Catholic Schools and the Gospel of East Harlem
By: Seamus Ronan, ACE 23 - New York
“Whatever it takes, is what it takes.”
That is the Gospel of East Harlem, where Our Lady Queen of Angels (OLQA) has proudly stood since 1892. Principal Stephanie Becker (Remick 12) and Academic Dean William Beller introduced this phrase to our faculty in October.
“We chose the phrase ‘Gospel of East Harlem’ for the next stage of our culture plan for a specific reason,” said Becker. “The Gospel is the story of Jesus’ life and ministry told in brief narratives expressing eternal truths. Through the Gospel of East Harlem, we are looking to capture and distill the moments in the classroom in action so that we can continue the urgent mission of becoming better teachers for our students and families.”
I am blessed to be a part of this crew living out the Gospel with many connections to ACE. The third floor is practically bursting with zeal. My former roommate (although community lasts forever) Monica Rivera (ACE 23) lovingly teaches fourth grade through stories of the Middle Ages and Treasure Island. Right next door is the new guy, Corey Kuminecz (ACE 25). Corey teaches middle school science and math after his adventures in the metropoles of South Bend and Dayton. On the other side of the hall is Vincent Hale (Remick 17), who does far more than teach music. He embodies the creativity and energy that is bursting from his room in his snappy bow ties and thunderous voice.
The Gospel of East Harlem resonates heavily with me. I was part of the inaugural NYaCe community to venture to the Big Apple in 2016, commissioned by Sister Gail Mayotte and longtime New Yorker John Schoenig. I was joined by my dear friends Maggie Ellis, Trey Cobb, and Monica. The four of us fit into a two-bed, two-bath in El Barrio, right across the street from the OLQA. We were the first ACErs in New York, but we were welcomed by many ACE Advocates in the area and many at our own schools.
Apart from taking the subway and trying out the best slices in New York (Patsy’s, by the way, is the clear winner), the four of us had vastly different experiences from our cohort 23, as our schools were part of a new movement in Harlem and the South Bronx. Partnership Schools was formed in 2013 and granted control of six Pre-K-8 schools by the Archdiocese of New York. Maggie and I ventured into the Bronx, where I taught fifth grade at Immaculate Conception and Maggie taught fourth at Sacred Heart at Highbridge. Monica beat the commute by walking across the street to OLQA, while Trey walked a little bit further to Mount Carmel Holy Rosary, right down the street from the most exclusive restaurant in the city, Rao’s, of Goodfellas fame. We never got a table, but we did try the meatballs.
One of the beautiful things about working for the Partnership is its strong connection to ACE. 11 Teaching Fellows and 9 Remick Leaders worked in the Partnership Schools and were life-saving supports to us as professional mentors during our two years of ACE. While we were ceremoniously asked to leave the Penthaüs after our time at ACE was done, I continue to live in El Barrio and moved to OLQA to teach middle school English and work with this dynamic faculty in a neighborhood I’ve come to love. Now Monica and I find ourselves assisting the new ACErs as they adjust to the rigorous curriculum, standards, and professional development at the Partnership all while adjusting to living in the greatest city in the world.
The Gospel of East Harlem lives on through NYaCe 25. Corey is at OLQA, while Maggie Cleary teaches middle school at Sacred Heart. Aoife Bonner leads the third grade at Immaculate Conception, and Tony Berry at St. Charles Borromeo, an Archdiocesan school with ACE 21 superstar Alex Oloriz and principal Dan Faas (ACE 17, ChACE 14, and Remick 16). The Alliance is strong in New York and creates a vibrant and trailblazing atmosphere for Catholic educators seeking to love and serve their students.
“Moving to New York and teaching for the first time was nothing short of intimidating,” says Corey. “However the folks making up ACE NY and the Partnership Schools have made my transition as smooth as possible."
Historically, East Harlem was first Italian Harlem, with remnants from that era like Rao’s and Patsy’s living on. The neighborhood rapidly progressed to become Spanish Harlem with high populations of Puerto Rican immigrants, along with those from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Mexico. “El Barrio,” as it was known, contributed greatly to Latin music with several streets named after legends and dotted with murals of Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.
While the neighborhood continues to change, OLQACE is committed to living out the Gospel of East Harlem. Vince organized a Hispanic Heritage Month concert, which featured several songs and poems by students from pre-K to 8th grade, dealing with themes of identity, love, and immigration.
The children gave stellar performances to a packed house as El Barrio was alive. The audience cheered wildly for the pre-K arrangement of “Hola, Como Estas?” while the room grew somber as a seventh grader passionately read “Borderbus” by Juan Felipe Herrera over the rhythm of a Spanish guitar. The night concluded with an amazing potluck as all families brought in trays upon trays of tamales, flan, and arroz con dulce. Teachers, staff, and families stayed in the cafeteria long into the night, sharing stories and food. It was a true celebration of the beauty and power of the OLQA community.
“From the moment you walk into the school an overwhelming sense of joy fills you up. All members of our community from our teachers to our students to our parents to our custodian emit a sense of joy that they love doing what they are called to do,” says Monica. “We teach our students to grow as learners of academics and faith. At OLQA we make sure that students are working to become the best version of themselves and that involves putting 100% into all they do, 100% of the time.”
“At OLQA everyone is called to do well and do good.”
It was another story in the Gospel of East Harlem. As the neighborhood continues to transform and the model and dynamics of inner-city Catholic education evolve, OLQA continues to stand with other bedrocks of Catholic schools in New York City in giving families a quality education.
Whatever it takes, is what it takes.
Visit the Partnership Schools at www.partnershipnyc.org