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St. Mary’s Ryken theology teacher helps students see faith as ‘the deepest truth of reality’

Published by the Catholic Standard on June 15, 2021

Written by Richard Szczepanowski 

MaryRose Depperschmidt Golden Apple

MaryRose Depperschmidt, a theology teacher at St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland, is one of 10 Golden Apple Award-winning Catholic school teachers in the Archdiocese of Washington for 2021. Recipients of the award for Catholic school teaching excellence receive a golden apple and a check for $5,000. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

For the past school year as St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland, conducted classes both virtually and in-person due to the coronavirus pandemic, theology teacher MaryRose Depperschmidt said she came to realize “we are not only called to teach the Gospel in season and out of season, but in pandemic and out of pandemic.”

“For the most part, I tried to keep things as normal as possible,” Depperschmidt said. “I hope to never have to teach this way again – and it was rather hard to adjust to – but I said, ‘Okay, I accept this, and I will roll with it.’”

To teach theology to high schoolers, she said, “you have to be authentic and manifest the joy of the Gospel.”

“What I teach is not so much about what information will be useful for a future job or a future career,” Depperschmidt said. “I tell my students they are learning this (theology) because it is truth, the deepest truth of reality. No matter what job they will have, no matter what career they will have, God will always be a part of their lives.”

Depperschmidt – a seven-year veteran at the Xaverian Brothers-sponsored school – is one of 10 Archdiocese of Washington educators to be named a 2021 Golden Apple Award winner. The annual award recognizes a teacher’s professional excellence, leadership, commitment to Catholic values, and devotion to teaching in Catholic schools.

“Everywhere she goes, she brings light and joy into the room. Her students adore her, and she genuinely cares for each of them,” said Father Scott Woods, chaplain at the school.

The Golden Apple Award-winning teacher said, “I feel this (a Catholic high school) is the greatest place to teach the truth in the fullest sense. It’s definitely a privilege to talk about God in school, because I get to talk about what I am passionate about every day.”

Depperschmidt is herself a graduate of St. Mary’s Ryken, a member of the class of 2010. She earned her degree in theology from The Catholic University of America.

“I started teaching here right after I graduated from college,” she explained. Not only does she have former teachers as colleagues, but in her time teaching at Ryken, two graduates of the school have since returned to teach.

Originally planning to have a career as an English teacher, Depperschmidt switched her focus in college when she began taking theology classes. “I was hungry for something objective and in studying theology, I became more passionate about that. I realized how much I didn’t realize about my faith.”

She is currently attending classes at Christendom College, working on her master’s degree in systematic theology, because “the more you learn, the more you realize how much there is to know.”

The award-winning teacher said the challenge of her job is helping the students realize “religion is not just a list of dos and don’ts and ancient stories, but the story of God who is active in their lives today.”

“In a way I have to help them have a paradigm shift because many of the students come from Catholic schools, and they think they already know everything” about the Catholic faith, Depperschmidt said. “They are catechized, but they are not necessarily evangelized. They do not necessarily know the big picture.”

Depperschmidt said because “students may not always remember everything that was said, but they will remember who said it,” she is dedicated to living the faith she teaches. “I make sure I am rooted in prayer and rooted in my relationship to God,” she said.

MaryRose Depperschmidt Golden Apple2

MaryRose Depperschmidt, a theology teacher at St. Mary’s Ryken High School in Leonardtown, Maryland, reacts to the surprise announcement on May 28, 2021 that she is one of 10 Golden Apple Award-winning Catholic school teachers in the Archdiocese of Washington for this year. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Father Woods also noted that Depperschmidt is devoted to her faith.

“On top of being an excellent teacher and scholar, she is also a woman of deep prayer. I often see her attending daily Mass or praying quietly in the chapel at Ryken,” the priest said, adding, “No doubt she knows that the very heart of ministry is prayer.”

Golden Apple Award winners each receive a $5,000 prize, along with a golden apple.

The Golden Apple Awards, sponsored by the Donahue Family Foundation, honor outstanding Catholic school teachers in this archdiocese and several other dioceses. Jack and Rhodora Donahue, founders of the Pittsburgh-based foundation, sent their 13 children to Catholic schools.

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