Written by Elizabeth Swanson
Photographs by ANASTASIA PHOTOGRAPHY and Angelica Manuel
When Grace Kalil and Matthew Werick got engaged, they already had a list of wedding Do’s and Don’ts. After all, Kalil is a Michigan-based wedding photographer and Werick often works as her second shooter — so they’ve seen it all. “We wanted a destination wedding, something we’d never experienced before at work,” Kalil says. “We were also particular about how the venue would stand out in photos. It had to be photogenic from every angle. We wanted our photographer to be able to snap a picture at any turn and have it look candidly beautiful.”
After scouring venues throughout the United States and Europe, they landed on the Ancient Spanish Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux in Miami. It was originally built in Spain in 1133 A.D. but was bought by famed newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst in 1925. Hearst dismantled and brought the building to the United States, where it was reassembled, stone by stone.
“We are both Catholic — we flew our priest in for the ceremony — and we loved the history of the monastery,” Kalil says. “We visited it twice before our wedding. Both times we sat on a bench, watching the way the light hit the stones and seeing little lizards scurrying beneath our feet. We never wanted to leave.”
Kalil and Werick met through friends in 2019. Their relationship happened to hit just the right timeline so that no relationship milestones were altered by the pandemic. Werick is a biologist but enjoys having a creative outlet; when Grace asked if he wanted to help her shoot weddings, it only brought them closer. In October 2021, Matthew proposed and they started planning their dream wedding, which they celebrated on November 18, 2022.
“We notice that couples complain their wedding was such a whirlwind, that they don’t get a chance to talk to everyone,” Kalil says. “Having a destination wedding weekend allowed us to spend quality time with everyone before the ceremony, so that by the time the wedding day came, we could all just relax and celebrate together.”
The couple crafted a black-tie affair that was truly a guest experience: flambe crepes and a string quartet at cocktail hour, a harpist at dinner. “We didn’t want there to be a lull in the day,” Werick says. “We didn’t want people to be just waiting for cocktails and dancing.” Kalil adds, “I am super romantic, so we added more slow dances than you usually see. We wanted to enjoy every moment.”
It was important that they enjoyed each moment of their wedding day together, as a couple. “We see so many weddings where the bride and groom are separated until the ceremony, but that’s what the bachelor and bachelorette parties are for,” Kalil says. That’s why they decided to do a first look. But instead of wearing her wedding dress, Grace chose a custom morning dress and changed into her gown just before the ceremony to maintain an element of surprise.
There to photograph every moment was their photographer, Anastasia Shaydakova of Anastasia Photography, who Kalil spent months searching for on Instagram. “I would scroll for hours,” she says. “I thought it would be difficult to give up the camera and let someone else take the lead, but then I found Anastasia and we just clicked. She’s even inspired me and changed my style as a photographer. Being a wedding photographer helped me plan my wedding, but getting married also helped make me a better photographer.”
Shaydakova’s candid, intimate style of photography is what attracted Grace — and the couple will cherish the images for years to come. “There’s something to be said for documenting the quieter moments of the wedding — those intimate moments that are full of emotion,” Werick says. “Even having a whole wedding weekend, it all goes by so quickly. But it will be so meaningful to have these photos to look back on for the rest of our lives.”