When We Knock and the Door is Opened: Alec Torigian and the Call to Teach
By: Lauren Kloser
Since its founding, ACE has graduated nearly 2,000 teachers and leaders. These teachers and leaders have continued to support and transform Catholic education, both directly and indirectly, by living out a commitment to community, spirituality, and professionalism. In an era obsessed with measurement, it is both tempting and worthwhile to quantify the successes and contributions of our graduates. This post, the first in a series of stories from our graduates, is an attempt to capture that which numbers sometimes fail to tell: the nuances and nitty gritty details of moments—sometimes small, sometimes large—through which the mission of ACE continues in the everyday lives of its graduates. This first story explores ACE Teaching Fellows alumnus Alec Torigian’s response to the call to return to teaching.
Alec Torigian was looking for an open door. For the past two hours, he had been searching the Chicago streets for a chapel in which to pray, but every door was locked and closed. However, his heart insisted that he keep searching; this wasn’t a decision that he wanted to entrust to a busy park or a crowded El train. This was a decision that needed a consecrated space, a space where God’s voice could be heard above the hubbub of competing influences.
Alec had found open doors before: after pursuing dual undergraduate degrees in Math and Peace Studies at St. John’s University, he had deferred his acceptance into ACE to move to Tanzania for a year, where he worked as a Math and Physics teacher with the Benedictine Volunteer Corps. After his year in Tanzania, ACE opened its doors to Alec once again and he accepted a placement in ACE at Most Pure Heart of Mary School in Mobile, AL. The school and its students had won a place in his heart–so much so that he recently gathered a group of friends from New York, Chicago, and Minnesota to run across Minnesota in a relay fundraising effort to raise money for the school.
Now, Alec was in the midst of his third year as part of the ACE Teaching Fellows pastoral team and, though he had tried to deny it, was feeling as though he needed another open door. He had sought out Chicago as neutral territory–it was a place he was sure he didn’t want to move, and so it would allow him to contemplate the next part of his journey more clearly. On this Saturday night, as he continued to wander the streets of Chicago, Alec found himself at a loss–every place he had thought would allow him to reflect was either locked or under construction. Alec told himself that “Jesus is also on the El,” but when one of his friends called to invite him out for a drink, Alec took him up on it.
It was at this point that Alec realized God’s open door didn’t look anything like an open door at all. It was a convoluted conversation with friends over a drink. It was the kind of open door where an ACE housemate’s friend said, “I work at The Academy of St. Benedict the African…and I think we need a math teacher.”
Weeks later, Alec went to interview at the school. He tried to convince himself that it was just to practice his interview skills. He wasn’t moving to Chicago. He didn’t want to leave ACE, a place that he loved so dearly. But the energetic kinship of St. Benedict the African captured Alec’s attention: he saw how the school continually seeks to serve its South Side community by offering a safe and Christ-filled education for its students. He immediately felt a sense of peace: the students were happy there. The teachers were happy there too: Alec could tell by the way they talked about the values of their community, celebrating the assets of their work rather than dwelling on the deficits. St. Benedict the African has a history and tradition of music and dance, so in the midst of an ever-increasing lack of resources for the arts, the administration, teachers and staff had made sure that those traditions still thrive and grow for their students.
At St. Benedict the African, Alec quite literally found an open door: the doors of the school are open from 6:15am to 6:15pm, with spaces that the children can play and work in, surrounded by their teachers and classmates while they wait for their families. The school is so embedded into the neighborhood that the Chicago Police Department keeps a special eye on the school and its students. This deep community connection, reminiscent of his ACE experience, and a beacon of hope in the midst of a summer of unrest between law enforcement and their communities, served to convince Alec of his own mantra, “The best is yet to come.” The time had come to return to a classroom of students.
This year, when the school bells ring, students will come bounding through the open door of Alec’s classroom, and Alec will be doing what he loves best: reaching out to others with a ready smile, a hefty dose of patient humility and a joy that comes from granting God the permission to open the doors to new places and people in the vocational work of teaching.