Written by: Eric Prister
After twenty years of the Alliance for Catholic Education, we have many stories to tell—stories of teachers, stories of students, stories that help show the gift that is Catholic education. Through the Fighting for Our Children's Future National Bus Tour, we hope to capture these stories and tell them, particularly through the words and experiences of those who lived them. Our own story is also one best told through the voices of those who were there from the very beginning.
Fr. Tim Scully: The fun thing about the enriching experience that I've had over the last twenty years is really that it's been just a story about friends. That's been the most important part of the story to me personally, is the amazing friends that have emerged from this mission.
Joseph Blanco: My graduation dinner was kind of an eclectic gathering. My family had come up from Savannah, including my Aunt Lourdes. . . . We went to a restaurant called Francesca's, which I don't think is still around and we had this fun, long table of folks. It was about five or six Holy Cross priests. . . . Tim and Aunt Lourdes sat next to each other at dinner.
Fr. Tim Scully: Sister Lourdes became my spiritual director, and I was telling her about life, and she was in this whole world of Catholic Education, and she is a very thoughtful person.
Sister Lourdes Sheehan: I was looking for conversation topics to talk to Fr. Tim about, because I didn't know him well. And we got talking about my concern for the difficulty of getting Catholic teachers in Catholic schools, particularly in the Southern dioceses where the Catholic population is so limited. Fr. Tim says to me, "Well why don't you start a Catholic School Teacher Corps?" And I said, "Cause I don't have teachers, I don't have the students—you have the students. Why don't you start it, and I'll help you?" That was the beginning of my involvement in ACE.
Fr. Tim Scully: I thought that sounded reasonable, like something I could do—and it sounded like something that you could need. So I started thinking about it ever since that conversation with her, that that was a need, that something spoke to me deeply about that need.
Joseph Blanco: So, Fr. Tim kind of throws it at her; then she throws it back to him but offers her willingness. I think it was two weeks later and he's sitting down at a restaurant with her in Washington, D.C. and they are actually mapping out her contacts.
A few months later in the fall of 1993, Fr. Scully and his friends were moving with full force toward putting Sr. Lourdes's idea into motion.
Fr. Tim Scully: So I gathered some friends in my room, and we were sitting around the room in Fisher Hall and we were trying to name this thing that we were talking about, and that's when Mark Laboe—we were all offering names for this thing—and Mark said, "I think it oughta be called ACE." And we were all like "ACE." Wow. It sounds good. What does it stand for? "I haven't got the foggiest idea," he said, "but that's a great name, isn't it?" And I said, that's a great name, so now I have to fill it in. That's where we came up with the Alliance for Catholic Education.
Sister Lourdes Sheehan: In the meantime, Fr. Tim made a contact with Sister Rosemary Collins, who is a Sister of St. Joseph, and at that time was running a small teachers' corps in the District of Columbia called the Service Teaching Corps.
Fr. Tim Scully: They were doing something really similar: They were living in community, they worked in the inner-city Catholic Schools of Washington DC, they seemed to have a pretty high-profile candidate, a high talent pool, and I thought, well, that's a place to start. So I went down and I talked to Sister Rosemary Collins, I got a hold of their application form and their materials, and [Fr. Sean McGraw] and I sort of started to think, "Well, what do we like about this stuff?" We started to develop our own ideas, and then that's when we put the ad in The Observer:
Tom Mustillo: In the fall of 1993, I organized a trip of ten of my former students from Houston to see [Notre Dame's] campus. So I brought them up to Notre Dame, and we were having our farewell picnic on Sunday. Everybody who had helped host them was there at the picnic tables in front of the old Center for Social Concerns, and that's when Fr. Tim comes bounding across the campus, and he had this big news. He had come back from Washington and he had had some meeting, and he was ready to move ahead with ACE. And I'm there with all of my students. . . . It was a nice moment.
Fr. Tim Scully: We went into the Notre Dame room of the LaFortune Center and had our initial meeting. Professor Patty O'Hara, who at that time was Vice President of Student Affairs, gave a rousing endorsement speech, and [Fr. Richard Warner] was there, Council to the President at that time. Fr. Warner and Professor O'Hara gave us this legitimacy, and all of the sudden we had some interest.
So we had demand, but we needed supply—we needed jobs. So not too long after that, Sean McGraw and I got in a car and drove down to Louisville, Kentucky, where the superintendents organization CACE (Chief Administrators of Catholic Educaiton), Sister Lourdes' organization, were getting together in Louisville at the National Catholic Educational Association convention.
Sister Lourdes Sheehan: When it was time to look for sites, I knew a lot of the superintendents. To ask a superintendent of schools to accept a group of young people in the diocese with no educational background was not going to be easy. I mean, as much as they wanted Catholic teachers, they wanted to be sure that they were getting people who could teach those kids. So the fact that I knew all of them and I had been among the superintendents in their dioceses doing workshops gave ACE that ability to begin in these dioceses. . . . I don't say that with a great deal of pride, I say it with a great deal of gratitude that I was in that position.
Gwen Byrd, Superintendent of the Archdiocese of Mobile: Oh my gosh, this was a dream come true—because, number one, we were at the time in life with Catholic Education that we didn't feel like anybody really cared about us anymore. We felt many times that we were just out there on our own, swimming—there just wasn't a tremendous amount of innovation of any sort, but we knew we needed help. I was excited to hear that there were young people coming out of college that wanted to give of themselves to Catholic schools. It was, to me, a hopeful sign, and more and more people are beginning to see that Catholic schools are here to stay, but we need young people who are generous and dedicated to carry on the tradition of Catholic schools. And when I heard it, I wanted to be a part of it. Right off the bat. I didn't have to think twice. I want to be on the ground floor of it.
Fr. Tim Scully: The superintendents were really moved by the idea, and all of them signed on, all of them. And we agreed that over Christmas vacation, Sean and I would drive down together and visit each site.
Fr. Sean McGraw: We would be in meetings and Tim would be describing things, and I would be taking as copious notes as possible, because everything he was describing, we didn't have!
Fr. Sean McGraw: What's striking is that between October and May, we recruited and placed forty teachers, developed this relationship with the University of Portland, with South Bend Community Schools in the summer, and everything was literally between October and May.
Steve Camilleri, ACE 1: At the time that a lot of us signed up, there was no master's degree. I didn't know it was going to be a master's degree, and I didn't know it was going to be a two-year program. I didn't. Now, that came very quickly, but you did not know at the signing up. But it was like, "Oh yeah, great, we'll do it, we're teaching, we love it."
Fr. Sean McGraw: Jesus saw his life as sacrament—ordinary things become extraordinary. Most people in the Gospels had one encounter with Christ—his disciples had more, obviously—but these encounters were moments of transformation. If we don't see teaching as something that's transformative, in human encounters, in the simplest things, then we're missing out. Because at the end of the day, everything Jesus did was about the ordinary becoming extraordinary. At the end of the day, that's what teaching is.