From No to Yes
As Anthony Holter saw the end of college approaching, he wondered what lay ahead.
“Senior year in college I started asking myself what I was going to do with a Theology and Great Books degree,” he says.
Anthony knew he wanted to be involved in education, but he didn’t have a teaching license. After discovering a Catholic teacher preparation program on-line, he wrote them a carefully worded email:
“My goals and ambitions perfectly align with the mission of your organization, I’d be honored to be a teacher through your program.”
“I got this short email back saying, ‘No, you can’t because you’re not a certified teacher.’ But the very next line read, ‘You should talk to John Staud at Notre Dame. I think they’ve got a program for you,’” Anthony says. “So, I did and the rest is history.”
Anthony improvised on Providence, said yes to joining the Alliance for Catholic Education, and has since devoted his career to better understanding the challenges facing Catholic education as he advocates for solutions to bring what he hopes will be a great renaissance of Catholic schools.
For his steadfast dedication and leadership, Anthony has been honored with this year’s Scott C. Malpass Founders Prize, which is presented annually to two ACE graduates who embody the three pillars of ACE—community, spirituality, and teaching—and inspired them to make transformative contributions to their communities on behalf of the Gospel. Norma Nelson, the executive director of Readers2Leaders in Dallas, also received this year’s Founders Prize.
Anthony grew up in Red Wing, a sleepy little river town in southern Minnesota. In fourth grade, he had what he describes as a conversion experience.
“I was baptized Lutheran, but later in life, my mom was drawn to the Catholic church,” says Anthony. He, too, felt a powerful draw. “The ritual and tradition were captivating and mesmerizing for me—there was a real sense of community in my parish growing up. In many of the same ways there’s this deep and pervasive sense of community in ACE. When you’re doing it, when you’re working there, when you leave it… it never leaves you.”
Anthony’s first opportunity to go to Catholic school was in college.
“I went to Saint Mary’s University in Winona and got to know the De La Salle Christian Brothers there and through them this vocation and charism of education,” he says. The Brothers inspired his deep curiosity and interest in classroom teaching.
“I went a full hour away from home to college and in a lot of ways it ended up opening the entire world to me including the opportunity through ACE,” says Anthony.
As a member of ACE’s seventh cohort, Anthony served in Charlotte, North Carolina, at Holy Trinity Catholic School. “I taught science, English, and religion there. Like all ACErs, I coached, and helped out in a bunch of different ways I was moderately qualified for, but deeply passionate about,” he says.
“That time – it was like a caldron – everything got distilled and became deeply moving,” says Anthony.
Anthony says that the three pillars of ACE became intertwined during his time in ACE.
“The ACE experience has deeply affected and touched everything that’s most important in my life. I met my wife, Caroline (ACE 7, Lake Charles) and now have three beautiful children. I developed a deep and more mature sense of my own personal spirituality, and a refined understanding of what vocation meant,” he says.
Anthony also met some of his best, lifelong friends through the shared experience of ACE.
“I knew I could be vulnerable in conversation, deeply committed to a rich spiritual life and faith tradition, and then also completely ridiculous,” he says.
After graduating from ACE, Anthony went on to pursue his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he worked with Dr. Robert Enright, who was launching a new doctoral program focusing on “Forgiveness Education.” The program strove to help teach kids—in virtue and character development—to become forgiving people and in doing so help them in their interpersonal relationships and in their own mental health and well-being.
Anthony graduated with his Ph.D. in psychology in 2007 and returned to ACE as the director of program evaluation and research. As he studied the problems faced by Catholic education and saw the precipitous decline in enrollment, he asked, “Who are those kids, but for cost, whose lives would be changed by Catholic education? And Notre Dame is so wonderful because it has not just a national but a global scope in its overall mission.”
Hoping to share the benefit of that reach, he moved to Seattle to become the executive director of the Fulcrum Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission was to support Catholic education in the Archdiocese of Seattle. He says, “For these people, at this moment in time, how can we move the needle? Through philanthropy, through creative and thoughtful programming, and we deepened our connection to ACE while out there.”
Those experiences led Anthony back to the Midwest to Chicago, where he became the executive director of Empower Illinois, working to expand quality education options for low-income and working-class families across Illinois. He says, “We do that in a lot of different ways, probably the largest way—the part that takes up most of our time, energy, and focus and rightly so—is through the tax credit scholarship program that passed in 2017.
“I believe that education has the power to change people’s lives for the better. There are kinds of education, Catholic education first among them, that do that in an incredibly powerful and unique way. They open our eyes and our hearts to opportunities to become who God has created us to be.” Anthony says, “I don’t think any of us does that on our own. It doesn’t happen by accident. We need people who care about us, who want us to succeed, and who want us to become who God created us to be.”