Boston ACE Advocates: A Home “BACE” for Catholic School Supporters
Boston is one of the few major metropolitan hubs throughout the United States without a formal community of ACE Teaching Fellows. With nearly 75 ACE graduates living in the Boston area, though, it has become difficult not to conceive of Boston as an “ACE Community.” As one of the longest-standing ACE Advocates regions, Boston has become a proof point for the belief that ACE, more than a program, is an apostolic movement of lay people capable of supporting, sustaining, and transforming Catholic schools in an ongoing, local capacity.
Liz Fennell (ACE Teaching Fellows 12, Biloxi) and Megan Adzima (ACE Teaching Fellows 13, Jacksonville) currently lead the ACE Advocates Regional community in Boston, with a distributed leadership team of seven other committed Advocates—all affiliated with various Catholic teacher education programs–and a community of nearly 400 people living in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. While each ACE Advocates region supports Catholic education, what that actually looks like varies across regions, because each region brings unique set of needs and opportunities to advocates for Catholic education.
In Boston, that need often takes the form of physically, spiritually, and emotionally nourishing Catholic school teachers throughout the Archdiocese of Boston given the proximity of programs like Boston College’s Urban Catholic Teacher Corps (UCTC) and
Providence College’s Providence Alliance for Catholic Teachers (PACT). Through monthly Masses and dinners sponsored by the ACE Advocates Boston leadership team, these teachers have an opportunity to come together with multiple generations of advocates for Catholic schools—many of whom have taught or are still teaching—and experience what it means to support one another in a shared mission. These gatherings become fruitful networking opportunities for Catholic school leaders who are interested in recruiting teaching talent, with many principals sharing a short reflection at the end of Mass about their own reasons for advocating for Catholic schools. In addition to monthly dinners and Masses, the Boston Advocates, under the leadership of Brendan McKiernan, Lisa Soegaard, and Mike Shippie, plan a Lenten retreat for Boston Advocates in the area, with a special invitation extended to teachers within the UCTC and PACT Programs.
Also on Boston’s programming agenda every year is an annual College Essay night, where Boston ACE Advocates gather to support roughly 30 Catholic high school students in their college application essay writing endeavors. This year’s event took place on October 26 at Cristo Rey High School. In April, the BACE Community will gather, as they do every spring, to participate in a day of direct service for a high-need Catholic school–painting classrooms, sprucing up gardens, and taking care of minor repairs throughout the buildings. Megan Adzima’s role with the Catholic Schools Foundation and a strong partnership with the Archdiocese of Boston’s Catholic Schools Office have also precipitated a goal for the 2017-18 academic year of having three Boston ACE Advocates commit to a Board Training Program and placement on the school boards of high-need Catholic elementary schools in Boston.
The shared connections between supporters of Catholic education lead to inspired bonds. Last year, Rob Bonner, a graduate of the PACT Program and a resident of Boston, was accepted into ACE’s Remick Leadership Program, a formation program for aspiring Catholic school leaders. Liz Fennell served as one of Rob’s references in his application—a connection that began several years prior when Rob decided to attend one of the BACE community’s monthly Masses and dinners. Unknown to Rob, his resident assistant from college, a graduate of the Urban Catholic Teachers Corps, also happened to be attending the Mass and dinner. Immediately feeling a sense of community and fellowship around a shared mission and passion for Catholic schools, Rob committed to a leadership position within the BACE Community, and is now planning to advocate for Catholic schools by working toward his Master of Arts in Educational Leadership through ACE’s Remick Leadership Program.
“It all comes full circle,” Liz says. “I remember what it felt like to be supported by the Catholic community down in Biloxi when I was serving as an ACE teacher down there. I see my leadership role in BACE as an opportunity to transition from being supported to being a support.” The leaders of the BACE community are widening the circle of advocates for Catholic education. ACE stands for the Alliance for Catholic Education, and that certainly rings true for the Boston ACE Advocates, who have realized the possibility and power of converging multiple Catholic networks representing a common need and passion: vibrant and viable Catholic schools for children and families throughout the Boston area.