Prior to embarking on what has become a nearly 20-year teaching career at St. Peter School in Waldorf, Diana Durkin had another job at another Catholic school ­– she was a registered dietician at Georgetown University.

After a brief stint working as a substitute teacher at St. Peter’s, Durkin said she “got bit by the teaching bug.”

“I figured this (teaching) was something that I would love to do, so I went and got a master’s degree,” she explained. After switching careers, Durkin began teaching at the school where she found her new vocation.

J.R. West, principal of St. Peter’s, praised Durkin as “very organized and dedicated to making sure each child reaches his or her potential.”

“She provides leadership by example,” West said of Durkin. “This whole school is centered on Jesus, and she exudes that in everything she does.”

Durkin’s dedication to her students and her vocation as a Catholic school educator has been honored by the Archdiocese of Washington. She is one of 11 archdiocesan educators this year to be named a 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.

“Mrs. Durkin has a true love for Jesus Christ and a true love for her students, and she shows it every day,” Bill Ryan, the archdiocesan superintendent of schools, said in announcing Durkin’s honor.

Erica McIvor – the mother of four daughters, three of whom attend St. Peter’s – nominated Durkin for the award.

“She’s a fabulous teacher who has taught two of my four girls,” McIvor said. “Mrs. Durkin has always been very patient and very kind. She is a loving teacher.”

McIvor said that she looks forward to her third daughter being taught by Durkin, and her fourth daughter, who is not yet of school age.

“Mrs. Durkin has always been very rooted in her Catholic identity and she makes sure her students are rooted in their faith and in God,” McIvor said.

Although raised a Byzantine Catholic, Durkin attends Latin-rite Mass.

“She attends Mass in St. Peter’s Church devoutly and sets marvelous example of devotion for her students,” said Father Keith Woods, pastor of St. Peter’s Church. “Her teaching and participation in a Catholic school is obviously an extension and expression of her deeply held faith.”

Father Woods added, “Mrs. Durkin demonstrates her baptismal dignity by her professionalism and mature manner with students, parents and colleagues.”

Durkin said “it is wonderful to help shape children’s lives and to have an impact on them.”

“I hope I prepare them (students) well to move on. I hope they take the religious foundation and continue to build on it for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Student Isabelle Strutt said, “Mrs. Durkin is an amazing teacher, and she teaches us a lot about Jesus. I will always remember her as my amazing teacher.”

Outside of her classroom of 29 students, Durkin serves as the moderator of St. Peter’s Destination Imagination teams.

Destination Imagination is a competitive worldwide educational outreach that seeks to foster in students creative problem solving, critical thinking skills and teamwork through challenges in technical, scientific, engineering, fine arts and other academic areas.

Last month, under Durkin’s leadership, St. Peter’s Destination Imagination teams won six awards in a countywide competition.

In addition, principal West noted, Durkin has collected food and clothing for the needy in the community and has prepared food and goodie packages for fire fighters, police officers and other local first responders.

“This (the Golden Apple Award) is a well, well deserved honor for Mrs. Durkin. She is extremely dedicated,” West said. “She is always a team player.”

Durkin called St. Peter’s School, “one of the best places to teach” and a school where “we teach the faith by modeling it. We are also a community who looks out for each other.”

She said that she would not teach anywhere but in a Catholic school.

“Teaching in a Catholic school has been a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “Teaching here has strengthened my faith. I am able to teach my faith. I am able to live my faith. I am able to model my faith.”

Durkin and her fellow Golden Apple Award winners will be honored at a May 16 dinner hosted by Cardinal Donald Wuerl. Each will receive a $5,000 prize, along with a golden apple, pin and certificate.

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.