Paul Dansereau, far left, is among the new students at Newman Theological College which is celebrating its 50th anniversary and the canonization of its namesake. Photo by Lincoln Ho, Grandin Media

An education built on inspiration

By  Kyle Greenham, Canadian Catholic News
  • October 18, 2019

EDMONTON -- It’s a monumental year for Newman Theological College, which is celebrating both its 50th anniversary and the canonization of its namesake, Blessed John Henry Newman.

And for two new students, their enrolment has also come with some monumental life changes.

Paul Dansereau made the move from Revelstoke, B.C., to Edmonton with his wife and three children, all under four, to study at Newman. He plans to spend the next two years working towards a bachelor’s degree in theology and possibly a master’s degree.

Supporting a family while studying full-time is a daunting task for the 29-year-old. But Dansereau is set to tackle the challenge, driven by his hope of a better future for the Church.

“Looking at the state of the Church today, the needs of our time, and the call for the new evangelization — nothing fills me with more joy than doing this kind of work” with the Church, he said.

“One of my favourite quotes from (Catholic author) Michael Kelly is that the Church is not something we inherit from previous generations, it’s on loan to us from future generations.

“What I’m doing today is for the Church of my kids and grandkids.”

As of the 2018/19 winter semester, 282 full-time and part-time students were enrolled at Newman. The student body is a combination of seminarians, lay people and Catholic teachers studying in the Master of Religious Education program.

Joanne Mahwinney of Wheatley River, P.E.I., is enrolled in the online Master of Theological Studies program. Like Newman, Mahwinney grew up in a different Christian tradition, and the new saint played a pivotal role in her decision to become Catholic.

Her enrolment seems particularly providential. It was the University of Prince Edward Island’s annual Blessed John Henry Newman Dinner in Charlottetown that sparked her interest in Catholicism four years ago.

“I have to thank Newman for where I am now,” said Mahwinney, who was gifted a book on the 19th-century theologian and cardinal.

At 50, Mahwinney has lived much of her life as a Protestant, a biblical scholar and teacher at the Immanuel Christian School in Charlottetown. Her superiors were supportive of her decision to become a Catholic more than a year ago. When she graduates, Mahwinney hopes to immerse herself fully in the faith and to pass her knowledge on to her students.

“Many people don’t know how to view their faith from a perspective of truth or from a theism that is rational. It’s important for me to learn that for myself and help young people. I want them to know there’s a reason for their faith.”

Dansereau’s faith development has also come with challenges. He uprooted his family and left behind three jobs in Revelstoke where he worked as a postal worker, kayak guide and mover for the company he owns with his brother.

He was introduced to Newman Theological College through his local parish. He studied online and graduated with a certificate in theology last year. His passion for the Church and his faith only grew through this experience. His faculty advisor, Prof. Stéphane Saulnier, encouraged him to pursue that passion, even though he was hesitant at first.

“My immediate thought was, I’ve got three kids to raise. There’s no way I can afford to go back to school full-time,” Dansereau said. “But over the course of several months we took it to prayer and the more we thought about it and considered our options, we discovered it was actually feasible and doable. Nothing has filled us with more joy and peace since.”

What will come after his education is uncertain, but his dream is to work with a ministry like Dynamic Catholic or Word on Fire, founded by Bishop Robert Barron.

“We’ll see what the Lord has in store. He’s the one who put me on this journey.”

(Grandin Media)

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