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December Retreat Helps ACErs Look Back and Look Forward

Written by William Schmitt on Tuesday, 29 November 2011.

One of ACE's longest traditions—and a rich source of memories for ACE teachers—will be convened for the eighteenth time in early December. Members of the ACE 17 and ACE 18 cohorts in ACE Teaching Fellows will gather at a retreat center outside Austin, Texas, for the annual ACE December Retreat.

About 170 teachers serving in 26 dioceses will mark the half-way point in the school year with experiences of prayer, personal reflection, community-building, and fun during the three-day weekend, starting Dec. 2.

They will be joined by numerous ACE faculty and staff members who support the teachers throughout the year. They will also be joined in spirit by ACE alumni for whom the retreat served as a milestone in their formation.

"Any ACEr, when thinking back to their happy memories of their time in ACE, would think of December Retreat," says Chuck Lamphier, director of ACE Advocates for Catholic Schools. The tradition goes back to ACE's first cohort, formed in 1994, he says. It is inseparable from the character of ACE Teaching Fellows and the movement that has grown from it because "ACE is so based on relationship—on knowing each other."

The retreat starts on Friday with a focus on reuniting—the 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 discussions looking back at the experiences of the first semester, looking ahead to career planning for life after ACE, and addressing the challenges of community life. (ACE teachers live in community in houses near the schools where they serve.)

Everyone gathers again Sunday morning for Mass. 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 for the school bell to ring 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. Before Austin was used, the retreat was held at a site near New Orleans—a site ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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. All three pillars of ACE—professional service, community, and spirituality—are affirmed during the three days, Lamphier points out.

The December Retreat of 2011 will again offer testimony to the diverse experiences and pastoral care that make ACE a unique preparation for teachers and a providentially gifted instrument for sustaining and strengthening Catholic schools.

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