The Notre Dame ACE Academies were founded in 2010 at the University of Notre Dame as a response to the U.S. Bishops' call for a “new model of sponsorship and collaboration” between Catholic institutions of higher education and parish schools. While the Notre Dame ACE Academies network is in its early stages, the partners in this effort stand on a solid foundation of tireless service of religious men and women who established the largest private school system in the world. Indeed, the Notre Dame ACE Academies model is inspired by the Catholic priests, sisters, and brothers who created dynamic schools that gave multitudes of children a chance at success.
In recent decades, however, the traditional model of parish schools has faced a variety of challenges that threaten their sustainability. From 13,000 schools serving 5.2 million students in 1965, Catholic schools have dropped in number to 6,600 serving 1.9 million students. The causes are complex, but two key points are especially important: First, existing governance and stewardship systems have proven difficult to sustain, and second, many of the families Catholic schools have served historically today believe Catholic schools are not an option for them.
With a deep appreciation for the value of community and the history of the Catholic tradition, the first cluster of Notre Dame ACE Academies were established in Tucson, Arizona, in 2010 at the invitation of Bishop Gerald Kicanas. In 2012, Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg invited Notre Dame to partner with two schools in the Tampa Bay area. In 2016, the Notre Dame ACE Academies network began a partnership with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and welcomed five schools to the network.