To Make You Feel My Love” from Jeffrey’s phone and saw him on one knee in the sand. “He said so many nice things that are all a blur. And then two young girls walked up so excited and offered to take pictures for us.”
The next day they returned to Springfield to celebrate their engagement with family and friends.
The Grand at Cape May had May 7 available, as did St. Paul’s Church in Stone Harbor — a church Jeffrey attended when staying down the Shore with his grandparents.
The pandemic was still bad when they were planning, but “one of the things I love about Jeff is that he is the optimistic one in this relationship,” said Tara. “He was hopeful that things would be better by then.”
In February, New Jersey said no more than 25 people could gather outside and no more than 10 inside. That’s when some panic set in. But their venue told them that if the rules wouldn’t allow the wedding they had planned, they would get a refund. They just had to decide by March 7. The couple made sure their guests knew how uncertain things were, and promised updates.
Two days before deadline, New Jersey announced that up to 150 could gather inside. By text message and social media post, guest after guest told Tara and Jeffrey they had been vaccinated. Tara kept a spreadsheet and was thrilled to let everyone know that, by her count, about 96% of their guests had at least one vaccination dose prior to the wedding.
Jeffrey played the organ and sang “Lady of Knock” — the Irish tribute to Mary — as their parents and grandparents took their seats. Friends Eric, Joyce, and Joe provided organ, voice, and violin performances. Two more friends — the Rev. John Moloney, pastor of St. Kevin’s, and the Rev. John Masson, campus minister at Cardinal O’Hara — celebrated the ceremony.
A reception for 150 featured a cocktail hour on the Grand’s sundeck overlooking the ocean and a reception with views of the town in the Penthouse Ballroom. Jeffrey surprised everyone with an appearance by the Avalon String Band. It was the second time in two weeks that he had shocked and delighted Tara. The first was the Philly-style serenade for which he secretly gathered family and friends and sang her Billy Joel and Michael Bublé songs.
Their wedding day was the first day dance floors were allowed. And so they danced.
Had the COVID-19 numbers not decreased, making their large reception possible, Tara and Jeffrey would not have postponed getting married, she said. But a reception where they could not only see, but hug, all of their family and friends felt like a break in the clouds that had gathered in early 2020.
The couple was on their Disney World honeymoon when they learned that starting the next day, no masks would be required outdoors in the park.
“It felt like our angels and saints were watching over us,” said Jeffrey. “Everything in the universe just seemed to click.”