One of the longest traditions in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) was convened for the nineteenth time on Nov. 30, 2012. Members of the two current cohorts in ACE Teaching Fellows gathered over the weekend at a retreat center outside Austin, Texas, for the annual ACE Advent Retreat.
About 170 teachers serving in 26 dioceses marked the half-way point in the school year with a three-day experience of prayer, personal reflection, community-building, and fun. They entered the Advent season together as their Sunday liturgy began the new liturgical year and opened up a season of expectancy.
The ACE 18 and ACE 19 cohorts were joined by numerous faculty and staff members who support them throughout the year. Current teachers in the Alliance were also joined in spirit by alumni for whom the retreat has generated many good memories in the past. This annual gathering is a milestone for everyone formed as a Catholic school educator in ACE Teaching Fellows.
"Any ACEr, thinking back to their time in formation, would happily recall the December Retreat, now explicitly the ACE Advent Retreat," says Chuck Lamphier, director of ACE Advocates for Catholic Schools. The tradition goes back to the Alliance's first cohort, formed in 1994, he says. It is inseparable from the character of this initiative to serve children—and the movement that has grown from it—because "ACE is so based on relationship, on knowing each other."
The annual tradition starts on Friday with a focus on reuniting—a renewal of friendships that grew during the summer of ACE courses at the University of Notre Dame. Alongside the individual get-togethers, people celebrate that they are part of a broad ACE community. Events of the day alert people to the latest news of the ACE movement and nurture everyone's professional and spiritual growth.
Much of Saturday is devoted to a mix of recollecting, preparing for the future, and embracing the formation journey within the Alliance for Catholic Education family. Teachers' discussions look back at the experiences of the first semester, look ahead to career planning for life after ACE, and address the challenges of community life.
ACE teachers live in intentional faith communities in houses near the schools where they serve. Community and spirituality complement professional service as pillars of ACE, and all three are affirmed during the three days.
Teachers gather again Sunday morning for Mass, celebrating the Advent spirit of welcome for Jesus in their hearts, in their classrooms, and in the Christmas season.
Then, the retreatants must start getting back to their local communities—in Florida and California, in Texas and Tennessee, and many places in-between—in time to welcome schoolchildren back on Monday morning.
The Austin area has been the site for these retreats since 2004, largely because it is within reasonable driving distance of many ACE partner dioceses. Whatever means of transportation they use to attend the retreat, participants' expenses are paid for by ACE because it is such an important part of every teacher's formation.
The ACE Advent Retreat of 2012 again offered testimony to the diverse experiences and pastoral care that make ACE a unique, supportive preparation for teachers and a providentially gifted instrument for sustaining and strengthening Catholic schools. Like Advent itself, it's a time for looking ahead with hope.