D.C. Advocates: Strengthening the Pillars of ACE
Mary Forr (ACE 18) knows first-hand the difference that having a strong community can make in moving to a new city. After the challenges of being a first-year teacher in ACE, Forr describes that “by the end of your second year of ACE, you realize what a treasure your time in ACE was. You are by far the coolest teacher in your school. Your housemates have become a second family. And the city where you lived has become home. And then, it’s over! And once again you leave the comfort of the familiar. You’re thrown out of your familiar school, your community, and your city and once again you’re left trying to figure out your life. Trying to figure out how to keep the three pillars of ACE standing strong in what may be, once again, a new job, a new city, and a new group of people.” Fortunately, Forr and many others in the greater Washington, D.C. area have found strength in the D.C. ACE Advocates community.
These words came from a talk given by Forr this October in conjunction with a visit by Fr. Joe Carey, C.S.C. Her talk was entitled “Embracing the Pillars of ACE as Young Adults in D.C.” and was accompanied by an evening of fellowship and discussion among ACE Advocates as well as current ACE Teaching Fellows.
As a former resident of Pasquerilla West, Forr got to know Fr. Joe early on in her career at Notre Dame and was able to continue to build their relationship during her time in ACE. After spending many years around Fr. Joe, Forr has witnessed his unique ability to build community.
During her talk, Forr gave tribute to her long-time friend saying, “He knows when someone needs a pep talk and when someone needs an opportunity to pull themselves out of a hole. He allows people to speak and he listens, waiting until they’re finished to respond.” She continued, “He clearly knows how to create community, how to help others deepen their spirituality, and how to teach others to do the same for their friends.” Forr took Fr. Joe’s lessons on community to heart, and quickly started to build her own community after moving to D.C. following her graduation from ACE by living with her former ACE housemate, Michele Monk (ACE 18). Monk and Forr were a perfect match because, as Forr describes, in looking for a roommate one should “find a person who you, one day, hope to be as good of a person as.”
While Monk and Forr have had great success as roommates, this year, Forr and the D.C. ACE Advocates Regional Leaders, including Brendan Bell (ACE 22), Kelly Griffith (ACE 23), and Becky Richards (ACE 22), are looking to keep Fr. Joe’s community building and Forr’s roommate searching skills in mind as they continue to build the D.C. ACE Advocates community. In their mission statement, Bell, Griffith, and Richards describe a desire to “enhance the mission of ACE” as D.C. is the home to a over 125 ACE Advocates and has a vibrant Catholic school education sector.
This enhancement of the mission of ACE is grounded in the pillars that ACE is built upon: teaching, community, and spirituality. As Forr spoke, she proposed that of the three pillars of ACE, spirituality is the most important one. She compared the three pillars of ACE to a performance assessment her middle school social studies students completed in which they had the option to build an Ancient Greek temple. One student built a temple in which the middle pillar was much larger than the outer two pillars. Forr described, “If the two outside pillars fall, but that center pillar is big and strong, the temple can still stand. But if the middle pillar falls, it doesn’t matter how strong the outside pillars are. At some point, the roof’s going to cave in.” With this image in mind, Forr was able to extend the metaphor to her visualization of the three pillars of ACE with spirituality as the center pillar. “It’s such a beautiful thing,” said Forr, “that the deeper our relationship with Christ becomes the stronger and better our community and professional life becomes. Thus, the center pillar, actually strengthens the outer two.”
To drive home the point of the importance of spirituality, she shared the story of a student of one of her fellow teachers and friends. This student would walk to Mass every Sunday and described that “each step I take is one step closer to Jesus and I get more and more excited. I count those steps--501, 502, 503--and as I’m counting them I think, “Jesus is in there, in the tabernacle, and he’s counting too--99, 98, 97, 96--she’ll be here in 96 steps!” He’s counting how many steps I have left until He gets to see me.”
A recent ACE Advocates Mass and dinner at the home of Vic and Karen DeSantis, with Fr. Lou DelFra, C.S.C. presiding, reinforced this deep-seated relationship between spirituality and community that continues well past a person’s experience in ACE. The DeSantises are long-time friends of ACE, hosting a handful of ACE Advocates Masses and dinners throughout the year. They are, to borrow one of Mary Forr’s phrases, “the kind of people who you hope to be like one day.” Fr. Lou’s description of the evening, which brought together about 30 Advocates, was one of great energy. “Everyone was just so happy to be together,” he said.
These are just two examples of the ways that the D.C. ACE Advocates have found great success this year in strengthening the pillars of ACE, even after their time in ACE. In addition to these events, D.C. ACE Advocates Regional Leaders, Bell, Griffith, and Richards, have hosted game watches for Notre Dame football games and are looking forward to continuing to “build momentum,” as Fr. Lou described, as they head into the winter and spring.
Mindful of Forr’s words, and the example of people like Fr. Lou, Fr. Joe, and the DeSantis family, the D.C. Advocates plan to keep the pillars of ACE at the center of their mission, and they have wonderful models in each other to do so. “Real community,” Forr said, “is a group of people who either intentionally or unintentionally are striving to become more like Christ each day because of the witness of those around them. It automatically leads to friendship. And friendship automatically leads to fun.”