No single event captures ACE’s emphasis on personal spiritual growth quite like the annual Vocations Retreat. As the latest retreat concluded on Jan. 1, 2012, more than a dozen ACErs came away with unique experiences to guide their discernment of a possible religious vocation, having immersed themselves in the culture and the spirit of Mexico City and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
One indelible memory, says Rev. Lou DelFra, C.S.C., ACE’s chaplain and director of pastoral life
, was the celebration of Mass in the Basilica, during which the 14 discerners were invited to approach the altar—and the miraculous tilma image of Mary—to receive a blessing. The Mass, with a congregation of about 2000 in the Basilica, was concelebrated by Father Lou and by Rev. Joe Corpora, C.S.C., ACE’s director of university-school partnerships.
“The Mass was offered for the vocational discernment of the participants,” says Father Lou. They approached the altar through the Basilica’s “pilgrim door.” This was a highlight of a retreat/pilgrimage during which the ACErs—men and women from ACE ACE Teaching Fellows
, the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program
, and ACE Advocates for Catholic Schools
—“got to engage both the Mexican culture and the Mexican Church.”
The six-day retreat also included Mass in the Mexico City cathedral of the world’s largest archdiocese and meetings with religious from the area.
But other conversations were equally important—meetings the ACErs were able to have with the ACE retreat leaders. In addition to Father Lou and Father Joe, talks and guidance were offered by Sister Gail Mayotte, SASV, a member of ACE’s faculty of supervision and instruction, and by Sister Kathleen Carr, CSJ, associate director of ACE Consulting. There was also time for quiet reflection.
The annual retreats, of which this one was the fifth, welcome ACE alumni and formation program participants who may be at any stage of discerning their possible future as a priest, sister, or brother. Some are close to scheduling entrance interviews at convents or seminaries, says Father Lou.
“We’ve had a number of people enter into religious life from the first four retreats,” he points out, adding that he’s confident the Mexico retreat will bear similar fruit. As an illustration of that fruit, he notes, two former ACErs are in this year’s class of candidates for the Holy Cross priesthood
Why should a movement for sustaining, strengthening, and transforming Catholic schools have such an affinity for religious vocations? “People in ACE experience giving their lives away so intensely every day in the classroom,” Father Lou responds, “they feel that tug—what if God is calling me to give my whole life in service to God’s people?” While some ACErs are inquiring more deeply into that vocational call, others have said they are praying in support of those inquirers.
This affinity, as expressed through the retreats, bears even broader fruits. “It’s really creating a culture among the ACE community where peers are encouraging vocations to all walks of life—and including religious life, which is pretty uncommon in today’s culture.” Peer support is crucial in nurturing a vocation, says Father Lou, noting that a key in his own decision for the priesthood was the previous response of his friend to a priestly call. That friend is Rev. Sean McGraw, C.S.C., co-founder of ACE.
The choice of Mexico City as the site for this vocations retreat was easy, given the significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Church as well as the connection to ACE’s Latino initiative, the Catholic School Advantage campaign, Father Lou says. Earlier retreats have been held at the Holy Cross Novitiate in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, as well as the Holy Land, and Montreal. The latter was timed with the canonization ceremonies for Holy Cross first saint, Brother Andre Bessette.
Vocational discernment will continue to be important in ACE, says Father Lou, and assisting ACErs along those lines will happily remain a vibrant part of the ACE community.