Written by: Eric Prister
Students around Notre Dame's campus joke about how often "Chicago" is the response to the question "where are you from?" It seems like more than half of the students are from the Windy City, or more likely, from one of the nearby suburbs. In fact, many on campus joke that South Bend might as well consider itself a suburb of Chicago, since a ninety-minute drive is comparable to the time it takes some of those who live in actual suburbs to reach downtown.
All jokes aside, Notre Dame does share a special connection to Chicago and has made a special effort to foster that connection. With a alumni base larger than any other in the United States (more than 20,000 former Notre Dame students live in and around the Windy City), Chicago has affectionately been called "Notre Dame West."
In addition to the alumni population, Notre Dame has also started basing some of its programs in Chicago, further strengthening the ties between Our Lady's University and its closest major metropolis. The Notre Dame Law School sends some of its current students from an externship in Chicago, and the Executive MBA program from the Mendoza School of Business is based in Chicago. Through these initiatives and more, Notre Dame has shown a commitment to making a difference in the city that so many of its graduates call home.
The Alliance for Catholic Education also has important ties to the Windy City and its Catholic school community. In 2001, when ACE's co-founder Father Sean McGraw was teaching at Notre Dame High School in the Chicago area, he and the five former ACE teachers on the faculty began meeting once a month for mass, dinner, and fellowship in support of Catholic schools. This set the stage for ACE Fellowship (which later became ACE Advocates) and became the model for our regional groups of Catholic education supporters.
Since that point, Chicago's Advocates group has become the largest in the nation, with over 300 members and over 150 former ACE graduates living (and many teaching) in the Chicago area. Chicago is also home to a strong Catholic School Advantage campaign, and the Archdiocese of Chicago is the newest home to an ACE Teaching Fellows community. Jen Kowieski, a member of ACE 4 and teacher at St. Josaphat in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, was the founding director of LU-CHOICE, Loyola University's teacher formation program. Even Loyola Academy, the former school of ACE's co-founder Father Tim Scully, is now run by Katie Ball, a member of ACE's first teaching cohort.
Catholic schools themselves are thriving in Chicago as well. It is the only major city in the United States to show an increase in Catholic school enrollment with 480 more students in 2013 than in 2012. Chicago also holds a 98% high school graduation rate in Catholic schools, and the school communities around the city are dedicated to providing a quality education for all of Chicago's youth.
More than these tangible connections, Chicago and the University of Notre Dame share a culture, community, and passion for Catholic schools. Chicago's Catholic schools graduate more students and send them to college. They also save Chicago more than a billion dollars per year by providing education to children at no cost to the city. But more than that, ACE believes that Catholic schools are good for America; we believe that Cathoilc schools form faith-filled, civically-minded, intelligent adults ready to change the world, and what better place to form them than the city with which we share so much. The Chicago community and the Notre Dame community are intimately related, and the university and ACE are committed to fostering a community of difference makers in our own sweet home, Chicago.