Written by: Susanne Greenwood
Last week, the community of St. Peter Claver Regional Catholic School in Decatur, Georgia enjoyed a surprise visit — one that thrilled and delighted every one of our students — when the University of Notre Dame’s ACE Bus, on its 20th Anniversary Tour, pulled into our school parking lot. The surprise visit was complemented by a day of welcomed warmth and sunshine as each class took turns to file outside to have a look at the gleaming RV and find the name of our beloved school along its side. The ACE team with the bus was also joy-filled and fun — they gifted a pair of very cool sun glasses to every student.
As a first-year principal at St. Peter Claver, I first learned of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education years ago when my own children, who were then attending a local Catholic elementary school, were blessed with not one but two ACE teachers. Last April, when I first met Nicholas Brandt, our middle school’s ACE Language Arts teacher, his dedication and high expectations for his students were palpable, qualities that all principals hope for, expect and pray for in their teachers. When the school year began, the attributes I saw and felt in Nicholas Brandt were confirmed as I observed him in and out of the classroom as he taught literature, reading, and language arts and held the Philology Club and St. Peter Claver Drama Club as extracurricular after school activities. He continues to enrich the lives and learning of our middle school students in countless ways.
Nicholas and I had already made plans to travel with our eighth grade students the next morning to St. John the Evangelist where the bus would be for a school-wide Mass — a celebration of diversity, but also a celebration of ACE’s 20th anniversary and the 12 years that St. John the Evangelist School has been blessed with wonderful and dedicated ACE teachers. We felt doubly blessed to have the presence and graciousness of so many in the ACE community, and were equally proud to sit alongside the students of St. John the Evangelist and St. Peter Claver as we celebrated Mass led by Father Michael Onyekuru.
The call to worship began with students performing a Vietnamese Lan Dance and New Year Dance followed by the Nigerian Call to Worship, all thoughtful and rhythmic dance interpretations around the sacredness of worship and prayer. Deacon Dick Tolcher shared a warm homily around the truth that we are “All God’s Children” and the Deacon’s love for the students and community of St. John the Evangelist was evident to all. After the Mass, Father Tim Scully, who years ago birthed his vision of ACE, welcomed the many guests in attendance at this anniversary celebration. Former ACE teachers who could not be present in person shared their good memories and good wishes via video to the joyful glees of former students. Trust me, this is music to a principal’s ears and heart and confirmation of the eternal touch of a good—no great—teacher.
All those involved with ACE have a “forever place” in my heart, and I remain one grateful principal for the influence and touch of its teachers on all our children who learn in our wonderful Catholic schools across our great country. I have no doubt that the one ingredient that undergirds and overlays all the education, preparation, energy, time, and dedication of these good teachers and staff at ACE is what our Lord asks of all—to “Love thy neighbor”.