This is the third and final post in a series from ACE teachers that center around the pillars of teaching, community, and spirituality. It is authored by Alaina Owen, a member of ACE 25 in Tucson and focuses on her gratitude toward the spiritual nourishment she has received on campus and at her ACE school.
This Thanksgiving, I thank God for the opportunity to join ACE Teaching Fellows and the spiritual formation I have received from the program. When I was first admitted to ACE and was told that I would be teaching high school biology and chemistry in Tucson, I had to trust in God’s plan for me. I chose to take the leap of faith and move to a new city across the country to teach students who were only a few years younger than me. While I was incredibly nervous at the beginning, I have learned so much more about myself and my faith throughout these past two years.
ACE has provided me with the opportunity to take a step back when things get difficult and delve deeper into my relationship with God. This spiritual nourishment is so important, and it is something that I experienced both at Notre Dame during ACE summer and at my ACE school in Tucson, Arizona.
The summer at Notre Dame was jam-packed with engaging classes and community activities, but my favorite part was the midsummer retreat. I attended the retreat both summers, and I remember thinking just how grateful I was for the time we spent together that weekend. The retreat came at the perfect time and gave me a chance to reflect on the many things that had happened throughout the first few weeks of the summer. While I had set aside time for prayer each day while at Notre Dame, this retreat allowed me to really step back and think about how God was working in my life. I was able to sit in silence with the Lord and reflect on all the graces that He had given me. While I felt God’s presence in many moments at Notre Dame, this retreat was the most memorable.
At my ACE school in the beautiful desert of Tucson, I have had the opportunity not only to grow in my own faith but also to walk with my students in their own faith journeys. At 9:30 every morning, we gather as a school community in the gymnasium, and one of the teachers leads a reflection on a Scripture passage. These 10 minutes of prayer serve as a daily reminder of God’s presence at the school and in each one of our hearts. This time of prayer gives me strength, especially after a difficult class. Community prayer, like a mini-retreat, serves as a reminder for me to take a deep breath, acknowledge God’s presence in my life, and keep going throughout the day.
In addition to attending community prayer with my students, I was also fortunate enough to attend the junior class retreat a few weeks ago. The retreat happened to be the day before my ACE observation, so I thought I would be really nervous and not able to focus on the students. It turned out to be an enjoyable experience where I could take a step back from a normal day of teaching and get to know my students more closely. Our campus minister had asked me to give a talk on the retreat, so I shared some of my faith journey with the students and then heard from my small group about their relationships with God. In our discussion, we talked about the parable of the lost sheep. The students had to decide whether they identified most with the sheep that stayed with the flock or the sheep that wandered off. The students took the question very seriously, and we had some great discussions about what it means to wander away from God and the great mercy that He has for us when we return to Him. It was so inspiring to hear them talk about the ways that God was working in their lives and their suggestions for others about how to cultivate a daily prayer life. This conversation made it very clear to me that I was meant to be there with my students and not back at school, stressing about my upcoming observation.
As I reflect on my ACE experience both at Notre Dame and in Tucson, I am thankful for all the opportunities that have been provided to me for spiritual nourishment, and I am very grateful for the gift of our Catholic faith. We are so incredibly lucky to have a God who loves us so deeply and walks with us through every moment of every day. No matter what happens or where life takes us, He is there. He was there when I was admitted to ACE. He was there when I landed in Tucson for the first time. He is in my classroom every day.
Although the days can be long and tiring, I strive to close each day with a short prayer of thanksgiving. Spending time in prayer at the close of each day is a good way to reflect on all the ways that I have seen God in the little moments of the day. I use this time to thank God for the gifts of each of my students, my co-workers, and my community members. It is because of each of these people that I have come to know the presence of God in a new and deeper way. I am very thankful that ACE has brought me to Tucson and that I have had the pleasure of meeting each of these wonderful individuals that has brought me closer to God.
During this season of gratitude, find time to thank God for all the blessings He has given you in your life.
Learn more about ACE's three pillars, and start your application at ace.nd.edu/teach!