Ryan Hinton: Called to Serve
For 27 years, students have applied to ACE’s Teaching Fellows program from the comfort of their dorm rooms or the solitude of a campus library. Few have felt the call to become an ACE teacher while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, but that is exactly where Ryan Hinton found himself in July of 2003.
After graduating from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota in 2000 with a degree in theology and pastoral formation, Ryan had designs on ministering to high school students.
“My plan was always to become a high school religion teacher,” said Ryan, “but first I felt like I needed some more life experience.”
So he followed the example of his father and grandfather and joined the U.S. Army, serving as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Mosul, Iraq. Following a particularly unnerving combat mission, the Army chaplain noticed a dejected Ryan sitting on his cot and inquired, “What were you planning to do before you joined the military?” After hearing of Ryan’s plans to teach, the chaplain encouraged him to explore that calling further.
A lifelong product of Catholic schools, Ryan had heard about ACE Teaching Fellows during his junior year at Saint Mary’s. He decided to use his 15 minutes of daily internet access to reach out to ACE faculty members and start his application. While still on active duty, he was granted an interview with the ACE team and made his way to campus.
“As an Irish Catholic kid who grew up cheering for the Fighting Irish, I couldn’t think of a better treat than to go to Notre Dame, regardless of whether I got accepted or not,” Ryan said.
During his visit, Ryan began a personal tradition of visiting the Grotto and lighting two candles (one for ACE and one for all members of the U.S. military) before visiting the East entrance of the Basilica to pray a Hail Mary and run his hand over the names of the deceased Notre Dame alumni who served in World War I.
Ryan was accepted into ACE’s 11th cohort and placed in Savannah, Georgia, where he taught fifth grade at Notre Dame Academy and lived with three other ACErs–Carol McCarthy Martino, Tai Romero Hart, and John Bacsik–whom he still considers extended family.
In addition to the support of his ACE Savannah community, Ryan also felt the loving embrace of the larger Notre Dame and ACE community when he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during his second summer in the program.
“It sounds very cliché to say that none of what I’ve been able to accomplish would have been possible without ACE,” Ryan said, “but I work with a lot of combat veterans who are unable to handle the PTSD recovery process. I know that the support from Notre Dame, ACE, and Fr. Scully’s pastoral outreach allowed me to successfully transition back to a civilian lifestyle.”
After graduating from ACE Teaching Fellows in 2006, Ryan moved to Manchester, Connecticut, to teach religion at East Catholic High School. With his military training, it seemed to be only a matter of time before he ascended to a school leadership position.
“I knew that I had certain skill sets from my experiences in the military that would help me in a leadership role,” stated Ryan, now the principal at East Catholic. “The military allowed me to realize that I am part of a larger mission and a larger community, and it seemed like a natural progression for me to pursue the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program and move into school leadership.”
In addition to his master’s degrees from ACE Teaching Fellows and the Remick Leadership Program, Ryan is also currently a member of ACE’s Reform Leaders’ Summit and the Catholic School Advantage’s Latino Enrollment Institute.
What keeps Ryan coming back to Notre Dame and ACE?
“The reality is that Notre Dame has made a concerted effort to better Catholic schools,” Ryan said. “It’s clearly part of the University’s mission, and the extension of ACE lets everyone know that we are going to build—and in some cases rebuild—what Catholic schools can be and should be in the United States and beyond.
“When you have an institution like the University of Notre Dame supporting you, you want to keep that support line open at all costs,” Ryan continued. “There is no better resource for a Catholic educator and administrator than Notre Dame.”
In addition to spiritual and professional support from Notre Dame, Ryan also received military training from the U.S. Army and obtained the rank and position of Senior Religious Affairs Noncommissioned Officer for the Connecticut Army National Guard, the highest-ranking enlisted person in that position. In December 2020, he will retire from his military service.
On this Veterans Day, the Alliance for Catholic Education offers heartfelt thanks to Ryan and all of the veterans who have so dutifully served our country.