As a student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, Nick Hughes (ACE 27, Detroit) was trying to learn more about the Catholic faith. Although he was baptized Catholic, St. Thomas’ Catholic identity didn’t play a role in his initial decision to attend.
Nick didn’t know it at the time, but his decision to explore his faith in college would play a major role in his post-graduate plans. Not only that, it would ultimately lead to the celebration of his First Communion during his first summer in ACE.
While at St. Thomas, Nick decided to explore his faith. He looks back on this now as “the biggest blessing of my going there. I got to immerse myself in a vibrant, faith-based community,” he says. During his senior year, Nick was interested in taking a class through the Center for Catholic Studies, so he scheduled a meeting with the director of the Center, Dr. Michael Naughton.
“We ended up chatting for an hour about the class I wanted to take, and then it turned into a conversation about how I got to this point. He asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated, and I told him that I wanted to teach. He said, ‘Wait here one second,’ and he left the room and came back a minute later with an ACE brochure,” Nick recalls.
As Nick researched ACE, he learned that ACE Day, a day-long program at Notre Dame to introduce off-campus students to members of the ACE team and provide a glimpse into the two-year Teaching Fellows experience, was only two weeks away. The circumstances for Nick’s unplanned trip came together providentially.
“I had a free night at a hotel through rewards and I thought, ‘Worst comes to worst I’ll get to see Notre Dame,’” Nick says. “It was a unique trip—my car broke down on the way to South Bend in the middle of Wisconsin. Just as I started to think, ‘Maybe this wasn’t God’s plan,’ my car started working again.
“I really loved ACE Day,” Nick says, “and after that I knew that I wanted to do ACE.”
During his first ACE summer, Nick continued to explore his faith and took advantage of the opportunities for learning that were present to him in ACE. Through classes and Masses, and with a little nudge from ACE chaplain Fr. Joe Carey, CSC, Nick chose to make his First Communion while he was on campus in July.
“It was not something I had planned on doing at all this summer,” Nick says of the unexpected way in which his First Communion came together. Understandable, especially given that for the first several weeks of the summer, Nick was getting to know the ACE community through Zoom. Even so, the virtual format didn’t prevent him from continuing to explore his faith.
“I’m trying to use my time in ACE to discover my own spirituality more and discern whether or not I want to be confirmed in the Catholic Church,” Nick says. “That process was sped up really rapidly by the fact that we had some really good theological formation this summer. While I was taking classes online, I was trying to stay true to why I wanted to join this program in the first place.”
Of the moment when he decided to take another step forward in his sacramental journey, Nick says, “I was trying to get to Mass as much as I could, and one night I went to a lector training. I asked Fr. Joe a question about being a Eucharistic minister because I wanted to know if that was something I could even do since I hadn’t received my First Communion. He asked, “Do you want to receive it?” and I responded, “Can I?” Nick recalls with a laugh.
When Nick arrived on campus, he and Fr. Joe sat down to discuss his First Communion in depth. For Nick, who now teaches fifth grade at St. Clare of Montefalco in Detroit, having Fr. Joe celebrate his First Communion was especially meaningful. “He’s taken the Detroit community under his wing because he’s from Detroit and actually went to Gesu (Catholic School), where (housemate) Sean James teaches,” Nick explains.
It was also special to celebrate the moment with his new community and friends in ACE. “All the times I’ve been to church before, I’ve felt like I haven’t known the people there very well,” Nick says. “To get to celebrate my First Communion with ACE, when I got the chance all summer to get to know the members of my cohort and especially the elementary teachers well, was really special for me.”
As Nick now adjusts to life in Detroit as a member of a new ACE community, he’s putting all of his focus on the students he’s teaching. “I’ve spent so much of my life worrying about what I’m going to do next,” Nick says, “so now I’m completely and solely focused on the work I’m doing over the next two years.”
Applications for ACE Teaching Fellows are now open!