Fr. Tim Scully, CSC and Fr. Sean McGraw, CSC, co-founders of the ACE programme, traveled to Ireland in 1996 to visit Nobel Peace Prize winner, John Hume. While there, they visited St. Mary’s University in Belfast and recruited two teachers from Northern Ireland to become ACE Teaching Fellows the following year. Emer Doherty and Ciaran Kinney therefore became members of ACE 4, serving in under-resourced schools in Oklahoma City and Shreveport respectively. Upon her graduation from ACE Teaching Fellows, Emer worked for ACE at Notre Dame for a year before returning to Northern Ireland where she still teaches high school religion. A recent torchbearer for the 2012 Olympics, Ciaran also teaches in a Catholic elementary school in Northern Ireland while spending his summers working with disabled children.
ACE welcomed a handful of Irish ACE teachers to the programme over the next several years until it began its formal involvement in the Republic of Ireland beginning in 2002 (and every year since) with the recruitment of two Irish college graduates to become ACE Teaching Fellows. After completing the two-year programme, these Irish ACErs have gone on to study and serve in various capacities in the US and Chile, as well as returning to Ireland to continue teaching in and leading Catholic schools.
Also in 2002, four American ACE graduates were selected to serve for one year in Dublin, teaching at-risk children in primary schools in some of the most under-served neighborhoods in Dublin. The ACErs taught religion classes, participated in the sacramental life of the school, and got involved in community service projects and sports. They also taught at St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, the largest teacher training college in the country.
In 2006, after four years of ACE’s intense involvement in Irish Catholic education, the leadership of the ACE Programme felt that the time was right for a deeper commitment. After much consultation and discernment, a core group of ten committed individuals led by Fr. Sean McGraw, CSC began to study the current state of Catholic education in Ireland, to identify possible partners for future collaborative efforts, and to build fresh sustainable partnerships.
As a result of this process, a number of new initiatives were launched. In September 2006, the ACE Ireland Advocate community was founded and continues to meet monthly for Mass and dinner as well as holding annual retreats and offering service opportunities for its members which include ACE graduates as well as senior leaders in the Irish Catholic education community.
With an interest in expanding ACE Ireland’s knowledge of issues in Irish Catholic education and to help expand the ACE Ireland Advocate community, a series of three ACE Ireland Conferences were held at the University of Notre Dame during the ACE Summers of 2007, 2009 and 2011. These week-long events allowed members of the ACE Ireland Advocate Community and senior leaders in Irish Catholic Education to experience ACE and to develop initiatives that were mutually beneficial to Irish and American educators. This sense of a shared mission was also fostered by a visit by the ACE senior leadership team from Notre Dame to Ireland in May 2008 for a conference with our senior Irish education partners and the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. This paved the way for other successful faculty/staff exchanges by Fr. Lou Del Fra, CSC and Meghann Kirzeder in September 2010, Fr. Sean McGraw, CSC in 2011, Fr. Ronald Nuzzi in January 2012. In these visits, ACE faculty and staff have presented at conferences, assisted in retreats, and conducted professional development for Irish educators.
Arising out of a strategic planning process, completed in 2013, has been a number of new initiatives to sustain and strengthen Catholic schools in Ireland. Beginning in 2012 ACE Ireland has supported the Diploma in Catholic Education, which is a year-long programme inspired by the three pillars (professionalism, community and spirituality) of ACE, run by St Patrick's College, Maynooth to engage primary and secondary teachers around the issue of the distinctiveness of Catholic schools. Additional to this has been the commencement of the ACE Ireland School Partnership in 2015, which will see ACE Ireland partner with four schools for two-years and will support them in building a distinctly Catholic culture in their schools. The ACE Ireland Haiti initiative began in the summer of 2014 and will see two teachers from Ireland every summer support the work of Basile Moreau School in Port Au Prince. The Ryan and Naughton Fellowships were created to allow a US ACE graduate the opportunity to be involved in research in Irish education and for an Irish academic to have the opportunity to study at the University of Notre Dame, respectively. The Ryan and Naughton Fellowship have been created with the express purposes of building links between ACE Ireland and third-level institutions in the Irish context. As one can see ACE Ireland's mission is to continue to find innovative ways to support Catholic schools. These and other new initiatives will be coming on stream in the coming years so that ACE Ireland can continue playing a role in supporting the Catholic school system in Ireland.