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Golden Apple Award teacher from St. Mary’s Ryken High School teaches the truths of the Catholic faith

Published by the Catholic Standard on June 18, 2020

By Richard Szczepanowski

Golden Apple 20 Luke Young

Luke Young, a theology teacher at St. Mary's Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland, who was recently named as a 2020 Golden Apple Award winning teacher,  is seen at left standing with his wife, Deigh, their four children, St. Mary’s Ryken president Rick Wood and principal Catherine Bowes. 

For the past 10 years, Luke Young, a theology teacher at St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland, has engaged his students in discussion and dialogue to help them understand the truth.

“In 10 years, the topics of conversations have changed, but because we are teaching truth and morality, the core of the class is pretty much the same,” he said. “The conversation changes, but not the truth, because truth doesn’t change.”

“I love theology, and to be honest, I do not know what else I would teach,” he added. “Moral theology and social ethics, you could not teach that in a public school. I’ve had students who came from public schools who say it’s a shame they couldn’t teach morality in a public school.”

Young’s commitment to Catholic education was honored this year as he was one of 10 Archdiocese of Washington educators to be named a Golden Apple Award winner.

The Golden Apple Awards, sponsored by the Donahue Family Foundation, honors outstanding Catholic school teachers in this archdiocese, and several other dioceses in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Jack and Rhodora Donahue, founders of the Pittsburgh-based foundation, sent their 13 children to Catholic schools, and established the award to show their appreciation for Catholic education.

The annual award recognizes a teacher’s professional excellence, leadership, commitment to Catholic values, and devotion to teaching in Catholic schools.

By engaging students and encouraging their questions and comments, Young said that “students learn a lot in the course of a year, but we do it in a way that gets the students invested and where they can add their input.”

He added that when he engages students, “they sometimes think that morality is just an opinion, but when you face difficult topics and show them the truth, students are very appreciative.”

“We don’t shy away from the truth – I will not stand before God one day and say, ‘I copped out on teaching the truth because I found it difficult’,” he added.

Before teaching at St. Mary’s Ryken, Young worked for the United Parcel Service (UPS) and the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO). Prior to that, he was a member of the Legionaries of Christ and for a while attended a seminary.

“I was in the seminary in college and discerned out,” he said. “I never thought about using everything that I learned. But God works in some different ways - this (teaching theology and ethics) was not something that I could have foreseen.”

Young and his wife, Deigh, are the parents of four children, the youngest of whom was born in March. They gather each day at 3 p.m. to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. “It’s a family thing that we do,” he explained. The family are members of Our Lady’s Church in Medley’s Neck, Maryland.

Young said he enjoys teaching in a Catholic School because “you can’t teach human dignity without God.” He added that with “a natural holistic approach” to education that includes talk of God and religion, he has discovered that “students really do enjoy the conversation, and we’ve even had students who have converted.”

“Luke has had a transformative effect on our school, our parishes, and our community as a whole,” said Father Scott Woods, the chaplain at St. Mary’s Ryken. “A number of the young men who are studying for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington have pointed to him as a model Catholic school teacher, and as the type of spiritual father and mentor they hope to become.”

When Catholic schools temporarily closed this past spring in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Young discovered that while “it was a very seamless transition for my school to go in that direction,” distance learning has had its advantages and disadvantages.

“This whole period of time everything feels different. It’s been interesting because students have been opening up and talking,” he said. “But it is very difficult to engage them virtually. Philosophy isn’t hard, but it takes time to digest, and we’ve lost that time.”

The pandemic and social rest that is affecting this country “has opened up a lot of conversation. These kids see America changing. They are not dumb, they need to talk and it has opened up a lot of conversations.”

Young and his fellow Golden Apple Award winners each will receive a $5,000 prize, along with a golden apple, pin and certificate.

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