Not many people can say they met the pope on their honeymoon. But Newman University alums Deanna (Jones) and Michael Johnston can.
The couple attended the university for their master’s degrees in theology. As part of their final course for the program, they traveled to Rome with their cohort, some family members and Father Joseph Gile, dean of Catholic Studies and associate professor.
The week prior to the trip in 2013, the Johnstons tied the knot so their class excursion to Rome also served as their honeymoon. In preparation for the trip, Father Gile encouraged the Johnstons to get Sposi Novelli (which translates to newlyweds) tickets to the papal audience they were going to attend as a group. The couple was given specific instructions, such as to wear their wedding attire and enter through a specific gate.
When they arrived to St. Peter’s Basilica that day, they were seated on the platform that was somewhat near where the Holy Father was sitting.
“We thought that was a really special experience, and honestly didn’t expect anything more to happen,” Deanna shared. “However, at the end of the audience, the security personnel escorted us out to the main platform and told us to stand there and wait. That’s when we realized that Pope Francis was making his way toward us, and we were the first couple in the group of newlyweds to greet the Holy Father!”
It was an “incredible moment” for the Johnstons.
Journey to Newman and theology careers
Both Deanna and Michael graduated from Newman in 2014 with their master’s degrees in theology.
Prior to attending Newman, Michael, who’s originally from Henderson, Texas, studied at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. Deanna, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, attended the University of Memphis for her bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
The two met on CatholicMatch after Michael graduated from the Josephinum and Deanna was finishing her first year working at a nonprofit in San Antonio. She ended up moving to Dodge City, Kansas, to begin a pastoral ministry job at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe while Michael was in Tyler, Texas, at the Cathedral parish. He was the one who initially learned about Newman’s graduate program.
“Wichita was closer to me (we were in a long-distance relationship) and being part of the same graduate program was helpful not only for our jobs at the time, but it was also a way for us to see one another on a regular basis,” Deanna explained of their decision to attend. “Michael moved to Dodge City in November 2012, we married in October 2013, and we graduated in May 2014.”
In 2017, the Johnstons moved to Tyler, Texas, where Deanna is now the director of family life for the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Tyler. This past summer, she was invited to serve as a U.S. delegate to the World Meeting of Families in Rome.
“Being able to experience that with Michael and our oldest daughter was extra special,” Deanna said.
Michael teaches theology at Bishop T.K. Gorman Catholic High School and also serves as the department chair. One highlight from his career thus far was receiving the Teacher of the Year Award in 2020.
Since graduating the couple has had four children: Alexandria, Simon, Elena and Leo, with their fifth child on the way.
Wherever life takes them, Michael and Deanna carry their experiences in Newman’s graduate theology program close to their hearts.
“We’re grateful for the formation we received through that program,” Deanna said. “Although most of our experience at Newman was distance learning, the on-campus visits and the people we had a chance to meet in our cohort were a very special part of our journeys. Newman will always be a very special place for us!”
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