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Vocations Retreat: Guadalupe and Grace for Discernment

Written by William Schmitt on Monday, 16 January 2012.

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.



Traditions Enrich Faith, Family, and Schools

on Thursday, 12 January 2012.

Since Catholic School Advantage school partners were introduced in Chicago in June 2011, I have worked with an increasing number of schools that have expressed interest in reaching out to the growing Latino communities around them. Within this outreach is the opportunity to enrich their faith life and cultural life by growing their annual school traditions. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, celebrated on December 12, inspired a number of schools to do just that. Below are just a few examples of schools that have embraced new cultural traditions and integrated these along with other long-standing celebrations, inclusive of all.

Juana María Sánchez
Consultant, Catholic School Advantage – Chicago

JuanaGuadalupeUpdate1St. Colette (Rolling Meadows, IL)

St. Colette recited the novena for the nine days leading up to December 12. Each class took a turn leading the rosary. Between decades of the rosary, Mr. Trejo, one of the dads from the Hispanic choir, led the class in song. They sang "Las Apariciones Gudalupanas". On the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe the school processed into the church with candles and roses made out of crepe paper. Then, the Spanish class from St.Viator High School acted out the appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego. The rosary was recited, and Mexican hot chocolate and sweet dessert bread were provided by the parish's Hispanic Ministry.

St. Kieran (Chicago Heights, IL)JuanaGuadalupeUpdate2
St. Kieran School celebrated the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe and mission of Juan Diego with a presentation at Mass depicting the events of Our Lady's visit to Mexico. Students wore peasant costumes, presented roses at the shrine and paid homage to the likeness of the Lady on Juan Diego's sarape. After the procession out of church by the characters, the student body followed Juan Diego to the gym for a reception of authentic Mexican hot chocolate and sweet baked bread. This celebration was a collaborative effort among the art teacher, religious education coordinator, school students, and the Parent Teacher Network. Great things happen when great people work together. Further, during this holiday season St. Kieran School has formed a partnership with St. Paul's Catholic Church in Chicago Heights to bring joy and comfort to the neediest of parishioners. Through the efforts of the school children and their parents, as well as the St. Vincent DePaul Society, the Women's Club, and parishioners of St. Kieran Church, a collection of warm clothes (hats, coats, gloves & scarves), food, and toys for children were donated to St. Paul's pastor, Fr. Rene. He came to St. Kieran for the first truckload of items. Another delivery was made on December 19th. The children in the school even created their own Giving Tree to help in the collection. The true spirit of Christmas lives in hearts of children who embrace the honor to serve others less fortunate.

Academy of Our Lady (Waukegan, IL)
The Rosary Club of Academy of Our Lady School in Waukegan led a Rosary for The Blessed Trinity Church on Wednesday, December 7th. It was a special evening for the 30 children of the Rosary Club. They attended a Spanish Mass with fellow parishioners and then led everyone in the Glorious Mysteries. The children prepared bilingual prayer pamphlets, which they gave to all the families present. Sharing their faith is an important part of their ministry. It was a special evening for the students as they joined the parish in celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

St. Agnes of Bohemia (Chicago, IL)

St. Agnes of Bohemia Catholic School is a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade parish school located in Little Village, on the southwest side of Chicago. The school serves low-income and immigrant families, with Mexican and Mexican-American students comprising over 90% of the student body. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a very special feast for the St. Agnes of Bohemia School and Church. "Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe" has a central place in the hearts of the Latino community because she appeared to Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City. Our Lady shared her love and invited the Mexican people to follow God. She is also an important symbol for the immigrant community because she was an immigrant who did what was best for her family. At St. Agnes of Bohemia School, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in several different ways. On Friday, December 9th, we honored Our Lady, along with the grandparents and other senior citizens in our community. The entire school celebrated Mass with the guests of honor. The eighth grade students shared the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady through a skit before the homily. All of the seniors were then invited to a brunch in the school lunchroom. The guests were welcomed into a cheerfully decorated room to share a meal and time with their friends and neighbors. Some of the school staff members and parents cooked the food, and the eighth grade students served the guests. The eighth grade students truly enjoyed serving and spending time with the seniors. Following the brunch, the guests were invited into the school gym for a Christmas Program. The students sang songs with their grade and as a whole school, telling the story of the Nativity. A small group of students created a living Nativity scene to add a visual image to the meaning of the songs. The program ended with the entire school singing "Feliz Navidad" to wish our guests a merry Christmas. The Mass, brunch, and Christmas show to honor seniors in the community and Mary have been a tradition at St. Agnes of Bohemia for over twenty years.

From the Field: Evan Rhinesmith

on Wednesday, 11 January 2012.

This week, third grade teacher Evan Rhinesmith (pictured above, far left) shares his thoughts about the ACE experience.

On choosing ACE
The biggest motivation for me to join ACE was the desire to help provide a quality education to children who otherwise would probably not get one. My older brother, a member of ACE 14, told me that it would be extremely hard work, but I would meet a lot of great people and experience a lot of rewarding moments.

On his ACE community
I live in an amazing community in Northeast, Washington, DC, with 5 other ACE teachers. Four are from ACE 17: Tim Malecek (above, 3rd from left) and Mary Jenkins (4th from left) teach high school at Don Bosco Cristo Rey in Takoma Park, MD; Lindsey Shambaugh (far right) and Jack Kelly (2nd from right) teach at St. Thomas Moore in Southeast DC. Joining me in ACE 18 is Alyssa Bellinder (2nd from left), who teaches high school math at Archbishop Carroll High School in Northeast DC. The 17s have been great for both Alyssa and me in terms of supporting us through our first year of teaching. It has been a valuable experience living in an ACE house and getting to know each of them.

On teaching and learning
I teach in Northwest Washington, DC, at Sacred Heart, a bilingual Pre-K 3 through 8th grade school where every student receives instruction in both Spanish and English. Because most of my students are not native English speakers, my biggest challenge initially was finding enough ways to explain a concept so that all my students would understand it. But because they approach every day with a willingness to learn, I have learned to be more patient—which makes it so much more fun to be with my kids. That has been an enormous personal victory.

On making a difference
I think I'm making the biggest difference for my kids by being interested in them. Just asking them questions about themselves—how they're doing, what they did after school, what they're going to do on the weekend—really makes them want to come to school and learn. One of my kids struggles sometimes with behavior; he was a challenge, especially at the beginning of the year. Right before Christmas, he seemed a little down, so I asked him if he was alright. He said, "Yeah, I mean, I'm glad I get to go home and play, but I like to be able to come here and learn and hang out with you." I never realized how much he liked to come to school. That was really awesome to hear!

From the Field: Joe Womac

on Friday, 06 January 2012.

womacs teaserJoe Womac has carried the spirit and mission of ACE with him from Indiana to Louisiana to the Pacific Northwest. He leads the Fulcrum Foundation, which provides grants enabling students—some 10,000 of them so far—to attend Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Seattle. His determination in boosting access to Catholic education dates back to his time as an ACE teacher in Louisiana Catholic schools between 2000 and 2002.

After teaching and coaching in Louisiana, this Washington native earned a J.D. degree at Seattle University and was then hired as executive director of the Fulcrum Foundation. Under Joe's direction, Fulcrum has become a model for other private organizations around the country providing support to at-risk Catholic schools, raising more than $42 million for children in the Seattle area. With tuition aid and other forms of financial and management assistance, Fulcrum promotes academic excellence and faith formation in at-risk schools. In 2010 alone, Fulcrum distributed more than $2.5 million to western Washington families, teachers, and schools.

In the summer of 2011, Joe returned to Notre Dame to accept the Michael Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education, bestowed annually to honor ACE graduates who have made significant contributions to the ministry of Catholic education. In accepting the award, Joe recalled that, as a law student, he was always told not to take one's work personally. "I broke that advice every day that I taught in the ACE program, and every day since I took the job at the Fulcrum Foundation," he said.

Joe also extended his gratitude to Paola, his wife. The couple met as members of the ACE 7 cohort, and Paola expresses her commitment to Catholic education by continuing to teach. Joe and Paola are now the parents of two children.

"She really inspires me day to day," says Joe.

Father Joe Goes to Mexico

on Thursday, 05 January 2012.


December 21: My fourth trip to Tequepexpan began with three flights --- South Bend to Atlanta, Atlanta to Monterrey and Monterrey to Guadalajara. There was a layover in Monterrey. My good friend, Fr. John Herman, CSC, came to the airport and we were able to visit for about 40 minutes. It was great to see him and to hear how things are going in the parish where he is the Pastor. The plane arrived in Guadalajara at 5:00 p.m. A student from Dillon Hall, Ignacio Aranguren, who lives in Guadalajara, picked me up. Since he knew that I was coming to Guadalajara, he had called me and asked me to bring a pair of shoes that he forgot in the study lounge in Dillon before leaving. I love how comfortable Notre Dame students feel with us Holy Cross priests. He brought me to the hotel. There is a Church across the street from the hotel. And like all Churches in Mexico there are always evening Masses at 7 pm and 8 pm. I went to Mass and then I spent a couple hours walking around Guadalajara, a city that I have grown to love very much. I ate totally great mole poblano at a restaurant one block from the hotel. It was a beautiful night --- sounds, color, people, activity everywhere and it was about 75 degrees.

December 22: After morning Mass, I went for a run in Guadalajara. It really is a beautiful city. Mexico decorates so much for Christmas. At 1:00 p.m., Ignacio picked me up at the hotel and brought me to the bus terminal in Guadalajara to get the bus to Tepic. I arrived in Tepic around 5:00 p.m. Tepic is a city of about 360,000 people. After checking into the hotel, I went to the Cathedral. Bishop Ricardo Watty, M.Sp.S., the Bishop who first invited me to come to his diocese and to work in Tequepexpan, died on November 1. I wanted very much to visit his tomb. He is buried in the crypt of the Cathedral. So I spoke with the Rector/Pastor who took me down to his tomb. I prayed there for his eternal rest and in gratitude for his life. I did not know him well, but it did not take long to know that he was a wonderful man and religious and Bishop. I thoroughly enjoyed my three visits with him on my other trips. After praying at his tomb, I went to greet the Sister who was his housekeeper. And then, as I love to do, I simply walked around the city. The hotel is right on the main plaza of Tepic. There was Christmas music and groups and entertainment until long after I fell asleep.

December 23: I got up early at 6:30 a.m. and went to the Cathedral for the 7:00 a.m. Mass. The Rector/Pastor asked me to take the Mass so that he could hear confessions. I was happy to celebrate Mass. There were about 100 people. I cannot put into words how grateful I am to God to be a priest. 

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