Newman College grads praise school's flexibility, caring

Dorothy Burns and Patrick Mayo both overcame struggles to complete their respective Newman Theological College degrees.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Dorothy Burns and Patrick Mayo both overcame struggles to complete their respective Newman Theological College degrees.

October 26, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

After more than a decade of taking courses at Newman Theological College while working, raising a family and beating cancer, Patrick Mayo finally graduated with a Master in Theological Studies.

"I can't believe it," Mayo declares. "This is the hardest degree I've ever done. I have a bachelor of science, I have a PHD in science and now I have the Master of Theological Studies. It was the hardest because of just how difficult it was to come back through the illness and still have to work.

"But academically I think it was one of the more rewarding of the degrees I have. It was certainly, to my mind, the most enlightening of all my degrees. It was some of the illumination I was looking for."

Dorothy Burns of Okotoks was equally excited. The mother of two graduated with a Master of Religious Education that took her 14 years to complete.

"I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity and I'm very grateful that we have a Catholic theological college in Western Canada that makes it possible for people to grow in their faith through intellectual formation and study," she said excitedly.

"People should not be afraid to start on that journey themselves because the flexibility of Newman in regards to how they offer the courses makes it very doable, even for people who have already entered the work force."

Mayo and Burns, both of whom graduated with distinction, were among 45 graduates who received degrees in theology and religious education at Newman's 46th convocation ceremony at the chapel of St. Joseph Seminary Oct. 17.

Speaking at the convocation, Basilian Father Timothy Scott, executive director of the Canadian Religious Conference, urged the graduates to be present to the sick, the dying, the imprisoned and all those who suffer.

"When you are present to your sisters and brothers, you are the Church," he stressed. "Your presence in this suffering world and your presence to our merciful and loving God speak volumes of the very nature of our faith."

Quoting St. John Chrysostom, Scott told the graduates that if they can't find Christ in the beggar at the church's door, "you will not find him in the chalice."

During the ceremony, college president Dr. Jason West honoured Dr. Robert McKeon with the title of Professor Emeritus for his years of service to Newman and the Church.

HOSPITAL CHAPLAIN GOAL

Mayo, a clinical pharmacist in palliative care at the University of Alberta Hospital, started to take courses at Newman as an unclassified student some 12 years ago with the idea of becoming a hospital chaplain.

"I wanted to be a hospital chaplain and I just wanted to serve God," he recalled. "I have always had kind of a strong affinity for people who are sick."

He started back at the old college's site on St. Albert Trail, where he eventually enrolled in the Master of Divinity Program. "At one point I was working fulltime and taking three courses a semester. That was back in the day when I thought I could physically push my body through anything. I learned that that isn't true."

Suddenly Mayo, now 56, was diagnosed with stage-three cancer. He felt terrible but continued his courses while still in chemotherapy.

"I still think to this day that I got a good mark in the theology of Karl Renner because I think Father Dave Norman was afraid I was going to die in class," Mayo joked.

What kept him going was Jesus who, when asked what's most important, said: "To love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and to love your neighbour as yourself (Luke 10:27)." That passage always rang true in everything that Mayo has done.

Realizing he wasn't going to be able to complete his Master of Divinity within the time allowed, Mayo dropped it and enrolled in the Masters of Theological Studies right when the college was moving to its current quarters.

Newman was willing to give Mayo an extension to complete his Master in Divinity, but he refused. "I didn't think it was fair to the program."

Now that he completed his Master of Theological Studies, the father-of-two plans to complete his clinical pastoral education in order to become a chaplain.

"At this point in my life I think I have some of the basic tools that I need as far knowledge."

He also has some relevant experience as palliative care worker and as volunteer with cancer patients, supporting them.

The best thing about Newman College, he says, "is the spiritual growth combined with the knowledge to understand your spiritual journey."

He adds that his time Newman "enriched my faith and my personal relationship with Jesus Christ."

"I've always felt it is wonderful to have a college that the laity can come to and take training alongside the seminarians," Mayo declares.

"I've always felt that one of the best ways to support Newman is to take courses. It's great to write a cheque, but for your own faith life, for your own formation journey, take courses; you will learn so much about your own faith it's just amazing."

LONG JOURNEY

Burns started doing courses for the Graduate Diploma in Religious Education in 2001. She graduated from that program in 2010. Two years later, when Newman revised that program, she was able to enroll in the Master of Religious Education program by doing four field projects connected to the courses she had already taken.

It took her two-and-half years to complete the field projects, which she describes as "practical things that you do that are related to the theology that you have learned."

One of Burns field projects was about "doing preparations for the sacrament of confirmation," which she did at her parish, St. James's Parish in Okotoks.

The theology she had learned enabled her to look at effective ways to prepare students and their parents for confirmation "so that they really see it as an important moment in their spiritual journey."

Burns said it was able the flexibility of Newman to her family circumstances which allowed her to obtain her Master in Religious Education.

"Their flexibility was really great for my family circumstances, so I was able to take one or two courses a year depending on my circumstances."

Most of the courses Burns took were online, except for once-a-month classes at the Edmonton campus. It took a great effort because while studying at Newman Burns was raising two young daughters as well as working fulltime as director of religious education for Christ Redeemer Catholic Schools. "But, again, the flexibility that Newman has, made it doable."

SPARK TO LEARN

Burns first decided to study at Newman when the leader of a retreat she took challenged participants to have a faith education equal to their professional degrees. "So as a teacher and educator, of course, I had a university degree.

"I said, 'Well then if I am to meet that challenge then I should have at least a university degree in religious education.'" Studying at Newman was definitely worth Burns' time and money. "I feel now that I really have a solid foundation that can guide my practice in my role as director of religious education andas a member of my parish," she said.