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Charleston Daily Mail

Theology teachers try expanding study to many religions

Husband, wife teach classes at Catholic school

Charlotte Ferrell Smith <>
Daily Mail staff

Saturday August 26, 2000; 10:32 AM

They teach acceptance of all faiths and respect for all people.

"It's a matter of building bridges and tearing down walls," Diana Mehle said.

She and her husband, Bill Mehle, teach theology classes at Charleston Catholic High School where about 60 percent of the students are Catholic and the rest come from a wide range of faiths. Guest speakers are regularly invited to talk about Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism as well as the Bahai and Islamic faiths.

The Mehles' philosophy is there are more similarities than differences among people.

"God is big enough to love us all," Diana said. "We make God smaller than God is when we create these divisions."

Diana and Bill Mehle, who married 22 years ago, are the parents of Jesse, 18, Kaitlin, 17, and Jacob, 13. The family attends Blessed Sacrament Church in South Charleston.

Diana and Bill Mehle have classrooms side by side at Charleston Catholic.

An intricate number of puzzle pieces brought them together and led them to West Virginia.

Bill, a New Jersey native, holds an undergraduate degree in accounting from St. John's University in New York City. He earned a graduate degree in religious education from Fordham University in New York City. He first saw the Mountain State when doing college service work in the hills of Appalachia.

Diana was born in Baltimore but moved about with her family due to her father's job as a factory builder. She was in fourth grade the first time she saw West Virginia when her family lived in Putnam County for a while. She loved it.

She earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Rutgers in New Jersey and a graduate degree in religious education from Regis University in Colorado.

Their paths first crossed in New Jersey while she was working as an assistant in a doctor's office and he came in as a patient.

When they married in 1978, they looked into ways of doing service work together but few opportunities existed for married couples. However, in 1981 they went to Japan as lay missionaries through Maryknoll, the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America. Language proved to be a very difficult barrier to master and Diana became pregnant with their first child. They returned to the United States in 1982 but had paved the way for future missionary work.

Bill Mehle passed over job offers with large New Jersey accounting firms, positions he knew would not offer the contentment he desired.

Instead, he worked as a youth minister and later as a teacher in Catholic schools as they raised a family.

They later worked together in Catholic campus ministry at Western Carolina University.

During that time, Bill organized a trip to Nicaragua for Habitat for Humanity while Diana stayed with the children. During the course of his work, he happened to meet a West Virginian who told him about the position at Charleston Catholic High School.

He began teaching at Charleston Catholic in 1989. Diana, who first taught philosophy at a community college, is beginning her third year at Charleston Catholic.

While they both have degrees and experience, there are some things that are felt and not learned.

"In the classroom, the experience of God comes from the heart," Diana said. "Are we faithful to the gospel in our lives? That is a daily question. Doing our work keeps that question alive for us."

Bill added, "It's rewarding work. It's challenging. High school kids are energizing. They ask us the hard questions."

She teaches freshmen while he has the juniors and seniors.

They watch the students learn from each other and incorporate insights from various religions into their own. This sense of openness and acceptance seems to help them affirm their own beliefs, Bill said.

They agree there is excitement as well as a little anxiety associated with each new school year.

"Many days I look at lesson plans and think I'm not qualified to do this," Diana said. "I am on a faith journey. I have not arrived. I'm unworthy, unqualified. God who breathed this life into me gives me the faith to do this. I learn more than I have to offer."

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