Vancouver College religion teacher Greg Van Dyk is always looking for new ways to teach the faith. So when he took a course at St. Mark’s College that compared mortal and venial sin to a broken bone versus a fracture, he knew he had something he could use.

Van Dyk was one of eight graduates from St. Mark’s College who are proving religion class isn’t just for religion teachers.

The Catholic school teachers have just completed the college’s brand-new Catholic Core program, focusing on the “core” of Church theology, Scripture, and morality.

"I could not pass up the opportunity,” said Tracy Palitti, a kindergarten teacher at Our Lady of Good Counsel School.

She said the course on Scripture gave her more material to use in her own classroom, while the theology and morality lessons helped answer  questions about her own faith.

“I feel that after taking the Core, one can have a deeper love and appreciation for the faith,” and become more involved in religious formation of students, she said.

She and the seven other graduates attended part-time classes at St. Mark’s over the span of one year to complete the program. While not a certificate or diploma, the courses can be applied for credit toward other programs at St. Mark’s; Palitti went on to apply for the Graduate Certificate in Catholic Educational Leadership.

Also completing the core program was Vancouver College’s Van Dyk.

“I love learning more about my faith, and I want to be able to go deeper when students ask good questions,” he said.

He found the course in morality gave him some ideas to use this fall when he starts teaching at St. Andrew’s Regional High School in Victoria.

“I found myself noticing lots of analogies and explanations from my graduate level textbook that I knew would totally make sense to my classroom full of teenage boys.” For example, the class discussed comparing “venial and mortal sin to sports injuries – one just fractures the bone, while the other breaks it,” he said. “This is something my students would get!”

When it comes down to it, Van Dyk said it’s the ways he grew personally, not the tips he jotted down for future lesson plans, that made the program especially worth it.

“Beyond increasing our knowledge about Catholicism, as Catholic teachers we should be looking to further our personal knowledge of Jesus in our own lives,” he said.

“It’s important to remember that academic study really only exists to serve what should be a real and living relationship” with Christ.

Eight teachers from the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese (CISVA) started the program in April 2017 and completed it this spring.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, has high praise for the Catholic Core program and the importance of continuing education for Catholic teachers. In fact, he launched the Archbishop's scholarship that pays for the tuition of CISVA teachers looking to expand their knowledge through the program.

St. Mark’s College has since opened up the program to education assistants as well as teachers, and said at least another eight are on track to complete Catholic Core by the spring of 2019.