Ryan Feehan believes Newman gave him the tools needed to be an effective teacher.


Ryan Feehan believes Newman gave him the tools needed to be an effective teacher.

October 28, 2013

Ryan Feehan is excited about the future. He now has the tools he needs to do a more effective job as teacher, assistant principal and chaplain at St. Mark's Junior High Catholic School.

Feehan, 32, is one of 25 who graduated from the master of religious education program at Newman Theological College and one of 34 students who received degrees at the college's 44th convocation ceremony Oct. 19.

He warmly embraced his dad, Kevin Feehan, the college's chancellor, who was handing out the degrees along with Archbishop Richard Smith and college president Jason West.

"It was an amazing program that I started with my eyes closed," Feehan told the WCR before the convocation. "I took that first step and with every class, with every discussion, I understood how much more I was getting out of this program than I ever expected."

Another happy grad was Judith Darbyson, a wife, mother and grandmother who spent 18 years completing her bachelor of theology degree, which she earned with distinction.

"It's a nice feeling, an accomplishment, a satisfaction," Darbyson said. "I would recommend this to any adult, to learn about their faith."

Feehan, who earned his master's with distinction and was valedictorian at the convocation, said he enrolled in the religious education program four years ago because he wanted to receive some formation in his faith and to explore his own spiritual journey and his relationship with God and with the person of Christ.

He also realized that to permeate the faith effectively in all the classrooms at St. Mark's "I really needed to read and to study."


"We put so much work into all other aspects of our lives," he said. "We go to hockey practices all the time to get better hockey players and we go and do training for marathons.

Judith Darbyson

Judith Darbyson

"(Unfortunately), we often don't go and do the same effort for our faith and I felt that it was really important to learn more about my faith if I was going to be effective at creating a community of faith in my school and in my classroom."

Completing the program required a lot of time management for Feehan because he was promoted to assistant principal and had new responsibilities.

"When I started the program I was expecting our first child and now that I'm done we have three children so I had to intentionally set time aside to keep up with my studies."

The subject matter proved difficult at times and so Feehan had to make sure he had the necessary time to digest it.

Asked whether the program has helped him move forward career-wise, Feehan replied, "most certainly."

"In terms of my career, it gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to assimilate and understand information. It taught me how to think, not just what to think, but how to think, so that I could be a more effective critical thinker when it comes to my administration role."


The program also gave Feehan the faith background and the formation he needed to have intelligent conversations about his faith.

Archbishop Richard Smith used the convocation to announce that Dr. Jason West has been appointed president of Newman College for a five-year term.


Archbishop Richard Smith used the convocation to announce that Dr. Jason West has been appointed president of Newman College for a five-year term.

"It also helped me with being able to be a chaplain in my school and facilitated the permeation (of the faith) in the classroom."

To become an assistant principal "one has to have the intention" of going into a master's program, he said. "So it definitely helped me out in my administration placement."

Darbyson, a mother of three adult daughters and a grandmother of two grandsons, started her theological education 18 years ago, when she was living in Fort McMurray.

"I always wanted to go back to school, and when they had the lay formation program out there, I got involved in that."

She took the first two years of the program in Fort Mac and when the family moved to Vegreville, she decided to take the third year in St. Paul.

When she received her certificate for lay formation, she got a letter stating it was worth 12 credits toward a bachelor of theology at Newman.

"So I started taking courses, one course at the time," she recalled. "You know, with family and working full time, I could only take one course. So I just kept plucking away at it. A couple of times I had to skip a semester because of family situations."

Courses in the program included Scripture, theology, anthropology, world religions and social justice. "It was a growth experience for me, for sure."


Darbyson moved to Edmonton in 2003 and, for the next three years, worked at Newman College as assistant registrar. After that she was pastoral associate at St. Charles Parish for several years.

Currently she is a pastoral associate at Dickinsfield Care Centre, bringing a Catholic presence to the 200 residents there. She was appointed to that position by her parish, St. Matthew's Parish, where she is chair of the liturgy committee and member of the RCIA team.

"I would say this program has helped me move forward career wise. I didn't only do it for that reason but it has certainly helped me get work."

The program also gave Darbyson a "deeper understanding of my faith" and an opportunity to meet and interact with professors, students and seminarians. "It's been a wonderful experience. We are so lucky to have a theology college in Edmonton."

The most difficult part of the program for Darbyson was writing papers or "the fear that you can't do it or you won't have the time." But she made it work "and was able to complete my papers on time and that was a sense of satisfaction too."