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From the Field: Caitlin Wrend

on Wednesday, 21 December 2011.

From the Field: Caitlin Wrend
As a product of Catholic schools, Caitlin Wrend (3rd from right, above) was drawn to the mission of ACE when she applied to the ACE Service through Teaching (STT) program. "I wanted to work to make the gift of a Catholic education a reality for all children," she says, and become "part of this group that is wholeheartedly dedicated to the mission of strengthening Catholic schools."

Now in Tucson at San Xavier Mission School, Caitlin has one semester of 3rd grade teaching under her belt. Already she is aware of how the ACE mission applies in areas large and small. "This experience has opened my eyes to the many challenges our education system is facing today," she tells us. At the same time, it has narrowed her focus to the children. "It really is all about the kids," Caitlin says.

The "17 smiling faces" that greet her every morning remind her of the beacon of hope a Catholic school can be. And no matter the teaching hurdles she may cross on a given day, it's the students' "little ah-ha moments that make it all worthwhile!"

Some may wonder how soon young STT teachers know they're making a difference, especially because the job can be, as Caitlin says, "daunting and overwhelming." But Caitlin tells of a day in October when she saw that her instruction was taking hold. "My mom came to visit my classroom, and while she was reading with one of my students, my mom misunderstood something that had happened on the previous page. My student looked up at her and patiently said, 'Mrs. Wrend, you need to back up and re-read.' I realized that my students really are learning and using the strategies I am teaching them."

Click here to learn more about this program that brings hopes to schools, students, and teachers alike.

Grace in the Family Tree

on Wednesday, 21 December 2011.

jesus genealogyPut to music, the genealogy of Jesus, as it's found in Matthew's Gospel, takes about 2 minutes to sing. The list--3 sets of 14 generations each--includes the names of thieves (Jacob, who stole his brother's birthright) and murderers (David, who stole Uriah's wife and then had him killed), foreigners (Rahab and Ruth), and even a prostitute (Rahab again). In his book on Advent, Father Raymond Brown suggests why: Matthew's genealogy reflects the essential theology of Christianity: salvation by grace.

Of this, Gail Godwin writes, "Matthew's genealogy is showing us how the story of Jesus Christ contained--and would continue to contain--the flawed and inflicted and insulted, the cunning and the weak-willed and the misunderstood. His is an equal opportunity ministry for crooks and saints..."

"And this, of course," Godwin continues, "is where the message settles directly upon us...Isn't this a pretty hopeful testament to the likelihood that God is using us, with our individual flaws and gifts, in all manner of peculiar and unexpected ways? Who of us can say we're not in the process of being used right now, to fulfill some purpose whose grace and goodness would boggle our imagination if we could even begin to get our minds around it?" (Paraphrased from Watch for the LIght, p. 159.)

Listen to the song that brings this genealogy to life.

From the Field: Greg Rustico

on Friday, 16 December 2011.

From the Field: Greg Rustico
For Greg Rustico (pictured with his community, bottom-left), service was the draw to join ACE Service through Teaching. "Jesus' message in the Gospel clearly commands us to think first of others," he says. "I felt that I could most effectively serve by being a teacher."

Now, after a semester on the job, he adds that teaching is unique as a type of service. "Teaching requires patience," he says. "The results aren't immediately apparent like other forms of service." Thus, Greg has to remind himself now and again that he is making a difference, whether or not he can see it.

His ACE community "of 8 awesome people" in Brownsville, Texas helps him in that regard. So, too, does the recognition that the impact of his service reaches beyond the middle school social studies and language arts he teaches. "I sense that many of my students, especially the boys, are starting to look up to me," he says. "I hope that I can be a strong role model for them."

Click here to learn more about the ACE Service through Teaching program.

Texas Advocates Region to Host February Retreat

on Tuesday, 06 December 2011.

All Are Welcome!

Texas Retreat MobileThe Dallas and Austin ACE Advocates invite you to join them this February for a regional retreat at Balcones Springs, a retreat center located an hour outside of Austin.This weekend of reflection and prayer will take place from Friday, February 17 to Sunday, February 19, and welcomes all who love Catholic schools.

Spend your Presidents' Day weekend reconnecting with friends, resting in this peaceful and much-loved site of ACE Service Through Teaching's annual December Retreat, and being reinvigorated to continue the mission of ACE Advocates. Fr. Lou and other members of the ACE staff look forward to spending the weekend with you!

Register now!  Or, if you have any questions, contact Elizabeth Stewart at .

ACE's Mission in Ireland

on Wednesday, 30 November 2011.

Responding to a Need for Faith and Trust

Fr. Sean McGraw, CSC and Irish friends of Catholic education
Turmoil besetting the Catholic Church in Ireland has deepened the challenges facing the country's Catholic schools, and ACE has been working with leading Irish educators to respond to these challenges.

ACE, which has had various involvements in Ireland from the late 1990s, has increased its activity in Ireland since 2006 with a vibrant ACE Advocates community and the hosting of several conferences in Ireland and at Notre Dame for high level educational leaders from the primary and secondary sector.

ACE also recruits and selects two Irish teachers to participate in the ACE Service through Teaching program each year. The upcoming 2012 visit by Notre Dame to Ireland provides ACE with an excellent opportunity to deepen our mission in Ireland.

The ACE Ireland mission, which has been set by Irish educators themselves, has three basic goals, says Rev. Sean McGraw, C.S.C., co-founder of ACE and a leader in ACE's work in Ireland.

"The goals are to develop future leaders for the schools, to support the faith life of teachers, and to build partnerships between educators in Ireland and the United States," says Father Sean.

Those goals address concerns about the Catholic identity embodied in Ireland's Catholic schools at a time when the Church there is reeling from a clergy sexual abuse scandal and rapid declines in regular church attendance.

5 Minutes with Christ: Time for Teachers

on Tuesday, 22 November 2011.

The perfect Christmas gift for your favorite teacher!

5 Minutes with Christ: Time for Teachers
Busy teachers have a new resource to help them build meaningful prayer time into their day. A just-released book, 5 Minutes with Christ, edited by Rev. Lou DelFra, C.S.C., and Ann Primus Berends, has assembled inspirational reflections crafted by graduates and associates of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).

Focusing on the ministry of Christ the Teacher, 5 Minutes with Christ provides Catholic educators with the spiritual nourishment they need during their busy days. Each reflection is based on an event in the life of Jesus and follows a simple format: an excerpt from one of the gospels; a personal reflection by a teacher; and a short prayer.

Teachers can use these reflections and prayers as starting points for their own daily devotion. The book is ideal for teacher retreats and spiritual learning communities among faculty members.

Father Lou DelFra is ACE's Director of Pastoral Life. Ann Primus Berends is an Associate Director in ACE.The book can be purchased from the publisher at the Ave Maria Press website.

From the Field: Adam Barajas

on Friday, 18 November 2011.

From the Field: Adam Barajas

The powerful witness of ACE is not lost on Adam Barajas. As a high school student, he studied science under an ACE teacher. That experience not only set his course towards the ACE Service through Teaching program but, he says, "it made me a better person."

Adam Barajas lives in Brownsville, Texas in an ACE community that refers to itself—true to Texas form—as "the biggest and best in ACE." The middle school math and science teacher describes why he joined ACE Service through Teaching: "I was taught Chemistry and Physics by an ACE teacher in high school. His influence in my life reached far beyond the classroom and past my time in high school...When I was discerning God's plan for me after college, it seemed as though I was called to give back to the program that had done so much for me."

Indeed, Mr. Barajas is giving back. While he speaks of areas where he needs "a lot of improvement," he attests to how he is making a difference. "There is a poverty of depth, experience, and intellectual challenge at the school in which I teach. In seeing and addressing this issue, I feel I am making a difference. My students leave my class with more questions than they came in with. The ability to question and seek answers in a coherent manner is the best gift I can offer my students."

At the same time, Mr. Barajas attests to the gift ACE teaching has been to him. His spiritual and professional growth have made him a different person from when he started the program, such that he can say: "This past weekend I saw the sunset on the bay of South Padre Island [and] the reality that I am doing more than just service and that these kids are more than just my students finally sunk in. God is with the people of this foreign place and he is with me in my time here as well, sanctifying my service and making my broken talents whole."

Click here to learn more about the ACE Service through Teaching program.

From the Field: Sylvia Rodriguez

on Friday, 11 November 2011.


As any person involved in Notre Dame ACE Academies (NDAA) can tell you, the schools' goals are twofold: College and Heaven. NDAA board member Sylvia Rodriguez highlights this with everyone she meets: "I tell them that we are all in this for our children, to make it a better world for them by preparing them for College and Heaven."

Sylvia Rodriguez is a walking advertisement for thsylvia rodriguez teasere value of Catholic schools. Not only is she a parish representative on the NDAA board; not only is she a Catholic school parent; Mrs. Rodriguez also heads up Madrinas y Padrinos, "a group of wonderful people who help recruit families to our schools who may not realize that it is possible for our children to attend these schools," she explains.

Says NDAA associate director Andie Cisneros, "Sylvia has done awesome things since she took over the position, recruiting new madrinas and padrinos and coordinating their efforts. They speak at masses at local parishes, CCD classes and parent meetings, and even stand outside grocery stores handing out flyers and talking to parents about the schools. She's totally committed and a force to be reckoned with in the best possible way."

"I love the Madrinas program," Mrs. Rodriguez says, "because it opens up many doors of opportunity for children and their families. When I am out giving literature about ACE schools to potential families and see the look on their faces when they hear that their children can attend because we offer tuition assistance...I feel I make a difference, especially when families show up and register at one of our schools."

The highlight for her in this work, she says, is what it offers children in terms of faith formation and the pursuit of higher education, so they can "go out and achieve their hearts' desires and become great people in society." Great people in society--like Sylvia Rodriguez!

Catholic School Champion: Priscilla Bussari

on Wednesday, 02 November 2011.

priscillabussariteaserimageThe power of prayer brought Priscilla Bussari to her involvement with Notre Dame ACE Academies (NDAA).

With her husband, Rey, the mother of five has sent each of their children to Catholic schools. Currently their three youngest attend St. John the Evangelist NDAA. The school, she reports, is thriving now, but it hasn't always been so. "St. John's was on the brink of closure," Mrs. Bussari says. "It had gone through five different principals in five years and enrollment was rapidly declining. There was no unified direction for the school." So she and several others committed to praying for St. John's. "This is not just the school my children attend," she explains. "This is our community."

Their prayers were answered. "St. John's was one of the 3 schools chosen to become the first Notre Dame ACE Academies. This partnership would give our school the resources it had been lacking for so many years. This renewed sense of direction gave me hope, and I wanted to be part of it."

Today Mrs. Bussari serves on the NDAA school board and, she adds, "in any capacity needed. I will be the voice of our school's parents, working on behalf of our children to ensure that they have the opportunities to get an excellent education and to continue to grow in their faith."

And indeed, they are making gains. "The expectations both academically and in their faith are at a higher level; this partnership has opened up a new world for them. The school culture has made such a positive change in just the last year."

About her service to St. John's, this Catholic School Champion concludes, "I know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but I am confident that with this partnership, the future is a bright one."

October/November Regional Round-Up

on Wednesday, 02 November 2011.

Boston ACE Advocates gather for their monthly Mass.

In addition to its regularly scheduled Mass, the Boston community will host two of its popular essay writing nights for Catholic high school seniors working on their college applications.

Guarding against the onset of winter, our friends in Chicago will host a beer tasting and fundraiser on Wednesday, the 30th, 5:30-8:30 pm. "ACE Advocates for Lagers and Learning" will be at Saint Ignatius College Prep's Alumni Lounge. Email for more information.

Last month, the ever-active Dallas crew hosted a BBQ for the new area ACE teachers, helped recruit for ACE at the SMU Catholic Center, hosted a gamewatch for the ND Club, and held their monthly prayer gathering.

Florida's inaugural event was a Gamewatch last month. Coming up: a presentation at a school open house, tailgate and football game.many-hands-make-light-work-motto-vision

The Mobile ACE Advocates recently held its annual "Lawn Party," a day of fun with--and service to--the Little Sisters of the Poor, a saintly congregation of educators.

New Orleans had its first event last month: a Mass, dinner, and information night for area Catholic school advocates.

Philly Advocates will gather for a Gamewatch on November 19 (ND vs. BC).

The Portland ACE Advocates community is hosting a series of "Spirituality in the Movies" events. The group watches a popular movie, and then discusses the spiritual themes. So far this year, they  have watched "Kung Fu Panda" and "The Detective."

In Tucson, the Advocates enjoyed their most successful community night yet, with a record number of participants. They also kicked off their monthly prayer gathering with a potluck.

From the Field: Christie Hjerpe

on Friday, 28 October 2011.

From the Field: Christie Hjerpe
As a young girl, when ACE 17's Christie Hjerpe heard her grandfather sing, "It's a great day to be alive," little did she know that years later, it would become a kind of theme song in her classroom!

Christie teaches third grade at Santa Cruz Catholic School, a Notre Dame ACE Academy (NDAA) in Tucson, Arizona. True to the upbeat nature of that song, the Rhode Island native is an enthusiastic ACEr, who says that "ACE had my heart" from her earliest days as an ND undergrad. Christie is also an enthusiastic NDAA teacher, saying, "I feel so blessed to have the support at NDAA that I do; [it] has definitely made the transition into teaching easier and more enjoyable."

Christie H student praiseChristie is especially enthusiastic about literacy: "It's almost become an obsession. I want all of my kids to read at grade level or above, no excuses." It can be a challenge for any classroom, but Christie Hjerpe remains undaunted. "With NDAA we're developing a stronger school culture, with shared beliefs that all of our kids can make it to college and heaven."

So, whenever her students are tired, Christie cheers them on with, "Work hard, get excuses." And whenever she gets tired, her students start to sing, "It's a great day to be alive!" With the semester just half over, Christie reports that she has seen tremendous growth in her readers.

"If NDAA teachers and staff can really make kids feel like it's a great day to be alive, and help them to see God in all things, we will achieve our goals of sending these kids to college and heaven." She continues, "I feel so blessed that I can wake up happy to go to work in the morning, knowing that I'll have 24 smiling faces at my door waiting to say 'Good morning!' 'I love you!' and 'Miss H., we're ready to learn!' Now, what could be better than that?"

Listen to Travis Tritt sing "It's a great day to be alive!"

Click here to learn more about the ACE Service through Teaching program.

ACE Advocates Host Annual Leaders Summit

on Monday, 24 October 2011.

ACE Advocates Host Annual Leaders Summit
Champions for K-12 Catholic education recently gathered at the University of Notre Dame from around the country to share skills and ideas at the annual ACE Advocates Regional Leaders Summit. The advocates, active year-round in 25 regional groups from Washington, DC to Los Angeles and from South Bend to Dallas, returned to the home of the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) to advance their goal of building a movement in service to Catholic schools.

Every annual summit provides ongoing leadership formation for the national network of ACE graduates, who represent an important pool of talent for the Church. Through their regions, these leaders—a majority of whom are still Catholic school educators themselves—perform a range of services to schools, parents, and children. Communities have raised funds for schools, assisted individual students' families facing emergencies, and taken supportive stands on statewide parental choice policy initiatives. Regions also provide spiritual nourishment and an encouraging community for local Catholic school supporters.

From the Field: The Duffey Family

on Thursday, 20 October 2011.

Duffey FamilyDr. Richard and Susan Duffey and their seven children testify to the power of Catholic school teachers to touch the lives of whole families—and the ability of families to nurture the value and vocation of teaching.

The Duffeys live in Mobile, Alabama, where ACE teachers have served for 18 years. "Susan and I and our children have watched them make a tangible difference in the Mobile schools as they bring youth, faith, energy, and solid teaching to their classrooms," says Dick, noting that ACE teachers' enthusiasm spreads "to their students, students' parents, and fellow faculty and staff members."

The Duffeys know this first-hand. All seven children attended Catholic grade school and high school, and they came to know many ACE teachers personally. Dick and Susan's generosity was a contributing factor; the Duffeys have welcomed Mobile ACE teachers to their home and dinner table on many occasions. As Dick and Susan learned more about ACE, they began to see the program's national scope, observing that ACE teachers were "transforming the landscape of Catholic education, not just in Mobile, but throughout the country," Susan recalls. The next step was not surprising: Upon graduation from college, the Duffeys' oldest children, Kati and David, became ACE teachers themselves.

The story is just beginning for the Duffey family and the ACE family. Kati is married to Mike Macaluso, another ACE graduate, and both are pursuing doctoral studies in education. David has moved on from ACE to law school. Their younger siblings are "watching attentively," the Duffeys report, and considering ACE participation among the opportunities to "initiate a lifelong journey of giving back to God." Meanwhile, ACE teachers continue to serve in Mobile, building the future in various ways and blessed to find community members who, like the Duffeys, share their enthusiasm. "Susan and I could not be more pleased for the experience ACE has brought to
the lives of our whole family."

Forum Panelists Find Common Ground

on Wednesday, 05 October 2011.

Unified tone helps move school reform forward

Forum Panelists

In a refreshing shift from typically contentious dialogue, four education reform experts shared the stage at Notre Dame last week and found the common ground on which their reform efforts are built. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas (Tucson), Randi Weingarten (president, American Federation of Teachers), Wendy Kopp (CEO and founder, Teach for America ), and Juan Rangel (CEO, United Neighborhood Association) agreed on the depth of the crisis facing our nation's schools and—of particular meaning to ACE—the importance of teachers.

"Between 30% and 50% of teachers who walk into school the first day are gone by their third to fifth year," Ms. Weingarten said. "That is a huge problem." She went on to say, "We need to make teaching a high status profession."

Wendy Kopp agreed: "We need to invest in our teachers not only before they start but really every day and year thereafter." She expanded the point, connecting the crisis to increased poverty, which is linked to learning struggles and low graduation rates. Ms. Weingarten, too, said, "The equity issues right now in terms of poverty, in terms of families, are really intense." And the result, Ms. Kopp explained, requires a new concept of what education is.

For more on the issue of economic inequality, click here.

For a video of the session, click here.

With a nod to the TFA and ACE service through teaching programs, Ms. Kopp added, "If we get to a point where we have enough people in our country in positions of influence who know what you know after you've taught successfully in a low income community, we will finally start moving the needle against this problem...Good, grounded, deeply committed leadership is the key to the systemic problems."

In this context, Bishop Kicanas emphasized the need for Catholic schools, which provide "a moral grounding, academic rigor, a community ethic." Ms. Weingarten agreed. "I am quite saddened by the fact that we see the shuttering of so many Catholic schools...We have to find ways to bolster faith based schools."

Ending on a positive note, Ms. Kopp spoke of her optimism that change will occur in our education system--and then she issued a challenge to us: "There's an incredible opportunity for the folks who are concerned about parochial schools to say, how can we mobilize our constituents to ensure that our [whole] community has access to a better education?...Your commitment through ACE is extraordinary. We need that in so many forms in the faith community."

New York Life creates scholarships for at-risk children in Notre Dame ACE Academies

Written by William Schmitt on Thursday, 29 September 2011.

New York Life creates scholarships for at-risk children in Notre Dame ACE Academies

The University of Notre Dame last week recognized leaders of the Tucson General Office of New York Life Insurance Company as "champions for educational opportunity." New York Life's recent contribution of $100,000 through Arizona's corporate tax credit scholarship program will provide scholarships for more than 100 at-risk children to attend Notre Dame ACE Academy schools in the south-side Tucson community.

Dr. Christian Dallavis, director of the Notre Dame ACE Academy (NDAA) initiative, and Andrea Cisneros, assistant director of NDAA, presented a token of the University’s appreciation to Marc Braden, the Managing Partner of New York Life’s Tucson General Office, and Joe Casey (Notre Dame Class of ’79), a Tucson-area New York Life agent.

The NDAA leaders were joined in their statement of appreciation by the superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Tucson, Sister Rosa Maria Ruiz, CCFM.NYL Plaque small

 In Arizona, insurance companies and C-corporations may receive a 100-percent tax credit when they contribute their state tax liability to certified scholarship granting organizations like the Catholic Tuition Support Organization (CTSO) of the Diocese of Tucson. New York Life’s contribution to CTSO provides opportunities for disadvantaged children of low-income families to attend high-quality schools, including three NDAA schools in Tucson.

“New York Life is pleased to invest in our local community, and to work with Notre Dame to strengthen educational opportunities in Tucson,” said Marc Braden, managing partner of New York Life’s Tucson General Office.

“This tax credit program has enabled an incredible partnership,” said Christian Dallavis, director of the NDAA initiative. “It allows a major national company like New York Life to invest in a community it serves while making it possible for the Notre Dame ACE Academies to put more at-risk kids on the path to college.”

The Arizona tax credit initiative was one of several education reform initiatives discussed Wednesday, September 28, by the Notre Dame Forum Panel, “The Conversation: Developing the Schools Our Children Deserve.”  The Most Rev. Gerald Kicanas, bishop of Tucson and a panel participant, said, "I think it’s wonderful that New York Life, a company that is literally in the business of risk management, is creating opportunities for at-risk children.  In a very real way, this contribution is at the heart of both their mission and ours."