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On the Road for Catholic Schools

An Idea with Wheels

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Written by: Nancy Caramanico

When first I heard about the University of Notre Dame's ACE bus, the idea struck me as an ingenious one. A bus traveling from school to school would put a spotlight on Catholic education from coast to coast. Genius! A bus traveling round and round and celebrating . . . then it struck me.St. Francis de Sales 1

When I first started working as Director of Technology in the central office for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2006, I spoke with Bishop McFadden, who was at the time overseeing the Office of Catholic Education. He said it would be a great idea to get a bus and go from school to school, showcasing all of the great teaching and learning with technology. As there were many other programs operating full speed at the time, the bus idea never came to fruition, but the idea remained in my mind. I think this is why the ACE bus struck a chord in me; the idea of going around the country highlighting Catholic education was a great one!

When I first got to St. Francis de Sales in Philadelphia for the bus tour stop, the first familiar face I saw was Sister Jane McFadden, IHM, Vice Principal at St. Francis de Sales and Bishop McFadden's sister. Though Bishop McFadden passed away in May, he would have been quite happy to see this bus spotlighting Catholic education rolling into his hometown of Philadelphia to music, cheers, and smiles!

As students at the school waited and guests arrived at St. Francis de Sales, there was much excitement in the autumn air. Big smiles were evident as children either carried flags, waved excitedly, or prepared their instruments for play. The student orchestra played as the bus rolled down the street to cheers and applause from the crowd.

Visitors and students then gathered in the school hall. Sister Constance Marie, IHM, talked about the founding of their school in 1904 by Irish immigrants, and its history of serving area students. Sister McFadden greeted guests from  Archdiocesan schools and Camden Catholic Schools. Students processed in with flags representing the 47 nations their students represent. Sr. McFadden also mentioned two Philadelphia saints—St. John Neumann, the founder of many Catholic schools, and St. Katherine Drexel, who dedicated her life and resources to serving children and schools. Students sang a beautiful song in both Swahili and English with a ringing chorus: “We are marching in the light of God!”

Fr. Tim Scully, CSC, founder of the ACE program, presented awards. Former Pennsylvania Senator Harris Wofford was given a Champion of Education award for his inspirational work and service. Christine Healey, the Chairman of the Board for the Catholic Partnership Schools of Camden and founder of the Catholic School Development Program, was given the University of Notre Dame's Sorin Award for her service in sustaining and transforming Catholic Schools.St. Francis de Sales 2

Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, the Director of Spiritual Life for ACE and a Philly native, presented a prayer for Catholic schools to the school. In attributing the benefits of Catholic education, he said that “Catholic schools change the trajectory of a person's life.” He also told the audience that the ACE faculty and staff gather each and every Monday morning to pray for all Catholic schools and the students they serve. 

Catholic schools, like orchestras, are made up of many different people playing various roles—teachers, students, parents, parishioners, priests, and bishops (and more!). Each does their part to contribute to the success of Catholic education. They work daily to keep in tune with one another to make a wonderful sound, and it is surely one worth listening to and continuing to develop!

The ACE bus tour touting Catholic schools and its visit to Philadelphia was quite an uplifting event. For those present, the happy sound of students cheering along with musical accompaniment was music to our ears. It seems pretty certain that Bishop McFadden would have liked it, too!


Catholic Schools Changing Lives

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Catholic Schools Changing Lives

Written by: Eric Prister

“I’m not sure what I would’ve been doing—probably getting in trouble.”

But Michelle Eusebio, as she grew up in Washington Heights on the north side of New York City, wasn’t getting in trouble. She would spend her mornings, noons, and often evenings at her second home, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School.

For Michelle, OLQM was a second home, a place she felt safe, and a beacon of discipline that kept her out of trouble and focused on her goal—college.

While Michelle was moving toward her goal, another deserving young man was on his way to America from Haiti. Frantz Placide, who moved to Miami, FL at the age of six, found opportunity in the form of former governor Jeb Bush’s Step Up for Students program.

The program offers tax credit scholarships throughout the state of Florida for low-income families who would like the opportunity to choose a school for their children but do not have the financial means to pay for private school or for transportation to an out-of-district public school. The notion was simple—it is unjust that everyone other than the poor of our country get to choose where their children go to school. Since Bush instituted SUFS, over 331,000 low-income students in Florida have benefitted from this empowerment, and Frantz was one of the first.

Rather than attend an “F” (or “failing”) high school, Frantz enrolled at Bishop Curley-Notre Dame High School, a decision that he says changed his life.

“I was the first person in my family to have the opportunity to go to college, and I was the first person in my family to go to college,” Frantz said.

Frantz has since graduated from Wagner College, one of his younger brothers is currently in college, and the third brother is well on his way. He has also former a relationship with Jeb Bush, and spoke with him at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

As a part of our Fighting for Our Children’s Future National Bus Tour, we have the opportunity to meet many people from various backgrounds. We can meet and hear the story of people like Michelle, who spoke at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs during our visit. Her son now attends the school, and he (like her) refuses to come home before after-school care ends at 6:00pm.

The nature of traveling around the country in a bus like the one we’ve been driving around, though, lends itself to encounters that aren’t prescribed, and aren’t expected. We can meet people like Frantz, who just happened to be our representative from Enterprise Rent-a-Car, who picked us up from our hotel.

These stories aren’t unique, they’re not earth shattering, but they are beautiful. These stories we hear, when we expect them and especially when we don’t, are the stories of people who have had their life (and the lives of their families) totally altered by the gift of Catholic schools. Catholic schools provide a home, they provide discipline, and they provide hope. Each time we hear one of these stories, it reminds us that they are not unique, and our hope is that they become less and less unique until every child can receive this type of life changing education.

Navy Weekend: Welcome Home

Friday, November 08, 2013


"That's really cool!"

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Written by: Mary Forr

"Miss Forr! Miss Forr!!! Do you think they'll give us their autographs?"

The "they" my students were referring to weren't members of an NBA team or the newest pop band; they were two priests—Fr. Tim Scully and Fr. Joe Carey—and the next day in school, my students proudly reported that they had gotten the autographs of two men who would one day be saints.Award presentation

Last Thursday, students from St. Peter School made the just over a half mile journey to the steps Capitol Building for an ACE event in Washington DC. When they got to the Capitol, they were greeted by the ACE staff and Fr. Joe, Fr. Sean, and Fr. Lou. They toured the ACE bus and talked with the ACE staff, and pretty soon, even our token Michigan fan was talking about how cool ACE was.

On the front steps of the Capitol, ACE presented awards to men who had devoted a significant portion of their career to helping Catholic schools, but more importantly, the ACE staff demonstrated why Catholic schools are so successful—they got to know and care about each of the students there. Fr. Sean asked the students if any of them had big aspirations, and cheers—and I think maybe a few tears—broke out as one second grader proudly exclaimed, "I have a big aspiration to be a Catholic school teacher!" Great job Liz Slamkowski—you've recruited another one!

Former ACEr Jack Kelly spoke about the goal of Catholic schools—creating saints and citizens. Jack talked about loving one another, about following in Christ's footsteps, about doing good things on earth so that one day we could be saints in heaven. He said that was the goal of Catholic schools; after twenty some years of being affiliated with Catholic schools, it looks like Jack learned quite a bit.

After Jack's talk, our students had a chance to meet the ACE staff. They were shocked to find out that Fr. Lou could drive the lane and pull up for a jumper with the best of them. They couldn't believe that Fr. Joe baked cookies for people just about every week, or that Fr. Sean played tennis for Notre Dame. They especially couldn't figure out why everyone there used the same, "clap once if you can hear me," method that I use in my classroom (yes, I'm still trying to be like you Sarah Greene!). They were impressed by the feats of these incredible people, but they were even more impressed by the fact that everyone there had devoted their lives to Catholic schools. "That's really cool, Miss Forr!" they kept saying, and they were right. It is "really cool!"

It's really cool that Catholic schools have such a huge impact on students' lives—that they can change the trajectory of a student's life completely. It's really cool that a group of dedicated people is doing something to make sure that Catholic schools not only survive, but thrive. It's really cool that this group of incredibly busy people is taking the time to tell the whole country about Catholic schools. Thank you ACE for all you are doing for Catholic schools; thank you for coming to DC; and thank you for being so incredible that my kids were able to meet great examples of not only citizens, but also saints.

Through Love, We Survive

Monday, October 28, 2013

Written by: Caroline Lang

I’m not an ACE teacher, student, or administrator. I haven’t been around the program, and as a humble college student, I certainly can’t donate much money to the cause. When it comes down to it, I’m really just an ACE groupie. But, hey, every great bus tour needs groupies, right?

For the past few months, I’ve worked in the ACE office on Notre Dame’s campus as an editorial intern, helping (or unintentionally hindering, depending on the day) the Communications and Media teams organize and promote the “Fighting For Our Children’s Future” National Bus Tour.

Web blogphoto

Day-to-day operations in the office are stressful and demanding as schedules are constantly shifting, mechanics are malfunctioning, and everyone seems to have as many projects and responsibilities as there are hours—sometimes it seems like minutes—in the day. Despite the challenges that come along with launching an ambitious national bus tour, every day in the office is a blessing. Every day I watch God work through a group of people as they strive to achieve what they truly believe in: access to quality Catholic education for every child across America. Logistics, schedules, and meetings are always kept in perspective with the deeper meaning in mind.

There are a lot of laughs, and there are a lot of hugs. The ACE office may have cabinets on cabinets full of coffee and a Keurig machine around every corner, but it more than anything runs on love and passion for the mission of “making God known, loved, and served.”

This past week I was extremely blessed to be able to join the ACE bus when it visited my hometown of Washington, D.C. while I was home on fall break. The ACE team took me on board (literally) and I got to see the mission in action and watch all the hard work back at “headquarters” pay off. Most importantly, I got to meet some students, look in their eyes, and see what it is really all about.

The students from St. Anthony’s School in D.C. jumped and cheered when they saw the bus, swarming Frs. Tim, Sean, and Lou for hugs and high fives. You would think the priests were pop stars with all the fanfare they received. You could tell even the youngest students appreciated ACE’s presence by the way they asked us questions about who we are, where we’re from, and why we came to visit them. They could tell it was something bigger than free pizza and a shiny bus.

Once the fanfare settled down, students, teachers, and ACErs alike headed into St. Anthony’s Church to give thanks to the One who makes it all possible. Awards and gifts were presented to God’s “foot soldiers” in the ACE community, but in the end, we reflected on how we are united in Christ and called to work together through his ultimate power and love.

Reminded of our solidarity in Christ, a peaceful stillness took over the Church when four female students from Archbishop Carroll High School lifted their voices to God in an incredibly moving harmony:

I pray for you, you pray for me. I love you, I need you to survive.

Heads slowly bowed around the Church. Some prayed, some cried as these words sunk in. This moment and these words served as a gentle reminder of the importance of community, of God’s community, made manifest in our nation’s Catholic schools.

Back at Notre Dame, we pray for the ACE schools, but across the nation, they’re praying for ours, too. This cross-country community of Catholic schools relies on God’s love and our love for each other to survive. And, with the help of ACE, it will continue to survive—and thrive—on this love for the next twenty years and beyond.

The Miracle in Memphis

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Miracle in Memphis

Written by: Eric Prister

As the ACE bus pulled up to her house in Germantown, TN, Dr. Mary McDonald beamed. She came out to greet us wearing a blue and gold Notre Dame sweater covered in images of the Golden Dome, an outfit she said she saves only for special occasions.

Throughout the next ninety minutes with Dr. McDonald, over a lunch that included a rousing rendition of the Notre Dame Fight song with accompanying accordion and tambourine, it became clear just how full of love she was—love for Notre Dame and the ACE program, love for Catholic schools, and love for children.

When McDonald was appointed superintendent of the diocese of Memphis by Bishop Terry Steib in 1998, a position she held for the next 14 years, a once-thriving school district was down to 16 schools, with another five on the verge of closing. Rather than allow Catholic education to fade in Memphis, McDonald and Steib—with the help of an anonymous multi-million dollar donation from two local businessmen—began reopening schools that had closed. Called the “Miracle in Memphis,” these “Jubilee” Schools were opened to specifically serve under-resourced areas and low-income families.

Today, Jubilee schools are thriving in Memphis. These schools “combine the best of Catholic schooling from the past with current best practices to deliver a superior education. . . . Students not only get a quality education but are also formed spiritually and morally” (www.cdom.org/CatholicDiocese.php?op=JS_Solution).

While most Jubilee schools only extend through sixth or eighth grade, the Jubilee scholarships extend through middle school and high school. Due in large part to the success of the Jubilee schools, the Memphis diocese now has 29 Catholic schools and record-high enrollment.

Closing schools were not the only problem facing Memphis, however.

“At that point [in 1998], we only had 15 Catholic schools in the diocese and only four percent of the population was Catholic,” McDonald said. “We recognized a great need, not only for teachers, but for Catholic teachers who were not only trained in teaching, but also steeped in their Catholic faith.”

Around that same time, McDonald heard about ACE from a current ACEr, and said she knew she had to find a way to bring ACE teachers to Memphis. The sixth ACE cohort was the first to send teachers to Memphis, and that class included Jim Rigg, now superintendent of the diocese of Cincinnati, and Tony DeSapio, president of Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle.

Six years later, as a part of the twelfth ACE cohort, Nick Green came to Memphis and began teaching at Memphis Catholic High School. Green, a 2012 national “Teacher of the Year” nominee, is now principal at Memphis Catholic, a school which sends nearly 100 percent of its students to college.

“ACE was an answer to a prayer,” McDonald said. “I was never sure what would happen with Catholic education in Memphis with so many schools closed. I prayed for guidance, and God guided me to ACE. They planted a seed, and that seed continues to grow, and our community has benefited so much from it. I would just like to say thank you to ACE, that they are still answering our prayers today.”

But even before ACE arrived, McDonald and Steib were working to strength, sustain, and transform the Catholic schools of the Memphis diocese, and their success—through the foundation of the Jubilee schools and their tireless efforts—are the true causes of the “Miracle in Memphis.”

"I knew you'd be here."

Friday, October 11, 2013

Written by: Eric Prister

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.

Whether after a long day of work, after two weeks on a national bus tour, or after traveling to a fantasy land with munchkins and flying monkeys, the saying rings true—there really is no place like home.

But home can come in many forms, and for some grade school students in Columbus, Ohio, their school is a second home. Current students and alumni alike of St. James the Less school in Columbus described the school as a a second home where they always felt welcome and safe.

St. James the Less is a school thriving thanks to its amazing staff led by Mrs. Yvonne Schwab, winner of the 2011 National Catholic Education Association Distinguished Principal Award and the heart and soul of the St. James the Less community.

Originally a home to a large Italian population, the school was on a steady decline as recently as a decade ago. The school’s enrollment was at an all-time low and Yvonne served as the physical education teacher. As the student body’s numbers dropped toward 200, Yvonne took over the administration and spearheaded a turnaround, inviting the cities Latino population to begin enrolling at St. James. When she started as principal, the school had two hispanic children. Now, more than 250 Latino students attend St. James, making up more than half of the 482 children at the school.

Through the blessing of a school choice program in Ohio and the wonderful hospitality shown by St. James the Less, low-income families are able to send their children to receive a quality education—nearly 75 percent of students at St. James qualify for reduced or free lunches.

Because of its storied past and bright future, graduate Elisa D. Fitzmartin wrote a children’s book on the history of St. James the Less in 2012. Written from the perspective of a tree planted in the courtyard at the school from the very beginning, “God’s Silent Soldier” chronicles the rise, the fall, and the rebirth of St. James, and lends an incredible perspective from those who consider themselves a part of the St. James the Less community:

With the neighborhood growing and changing, the tree noticed that the parish families were growing older and moving away. There were fewer and fewer children in the school each year, and fewer and fewer families in the pews on Sunday. Then, one day, the church bells broke and went silent. There was no money to repair them. The tree did not understand what was happening to the once vibrant and bustling St. James Community. But, the tree had learned to have faith in God. The tree stood tall, prayed, and grew a little.

One, later August day as the new school year began, the tree wondered how many children would be returning to the almost empty classrooms. The tree was surprised when there seemed to be a few more children stepping off the school buses. They were coming into the courtyard where the teachers were greeting them. The tree was so thrilled that he did not notice at first that the children were speaking a strange language. The tree had heard many different immigrant languages throughout the years, but this was a new one. With the joy that filled everyone’s hearts on that glorious day, the tree realized that St. James had reached out beyond their parish borders to call out to children from all parts of the city. The new children and their families were coming. The tree stood strong and grew.

Under the watchful eye of this tree, Yvonne and her staff have worked tirelessly to transform St. James the Less, while still holding on to the values that have been there from the start.

Yvonne said that she was working late at the school one night (which she does almost every night) when she heard a knock from outside. When she opened the door, one of her students was standing there. She asked him what he was doing there, and he said he had run away from home. “I knew you’d be here,” he told her.

In a shifting city with shifting populations and a shifting focus, one thing has always remained the same at St. James the Less—it’s home, and there’s no place like it.

An Outsider's Perspective

Wednesday, October 09, 2013 by Liz Harter, Notre Dame's Social Media Program Manager, joins the ACE bus on its trip from Fort Worth to Memphis

Written by: Liz Harter

I’ve been aware of the Alliance for Catholic Education in a very basic way for the past nine years. A few of my classmates from Saint Mary’s signed up for the two year master’s program and had shared some of their experiences, but I never had a chance to dig deeper into what ACE really was. I think it’s a good thing that I didn’t—after this weekend I believe that you cannot understand what ACE really is until you experience it for yourself.

imageWhen I was first invited to travel from Fort Worth to Memphis on the ACE bus, I will admit I was skeptical. Why was I doing this? It’s a 10-hour trip on a bus, and I barely know anyone I was traveling with. The only RV trip I’d ever done was to Northern Michigan with my family when I was younger and I knew I was prone to motion sickness on large vehicles, which just increased my trepidation. Add to that my whirlwind of a weekend covering the Shamrock Series for Notre Dame in Texas and I was exhausted by the time I was told that the bus would pick me up at 8:15am on Sunday.

The first thing I was struck by, and the first thing that anyone exposed to the Alliance for Catholic Education for the first time will be struck by, is love—love for students, love for Catholic schools, love for their work. It is almost overwhelming.

Ricky, Pat, Alec, Eric, and Drew were patient as I observed and inquired into their roles with the bus tour and ACE as a whole, but it wasn’t until we made it to Memphis that I truly understood what a visible force for good ACE is.

I was able to spend a lot of time with the MemphACE group—four teachers who are in their first year of teaching and one who is in her second—who work in three different Catholic schools in the area, and I was struck by their sense of community. They aren’t sent out into a new area of the country and left to fend for themselves; they have a constant support system in their roommates, and are in contact with ACE throughout the year. They’re able to grow as teachers, as adults, and in their faith through their two years in the program.

The student’s love for their teachers was also made so apparent during a pep rally held at Memphis Catholic Middle and High School. The students hooted and hollered when their teachers appeared in a video put together by the school. You can tell that even if the kids sometimes (often) act like kids, they know their teachers love them and are doing their best to help them grow and learn.

Meeting with Memphis’ Catholic school administrators was fascinating, as well. I knew next to nothing about Catholic school administration and issues like school choice bills before Monday. I was quickly brought up to speed by one of the administrators; she told me that all of the public schools in Memphis are failing. Students in the area have very few options, and they would have even less if it weren’t for Bishop Terry Steib, who helped lead the effort to reopen eight previously closed Catholic schools to serve a predominantly low-income student population through significant need-based scholarships.

The Fighting for Our Children's Future National Bus Tour is traveling around the country to celebrate the incredible work students, teachers, and community members are doing in Catholic schools. But really, the two days I spent on the road were as much a celebration of ACE, its administrators, and the close to 2,000 graduates of ACE programs making a difference in their communities, whether they’ve remained in educator roles or not. I know that’s not their goal on this bus tour, but from an outsider’s perspective, it is entirely appropriate. It is through the collaborations I saw with ACE and the community where incredible greatness and hope for the future is being born.

The Founding of the Alliance for Catholic Education

Monday, October 07, 2013 by Part one of an oral history of the Alliance for Catholic Education

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.

Homework poster

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.


Welcome to Texas

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Written by: Eric Prister

"Yes, ma'am."

"Excuse me, sir."

While in Northern Indiana these phrases might be considered formal, in Texas, they're a way of life.

"Sir" and "ma'am" aren't just words here, they're a sign of a community that embodies a welcoming and kind nature, a nature that pervades everything they do. Ever since the ACE bus pulled into Nolan Catholic high school on Monday evening, through visits to Bishop Dunne high school in Dallas and Saint Rita school in Fort Worth, and all throughout the past week leading up to the football game today, the ACE team has felt incredibly welcomed by this community.

10089643994 f51f5b94e2 cFrom Bishop Dunne honoring the 57 current and former ACE teachers that have served the Dallas community with balloons and a leprechaun to St. Rita's students (from kindergarten to eight grade) learning and singing the Notre Dame alma mater to close our celebration of the Eucharist, the people of the Dallas/Fort Worth area have welcomed us with open arms and helped us kick off the celebration of our 20th anniversary in extraordinary fashion.

The Fighting for Our Children's Future National Bus Tour is traveling around the country for a particular purpose. We come to these communities, host these events, and engage in fellowship with these people to celebrate them. We celebrate the incredible work they do in strengthening, sustaining, and transforming the Catholic schools in their area. We join together with the students, the teachers, and the members of these communities to honor the academic excellence, the multicultural heritage, the athletic wins, and every wonderful gift given to these communities by the schools we visit.

We've shared our time this week with many extraordinary people: Senator Jane Nelson, who spoke about the importance of a quality education for all children; Sara Martinez Tucker, who shared how grateful she is that her parents sacrificed to give her the gift of a Catholic education; Father Stephen Jasso, who urged people to keep working to support Catholic education in this country.

Each of these people, and the many others who we visited with, told us how honored they felt to be a part of our celebration. In truth, we are the ones honored. We are honored to be able, if only for a week, to become a part of these wonderful communities, and to catch a glimpse of the incredible work they're doing to fight for our children's future.

It's been an incredible week in Texas. Thanks y'all.

Getting Ready: How to Plan a National Bus Tour

Monday, September 30, 2013 by Setting New Precedents to Celebrate Catholic Schools

Written by: Eric Prister

"What's the precedent?"

"The precedent? The precedent for a 45-city, nation-wide bus tour?"

It's an inside joke that's been told many times over the past few months, usually preceded by a question about a particular event—an event at a school, an event gathering the friends of Catholic education. After nine months of planning, we still fall back to the assumption that we've done this before, and that there must be some precedent for it.

How do you execute something of this scale? Something so clearly out of the ordinary work load? Perhaps it doesn't seem so hard—set some dates, plan a few events, drive everyone there, and celebrate the gift of Catholic schools.

But what if the students won't be in school that day? What if the award winner can't attend? What if our own team's plans change, and we have to change the date?

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It's a process filled with questions, and almost always, it's filled with questions no one expected:

"Which school are we visiting in Topeka, Kansas?" (Our Lady of the Fields—but when will the kids come see the bus? Are they going to sign it? Sign it, who said anything about signing the bus?)

"Who's driving the bus today?" (I can—but have you been certified? How many hours have you worked over the past seven days? Is the GPS mounted in the correct position?)

"Where should we hold our reception in the evening?" (O'Malley's sounds nice—but do they have a space that night? When do we need to give them a RSVP total? Will the bus fit in the parking lot? I've never been there before!)

For those of us at ACE, a 45-city, nation-wide national bus tour is something unprecedented, but we do it to celebrate other unprecedented accomplishments.

In 1810, only four years after becoming Catholic, a woman in Baltimore, Maryland began opening schools, run by Catholic nuns, to teach young Catholic children in the area, an unprecedented idea in a fledgling United States of America. She went on to found a religious order of sisters dedicated to serving children of the poor, and began the parochial school system in America.

In 1842, a young priest from France, a member of the fledgling Congregation of Holy Cross, came to the snowy Midwestern part of the United States and opened a university dedicated to Our Lady, a Catholic university meant—as it still is today—to make God known, loved, and served.

In 1993, another priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross did something else unprecedented. At the behest of a Sister of Mercy of the Americas and teamed with a group of friends, this Holy Cross priest decided to send young college graduates into the most under-resourced schools in the South to teach, to strengthen, and to sustain the gift that the nun from Baltimore had started.

When we're sometimes tasked with the unexpected, we make jokes about why we're a part of the ACE team—"it's all for the Alliance" and "what have you done for the Alliance today?"—but in reality, we're all a part of this ACE movement for the same reason. We believe that every child has a right to an outstanding education. We believe it is our responsibility to help provide that education. We believe that Catholic schools are good for America.

Guided by these beliefs, we set out to do something unprecedented—not in company with those unprecedented stories above, but in celebration. We've spent our time preparing to do something unprecedented so we can celebrate Notre Dame, so we can celebrate ACE, and most importantly, so we can celebrate the gift of Catholic schools across America.

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