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ACE Commencement Honors Graduates for Service and Leadership through Teaching

Written by William Schmitt on Tuesday, 17 July 2012.

UVa President Dr. Teresa Sullivan is Commencement Speaker

The University of Notre Dame bestowed 104 graduate degrees Saturday, July 14, upon a next generation of Catholic school teachers and leaders who completed their periods of formation with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).

ACE's annual Commencement exercises, held at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, drew encouragement from keynote speaker Dr. Teresa Sullivan, President of the University of Virginia, who praised the graduates' "ethic of service." A good teacher-student relationship is the basis for transforming lives, she said, regardless of how much technology or pedagogical theory might change.

"What will remain is the essential thing—the eager student working under the careful guidance of a dedicated teacher," said Sullivan, whose research as a sociologist has probed educational opportunities for inner-city students among other subjects.

A total of 81 graduates from ACE's ACE Teaching Fellows program, who had pursued their studies while teaching in Catholic K-12 schools in underserved areas around the country, capped their two-year formation by receiving the Master of Education (M. Ed. degree).

Twenty-three graduates from ACE's Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program (RLP), whose 26 months of formation prepared them to be principals and other leaders in Catholic education, received the M.A. degree in educational administration.

Dan Faas Delivers ACE Teaching Fellows Student Commencement Address

on Saturday, 14 July 2012.

ACE 17 Student Commencement Address
Given in the Monogram Room, Edmund P. Joyce Center
University of Notre Dame
July 13, 2012

On behalf of the graduating class of ACE 17, I want to thank all of you for being here tonight. Thank you to the ACE M.Ed faculty, pastoral staff, and all who make ACE what it is for their for their guidance and wisdom these past two years. Thank you also to all of the friends and family members who have travelled to be with us this weekend, and for their support and encouragement over the course of our ACE experience.

And on a personal note, I want to thank my fellow ACErs — my fellow masters, my allies in Catholic education, my dear friends, my brothers and sisters for giving me — a lowly Spartan — the opportunity to speak for a few minutes tonight on their behalf and to represent Our Lady's University in this capacity. I say with all sincerity that this is the honor of my life.

I'm a little bit intimidated to be up here right now. Fr. Scully and Doc are tough acts to follow and to "piggy-back" off them, and even attempt to "unpack" their remarks is a high task indeed. Many of you are perhaps expecting me to briefly and succinctly encapsulate the ACE experience. Grandma Rita in the back perhaps might be wondering what it's like to be an ACE teacher, or perhaps Cousin Herschell wants to know about the academic rigors of the M.Ed, and Aunt Esther might just want some more clarification on why her sweet niece or nephew was sent to Plaquemine, Louisiana in the first place, or even where or what a Plaquemine is.

My attempts to do this have, quite frankly, terrified me for the past few weeks, and I've come to the conclusion that —alas! — it can't be done. For those who have completed ACE, no explanation is necessary and for those who have not, no amount of explanation will suffice. The story of ACE as a whole is too big for one man to explain. It is, alas, not my story to tell.

But this burden nevertheless left me afraid. Afraid, much like the apostles were in the reading we just heard. Scripture says a strong wind was blowing, and the apostles of Christ were frightened. And when Christ appears, walking on water, what does he say but, "Do not be afraid"?

"Do not be afraid" — says the unsinkable man.

At first, this reading did nothing to allay my fears. If I'm afraid to sink, why should I listen to Jesus, as he is buoying on top of the sea?

But when the apostles stop being afraid, when they recognize what is happening — their Lord defying the laws of nature and physics — they let him into the boat...and they are amazed. They forget their fear, and they just live in awe of what they just saw.

I think, as ACErs, we can all relate to being afraid at one point or another. And maybe, when we strip away the pomp and circumstance of this weekend, we might get afraid again. Speaking for myself, I have been afraid numerous times as an ACEr but, upon reflection, I realized that this fear quickly melted and become something very different.

The first time I was ever afraid in ACE was, of course, Day One at Most Pure Heart of Mary. After going through my classroom procedures, I was left with a class full of students, and a 55 minutes lesson plan that was completed in about 35 minutes. I was absolutely terrified. So of course I had the students ask me anything they wanted to kill the time.

One student raised his hand and asked "Midda Faw, is you a real teacher?"

I said, "Yes."

And that was the first lie I ever told my students.

Another student, sensing my fear, asked a follow up: "So where'd you teach before this?"

"Mishawaka, Indiana," I said. Not a lie.

But one student, the most curious and thoughtful of them all, said — "MISH-A-WAKA, Indiana?! So you be like, teaching in tee-pees?!"

This kid, bless his heart, either thought I was teaching in India, or teaching Natrive American Indians, or something I really don't understand. He was a little confused but I applauded his critical thinking skills. And in an instant, my fear disappeared, and I became amazed.

From that day forward, my students called me by the affectionate "Midda Faw" — which I love — and more or less believed that I was a real, qualified, teacher. Which I gradually became.

The only other time I can really remember being that scared was in my second year, when I was a basketball coach for the 5th and 6th grade boys basketball team. I — and a look at me the past two years at ACEstore would tell you this — suck at basketball. To use people-first language, I am a person that does life sucking at basketball. So to coach young kids in this game, even with a highly qualified fellow ACE teacher and all-around baller, Alec, still terrified me.

Now the coaching position for the team had been very transient in the past and a few years back a man — a very well meaning man, but nevertheless a man with just a bit of a dyslexic tendency, was in charge. He took it upon himself to brand all the new equipment himself and label it.

Our school and team mascot was the lions. So imagine our surprise when we saw that the balls, bags, and other assorted equipment we inherited all said "LOINS" on them.

This is funny, but exacerbated by the fact that the name of our school was "Most Pure Heart of Mary." So, our equipment would have you believe that we were the "Most Pure Heart of Mary Loins." Or just, "Heart of Mary Loins." The first thing I was afraid of was that our uniforms would bear this dreadful typo, but, thankfully they did not.

The second thing I was terrified of — and I think any coach out there would agree — was losing our first game. I was OK if we lost a game, or a few games, but I just didn't want to lose the first game. Parents can be very unforgiving.

I was pretty much worthless on the bench and Alec did most of the sideline coaching. But as soon as the game started, my fear once again disappeared. These students, whose other areas of their lives were by most accounts very messy — messy home lives, messy school lives, messy social lives — became stars on the court. And I had nothing to do with it. When they played well, they really shined. And I was amazed.

To briefly go back to the Scripture reading, many of us might recall that there's a slightly different version in Matthew's gospel. The apostles are still in the boat, the wind's still blowing, and Jesus is still walking on the sea. They're still, obviously, terrified. But one guy, Peter, has the audacity to try out the very amazing thing that Jesus is doing. He ain't afraid. So he steps out, onto the sea, and it works. Peter walks on water too.

For a moment.

He looks around, notices the storm and, like a brick, begins to sink. He calls out to Christ, who offers him his hand, and catches him. Like Peter, I too have tried to walk on water, thinking I could do it, only to sink promptly thereafter.

For example: Once, I was in our upstairs hallway and my housemate Kelly was walking toward me. She mentioned she would be late for dinner, because she recently started coaching volleyball. I, like a good community member, wanted to support he and share my excitement for her, so I started to mime a little invisible volleyball in the hallway. I jumped up, attempting to smack an invisible ball (and get this, I actually yelled "ACE!" as I did it) and punched right through the glass covering the light bulb. My hand and wrists were sliced, and I howled all the way down to the kitchen, where we eat, to tend myself.

While Kelly cleaned up the blood, Colleen, my other housemate, hearing me cry out, came to the rescue, calmed me down, and tended my wound. What I did not know, was Colleen is extremely squeamish around blood. So while I sat happily being aided by two nurses, Colleen was doing everything she could not to vomit. When she was done, Colleen offered me her hand, her help, when I started sinking, and for that, I am amazed.

No ACE talk would be complete without a reflection on all four — excuse me, three — pillars, so I have just one more story.

I was teaching the sacraments in religion this past year and we were talking about the Eucharist — that is, the sacrament that Catholics recognize as the real presence — body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. I explained this to my students, and saw their faces kind of contort — first in confusion, then in understanding, then in shock. Many of my students, non-Catholic, didn't understand how people could really think this. And then Shauntai, in the back, asked a question I'll never forget:

"So, Midda Faw, if you think that Jesus is REALLY the bread, then why you not be amazed, like, ALL THE TIME?!"

And I didn't have an answer for her. Still don't.

And I think, maybe, that's why I was so afraid of this talk. Not just because I have to get up in front of 500 people. I taught middle school, I can handle 500 people. But because you all amaze me so much, and I don't want to disappoint.

My mother, when she finished the parent retreat last year and met so many of the ACE 17 class, couldn't stop gushing. "Oh Dan, they are like, the best group of people. They are just so smart, and so nice, and so attractive...!"

And I can't disagree with her. If you disagree with her, she's right there and she'll fight with you over it. These people, my classmates, who I get the honor to address, are the greatest group of people I have had the pleasure of knowing.

And I wondered for a long time why this was. What makes the ACE class so great? It's more than just being nice, or smart, or good-looking (which we all are). And at the risk of sounding like a Gather hymnal, I figured it out.

You all remind me of Christ. All the times when I have been amazed by this program and the experiences of it, I have seen Christ. I'm going to be super ACEy for a second and quote Gerard Manly Hopkins. He writes,

for Christ plays in ten thousand places

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his,

To the Father through the features of men's faces.

I admire, I respect, and I love ACE 17. Because they remind me of Jesus, they introduce and reintroduce me to Jesus, and they show me what he's all about.

When I get a hug from Andrea Krebs, it's like getting a hug from God. When James Cahill dances or when Nick Cuomo wobbles at the Backer, I feel Christ's joy. When Kyle Pounder laughs — I hear Christ laugh. When Mary Lefere and Patrick Kirkland smile, that's Christ's smile. I see the face of Christ in the Face of ACE — Tim Malecek, and in the faces of all of you. And when I listen to the sound of hoping, the singing of Stephen McNamara and Patrick Kincaid, I hear the very voice of Christ.

I see him in all of you, and in all of the good that we've done.

It's easy to be afraid, especially in times like this. We are moving to new places, and schools. We have new vocations, new spouses, new fiancees, new roommates, new careers.

But when I think back to all of you all, and how I have seen Christ in you and in all of the work and the pain and the struggle and the joy and the good, the real and lasting good that we've done — together: I am not afraid.

I am amazed.

And, like Shauntai's question, I really don't know why I wasn't amazed the whole time. I should have been. And now, looking at all of you, finishing this difficult and beautiful experience, I know I will continue to be amazed for a very long time.

Thank you again for selecting me for this honor, and for keeping me afloat these two years. I couldn't have done it without you, and I love you all very much. May Christ, through his Mother, Notre Dame, bless us for the rest of our lives.


In the Spotlight: Marty Raines

on Friday, 13 July 2012.

Good sportsmanship, respect for officials, sports as ministry—these are not fresh concepts for Marty Raines, associate director of Columbus, Ohio's Diocesan Recreation Association. In fact, they are common sense. "That's how I was raised," she says.

But after about 30 years of coaching (as a teacher, a principal, and now), the sports enthusiast knows that along many sidelines and courtsides, these concepts are often missing. So when she heard about Play Like a Champion Today®, she said to herself, "This sounds like something we should be doing in the diocese." She attended a Play Like a Champion conference and, she says, "I was sold."

Now in her fourth year with the diocese, Marty says it took a couple of years to roll out a plan for involving coaches and parents in the Play Like a Champion ministry. But as of today, nearly half of her 1000 coaches have attended a training session, with the remainder scheduled for sessions throughout the upcoming year.

Considering the influence these men and women have on the 10,000 children participating in the diocese's parish athletics, that's a tremendous impact Play Like a Champion will have in Columbus. Marty couldn't be happier about that.

True to her upbringing, Marty emphasizes that sports should bring out the joy and teamwork of children. Winning isn't everything, she says, which is why the question she always asks kids after a game is, "Did you have fun and did you try your hardest?"

Play Like a Champion is grateful for Marty's enthusiastic support of the program and recently recognized her for her service to the community and the Church in Columbus, Ohio.  The photo above shows her with the award, standing alongside Play Like a Champion's Kristin Sheehan and Clark Power.

In the Spotlight: Bethany Berg

on Friday, 06 July 2012.

It didn't take long for this first year teacher in Washington, DC, to discover the importance of English language development and its impact on student learning. By springtime, Bethany Berg says, "I already knew I needed more to support my students," many of whom were English language learners.

But where to find it? Through a colleague, Bethany discovered ACE's English as a New Language (ENL) program. She enrolled, spending two summer weeks of intensive study on Notre Dame's campus, then taking a year of on-line courses. Of the summer, she says, "In only two weeks, I walked away with not only a better understanding of what culturally and linguistically diverse students need in the classroom to find success, but also an overwhelming sense of support from the faculty and the entire cohort."

In addition, she continues, "My eyes were opened to an overwhelming need growing in schools across the country, which is the need to adequately educate the diverse student populations that fill our classrooms."

According to Bethany, the ENL program is well designed to do just that, calling the model perfect for Catholic schools. At a time when resources are scarce, when teachers, as Bethany says, "do more with less," ACE's ENL program trains them to use strategies that support the diverse learners in their classrooms. What's more, Bethany says, "It helps teachers understand that...answers will not come quickly and the work will not be easy."

Since her time in the ENL program, Bethany has begun a master's program in bilingual special education at George Washington University. She teaches at a Catholic school in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Conference for Haiti's Future Focuses on Bolstering Catholic Education System as Key

Written by William Schmitt on Monday, 02 July 2012.

Leaders from the education, development, corporate, and church sectors came together at Notre Dame's campus on June 19-20 to consider bold plans to help build Haiti's future by investing in Catholic education, the largest cohesive network of educational services in Haiti.

Haiti's Catholic school system spans the impoverished nation with over 2,300 schools across 10 dioceses. Recognized for their superior quality, Catholic schools represent 15% of all Haitian schools and constitute "the most organized education system in the country," said Luke King, Haiti country representative for Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Conference participants united behind the idea that Catholic education can play a leading role in revitalizing the educational system of Haiti. Rev. Timothy Scully, CSC, director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives at the University of Notre Dame expressed this conviction: "Catholic education is the most important vehicle for formation in the faith, formation of character, and formation of the intellect that is available to us in this country and abroad," he said. Fr. Scully also expressed Notre Dame's unwavering commitment to Catholic education in Haiti. Referring to the "talented Holy Cross community in Haiti," which runs about 20 schools in Haiti and is also the sponsoring religious order of Notre Dame, Fr. Scully said "we will be there as long as they will be there, which is forever."

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