Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 25, 1999
Questions don't stop at grad
Newman College graduate sees her questioning as key to a renewed faith
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Depending on how you look at it, Marian Lord is either the best student you'll ever have or the worst.
"I was always asking a lot of questions in school," said Lord. "I was a pain in school."
But her questioning led her to complete a diploma in theological studies at Newman Theological College.
"It's sometimes safe to stay ignorant and just accept what people tell you," Lord said. "But I could never do that. I will always be questioning things.
"It's OK to ask questions about the Church because if we stop asking about it, it becomes a dead Church."
Lord is among the 36 graduates of Newman Theological College this year. She and her fellow graduates gathered at the college Oct. 16 for convocation.
But the celebration doesn't mean Lord is packing up her books. She's already busy reading new textbooks as she works at completing a degree.
When she first enrolled in a Hebrew Scripture class at Newman, Lord only intended to use it to answer questions about a Church and faith that surrounded her all her life.
"I grew up with a very judgmental kind of God," said the Sherwood Park mother, who was raised in an Irish-Catholic home. "I thought he was sitting up there seeing what we did wrong or right. It was hard to please God."
When her son Brian was 18 months old, Lord had an urge to take a class at Newman. She had attended Bible study sessions at her parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and wanted to learn more. Since that first class, she has tried to take one or two each semester.
Her son is now 11 and she laughs at the prospect that he may be university bound before she completes her degree.
If all goes as scheduled, Lord will complete her bachelor of theology by December 2000.
There were challenges in caring for her family and maintaining her studies, but Lord managed her time and even found little tricks to keep up on her theology readings.
"I found that when I started at Newman I wear coats with bigger pockets," she said. "I always put a book in there.
"When we're at (my son's) hockey game and waiting during the periods, I'll pull out a book and start reading. When I'm driving the kids around, and I'm waiting for them in the car, I'll just start reading."
And the more Lord learns, the more she realizes she has yet to learn.
"The biggest learning for me is that God is so great, so enormous, so unbelievably huge and yet so intimate."
She continues to ask the why and what questions of her faith and encourages her children to do the same.
"If we don't let them ask and if we don't answer them they'll just go somewhere else. Then we will have no Church to talk of."
For Lord, leaving the Catholic Church may have been a possibility had she not had her questions respected and answered.
"I think I might have left. (The Newman classes) were a lifesaver to a drowning Christian.
"I've found out what real faith is. Real faith is being able to accept and question. Real faith is jumping off a cliff and knowing that there is someone there to catch you, that God is there to catch you. And not just believing that he's there because others tell you to believe."
Willpower and determination are key factors in any study program, but it is most important for those trying to intertwine their studies with raising a family.
When Peter Oliver started his classes at Newman last fall, his son was barely a year old. Oliver had moved his family from Saskatchewan to Edmonton so he could complete his master of divinity at Newman.
The work has paid off for Oliver.
Now living in Leduc, he is a staff member at St. Michael's Parish.
"I think one of the main challenges is being able to integrate all the stuff that I learned and make it cohesive, so I can use what I learned in ministry."
Oliver started taking theology courses at Newman in 1990. He had been pursuing the priesthood since 1984, but later felt married life was his calling.
Oliver said his studies at Newman increased his prayer life and have given his family a new vision of life.
"It's really given me an interest in social justice," he said. "It's given me a chance to see things from the eyes of someone who may not have a lot. It's even influenced where we shop in Leduc."
Oliver says he will continue to take courses.
"To me, I think it's essential to constantly return to study if one is to continue to effectively minister in the Church."
Church ministry is an option for Lord when she completes her study. She also feels pulled towards pastoral care or inner-city ministry.
"I feel like I put (my education) to good use all the time," Lord said. "Within the Church, within my family, within society. Whatever I learned I hope is integrated into my natural everyday life."
Gabrielle Byrne decided to complete her master of religious education degree not to become a full-time religion teacher at Notre Dame Elementary School in Leduc, where she is a counsellor and teacher, but because she felt it was the thing to do.
"It was a personal thing," she said. "I was expanding my own personal understanding. I just felt called to do it."
Unlike Lord and Oliver, Byrne didn't have young children to concern herself with while she was studying. But her teaching job left her with the challenge of finding study time. She spent the past four years taking evening and summer courses.
"I found that Newman has extremely high academic standards," Byrne said. "Higher and tougher than some of the other universities I've been to. So that can be challenging for a student, but also you have that reward at the end of it. (Newman) digs deep for the best in you."
One of her favourite courses at Newman was a Scripture course taught by Shirleyan Threndyle.
"Before Newman I always had a naive, childlike view of the Scriptures. Now I see it from an adult view - the underlying themes, where before it was just the words on the surface. It's really turned my life around.
"I felt like I was falling in love with God."
For her thesis project, Byrne coordinated a Fostering Peacemakers program among her students. It teaches them skills in relating to and solving problems. The program continues to operate at the school.
This year's graduating class reflects the college's span beyond the boundaries of its Edmonton campus. Its students come from dioceses as far west as Victoria and as far east as Ottawa.
The college's reputation is steadily growing. Its growth is apparent in its rise in enrollment, which has risen to 341 students this year, 117 of whom are new students.