The past two weeks, the ACE community has celebrated a joyous return to one of the traditions that marks the ACE experience: community retreat.
Since March 2020, the pieces of our community have been scattered across the country. Retreats that defined the major moments in an ACE teacher's journey - whether in April, June or December - had been hosted virtually or in a hybrid setting. But starting with the arrival of ACE 28 on Memorial Day weekend the ACE community became whole again. Joy and gratitude permeates Dillon Hall, ACE teachers' home for the summer.
ACE 28 began building this community when they embarked on their opening retreat, searching for their answer to Jesus' question in the Gospel of John, "Who do you say that I am?" Beginning with Fr. Lou's homily, the teachers-to-be thought about the ways that transitions can be disorienting, but that even in the discomfort we are called to come and see what Jesus has for us.
After individual and group reflection, the ACE 28s celebrated the opportunity to be together by talking to each other, playing board games, and taking in a beautiful sunset. Great new connections were formed, and there were even some realizations of shared family connections!
The next day started early with breakfast and then a carpool going due south for the Geneva Center in Rochester, Indiana. The morning was full of warm sticky buns, an introduction to our daily prayer, Anchor Point, and talks from Mike Comuniello (ACE 21, Tampa) and Itzxul Moreno (ACE 24, Indianapolis) that explored the theme of "Who Do You Say That I Am?" and provided witness of their transformation in community and in teaching.
After lunch and the opportunity to play Spikeball, explore the grounds, and enjoy time with each other, ACE 28 listened to Kenna Arana, (ACE 24, Denver) as she shared her spiritual journey in ACE. The day concluded with community discussions and a Vigil Mass celebrated by Fr. Joe Carey, who described the symphony of talents of the cohort and how community is built on the parts we all play.
The next week, ACE 27 joined ACE 28 in Dillon. It's the first time ACE 27 has lived together on campus — last year, because of the pandemic, they spent two weeks on campus but stayed in a hotel in single rooms. The halls rang with shouts of joy and laughter as old friends reunited and as folks finally got to see their cohort's faces maskless for the first time. They joined their new friends for the Welcome Back Mass in Keenan-Stanford Chapel, then met for a barbecue and the first chance to meet their whole community.
The next day, ACE 27 started on their Returners' Retreat, beginning with a talk by Catherine Wagner (Mobile, ACE 24) to welcome them home and to remind them they will never be a first-year teacher again. Following brunch, the cohort had a reconciliation service with the opportunity to reflect on the year, ask for forgiveness, and prepare themselves for a new day.
Carpools once again left Main Circle, this time headed north to Michigan. The 27s spent Monday and Tuesday at Ronora Lodge in Watervliet, Michigan, where the retreat opened with John Schoenig sharing some of his own ACE experience from the lens of the retreat's theme of "What do you want me to do for you?" Focusing on the question Jesus asks the blind man in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus asks each of us this same question. Jesus knows what we need, but He offers us all the dignity to reflect and know ourselves. John reframed our thinking to focus on what our answer to God would be following this past year, to look inward, and to reflect on this with others.
The rest of the retreat was filled with opportunities to share the past year with their cohort. Monday night, many laughs were shared around the campfire. On Tuesday, communities reflected on the past year and planned how to build community as 27 and 28s together.
In the afternoon, ACE teachers built community through time on the Lake Michigan beach and intense basketball games (have to get ready for ACEstore Basketball!). The retreat concluded with Erin Newkirk (ACE 20, Oklahoma City) charging the 27s with a call to become the leaders that the 28s need. She pushed the 27s to reinvigorate old traditions and start new ones.
ACE 27 returned to campus to come together with the 28s for the first Integrative Seminar session, which focused on bearing witness. These first two weeks of ACE summer have brought great witness to the joy of being together and of being whole again, with several weeks more to look forward to.