ACE logo

The People We Are and the Work We Do

Sunday, May 09, 2021 by John Schoenig

“I watch what I do to see what I believe.”
- Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ

There’s a fine line between being “hungry” and being an obsessive sourpuss. Until very recently, I had no real appreciation of the contours of that line. In fact, it was just two years ago – at the tail end of a visit that Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ made to the ACE community. 

For those who may be unfamiliar with Sr. Helen, she is perhaps best known as the author of Dead Man Walking, an acclaimed account of her work with two death row prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which ignited a national conversation about the death penalty. She has spent more than 40 years fighting for the abolition of capital punishment, working tirelessly with policy makers, law enforcement officials, and Church leaders – and accompanying death row inmates in their final hours.

Of all of the delightful moments during her time with the ACE community, the one that resonated most deeply with me occurred at the end of her trip. After dropping her off at the airport - just as I got back to campus - I got a call from Sr. Helen. “John-boy!”, she said, “It’s Sr. Helen. I left my computer at the hotel!”

I raced to the hotel, retrieved the computer, and tried to observe as many traffic laws as possible on the return trip. As I pulled up, Sr. Helen was standing at the curb with a huge smile. We chatted for a bit and got ready to part. Just as she was about to head to her flight, she put her hand on my shoulder and said 

“Don’t you forget – God made you to do great things. Don’t waste time trying to figure it out. Give God permission to move you.”

Each of you was made for greatness. So, too, was each of your students. The hunger you are called to embody is about much more than ambition. It is a function of what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “divine dissatisfaction.” You set high expectations for your students – not because it is what your school demands – but rather because it is what your students deserve. You persist in the more frustrating dimensions of teaching – not because that is what successful people do – but because you love your students so much that you put their success ahead of your own. You know that the clearest indication of what you believe isn’t what you say or how you feel. It is what you actually do. I came so that they might have life,” says Jesus, “and have it more abundantly.” You have an incredible opportunity to help your students live life more abundantly. I pray that you’ll give God permission to move you to do so. It took a curbside conversation with a firecracker Cajun nun for me to figure that out. For that, I will be eternally grateful.Give God permission to move you.

Loving God, I recognize you are always with me and your movements are in everything I do. Help me see you reflected in the person I am becoming and in my daily work. Amen.

About the Author

John Schoenig

John Schoenig

John Schoenig is the Senior Director of Teacher Formation and Education Policy for the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). In this role, he leads the ACE Teaching Fellows Program - the largest provider of Catholic school teaching talent in the United States - and its Program for Educational Access (PEA), an advocacy and leadership formation enterprise that helps develop and implement policy that expands financial access to faith-based schools. In addition, he serves as a faculty member and Fellow of Notre Dame's Institute for Educational Initiatives (IEI).