A substitute schoolteacher, Sylvia Forrow, was this year's valedictorian at Newman Theological College.
During a summer session nine years ago, Newman College offered a two-week liturgical art and environment course. Since Forrow was on the art and environment committee at St. Anthony's and St. Agnes parishes, taking the course seemed like an ideal fit.
Enjoying the whole experience so much, she decided to take more courses, something more in-depth. She found out about a program to attain a graduate diploma in religious education (GDRE), the first step towards attaining her master's in religious education.
"I took a course in summer school. It took me a few weeks to remember how to take notes, study for tests and a few other things. But I really enjoyed the course and got interested in it. I would take one course per session, which is what teachers usually do," explained Forrow.
She took summer courses and night courses, depending on what best suited her schedule. Newman was flexible for accommodating teachers and others with hectic, sometimes unstructured lives.
After earning her GDRE, only a few more courses - and the challenging task of writing a thesis - were required to attain her master's degree, which she now finds useful from a teaching perspective. Her hard work has paid off, culminating in her convocation Oct. 15.
Her favourite courses were those delving into the Old Testament and New Testament, as well as the Theology of God for Teachers.
As for the sacrifices she had to make to attain her degree, nothing was too excessive.
"It certainly takes time. It took time away from my husband. He had to put up with me muttering and mumbling in the room when I had to write something at the computer," she said.
The way the courses are structured for teachers, the instruction is geared towards practical use in the classroom. Now Forrow has a much wider knowledge base and can teach religion classes to students of any age.
"They do work differently at the different grade levels, and I feel much more comfortable about attempting to answer questions or, if I don't know, I can show them where they might find the answers," said Forrow.
She learned new approaches to developing her own spirituality. Exercises in class or something an instructor suggested have been worthwhile in broadening her own faith life.
Most of her writing assignments, including her thesis, were on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. She pointed out that learning was mostly easy, but now putting that knowledge into practice in her RCIA ministry will be the hard part.
Another highlight for her was moving to the new Newman campus. Although she did not take any courses in those classrooms, she spent a lot of time in the college library.
In her work in Catholic schools she speaks with other teachers about her college experience, and always recommends Newman courses to them as well.