As we welcome the bus home, we look ahead to a bright future for Catholic schools with a series of reflections on the tour—the lessons learned, the joys perceived, and the impact Catholic schools are having on students, teachers, and many others all over the country. Our first reflection is from ACE co-founders: Fr. Tim Scully, csc and Fr. Sean McGraw, csc.
Anyone of us who has been invited to celebrate a special occasion such as Thanksgiving or the 4th of July in the house of an acquaintance has experienced the cordiality and measured warmth of being a guest. However welcomed, one’s status as a guest is relatively clearly demarcated and felt. Though invited to take part in the family’s celebrations, there always exists a bit of a distance. Those who comprise the family are bounded together with a familiar idiom, habitual patterns, inside humor and all the trappings that come with familiarity. In such situations, it is common to be invited into the dining room for meals or even the often unused living room for conversation—places where the family itself rarely gathers.
Contrast the experiences of being a guest to that of coming home. When one returns home, cordiality and measured warmth are replaced by unbounded laughter and well-worn friendship. One quickly luxuriates in ties that know and lovingly accept the idiosyncrasies and even embrace the peculiarities of family members. Coming home, it would never occur to anyone to share a meal in the dining room or conversation in the living room. Rather, one bounds past these to instantly gather in the kitchen and the family room. It is a time when you take your shoes off and put your feet up.
Twenty years ago in early January, 1994, we began our journey to our initial eight partner dioceses as guests. Arriving at school after school in a rented Ford Taurus, we hammered out the broad contours of what would become ACE Teaching Fellows. We were literally “making it up as we went along,” trying our best to persuade one skeptical audience after the next. The superintendents, principals, teachers and pastors with whom we met welcomed us with characteristic Southern hospitality. Little by little we learned that Southern Hospitality was extended to Yankees like ourselves a thimble full at a time! Despite our utter ignorance—let’s face it, neither of us had any formal or informal training in education—ultimately our hosts took a chance on us. How could we ever forget, for example, the moment when an ageing and deeply experienced woman religious in Savannah broke the deafening silence of a rather tense initial meeting with the words, “the proof is in the pudding. . . .let’s give these kids a chance!”
Contrast this initial journey of ours two decades ago with the genuine warmth with which we were greeted in each of the fifty-five stops and over the 30,000 miles we traveled crisscrossing America these past months. We were welcomed as members of the family, not as guests, in each of these partner cities and dioceses. We were met now, not by strangers, but as good friends and fellow missionary disciples. At each stop, we breezed past the dining and living rooms and were invited to gather with the family around the warmth of the kitchen hearth. What we experienced was the collective gratitude, deepened commitment, and strengthened hope in our shared passion for the gift of Catholic education. The countenances of the thousands of school children who greeted us at each stop told the story best. How can we not celebrate the “Joy of the Gospel” when encountering the unbridled enthusiasm of the children we are blessed to serve.