By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published March 6, 2014
HAPEVILLE—It was a rock stars’ welcome for leaders and staff of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) during their Feb. 26 visit to St. John the Evangelist School in Hapeville.
In celebration of ACE’s 20th anniversary, founder Father Timothy Scully, a Holy Cross priest, and faculty members have embarked on the “Fighting for Our Children’s Future” national bus tour. The Atlanta leg of the tour included Mass, presentation of awards and a reception at St. John the Evangelist School.
The bus began traveling America’s highways in October 2013 with the 50-city tour set to end in May. The bus bears the name of all ACE schools and the message: “Catholic Schools Are Good for America.”
The Alliance’s Service Through Teaching program provides formation for the next generation of educators, while strengthening existing Catholic elementary and secondary schools. The program accepts 90 applicants each year, who teach in selected Catholic schools for two years as a service, assisted by a living allowance. During this time, ACE teachers complete a curriculum, both on campus at Notre Dame and online, leading to a cost-free master’s in education degree from the university.
The goal is to place enthusiastic young teachers in Catholic schools, many in inner city areas, who perhaps may find their teaching vocation there, while accomplishing a graduate degree.
As the ACE bus pulled into the Hapeville school parking lot, the seventh-grade students presented a feisty rendition of the Notre Dame fight song while teacher Dennis Rankin accompanied them on trumpet.
Students donned the cultural attire showing their family roots for a colorful procession into Mass, celebrated by Father Michael Onyekuru.
“Our Alliance for Catholic Education doesn’t rest at Notre Dame,” said Father Scully. He added that the purposes of the tour are getting out to give a “robust thank you” to all ACE schools, teachers past and present, and to connect with and energize Notre Dame alumni.
“In every city it’s a different story,” said Father Scully.
When deciding what school to select for a visit in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, he learned about the cultural diversity among St. John’s student body and staff.
“I am so grateful we did,” said Father Scully about the choice.
“I feel like we just opened the 2018 Olympics,” said Deacon Dick Tolcher, homilist. “But now comes the real ceremony.”
Deacon Tolcher pointed to the children as an example of celebrating diversity.
“They don’t see different people and faces. We are what we are,” he said.
The deacon gave the students a spiritual assignment for the day—to pray an “Our Father” for the ACE guests and other visitors, reminding them it is a privilege to attend a Catholic school.
Students representing the countries of Vietnam, Nigeria, Haiti, Mexico, France, Italy, the Philippines, and Slovakia, presented Prayers of the Faithful.
‘Christ is at the center’
Following Mass, eighth-grade student and St. John the Evangelist ambassador Nigel Sapp presented an overview of the school and what it has to offer.
“The teachers here establish a great foundation of the Catholic faith. The students here love learning,” said Sapp. “All together we are one big family.”
Sapp told guests if there was one thing to take away from the visit it’s that “Christ is at the center” of all they do there.
Father Scully paid official recognition to key leaders. He said there’s always a “secret sauce” as the ingredient of a successful school and that at St. John the Evangelist, it’s the leadership of principal Karen Vogtner.
Hapeville Mayor Alan Hallman was a special guest at the “All God’s Children” program and Father Scully thanked him for his support. At the heart of the Notre Dame campus is a Marian grotto, and Father Scully presented a reminder to the mayor that he and his family would be kept in prayer there.
“The school is a shining star in the city of Hapeville,” said Mayor Hallman. “God bless you all.”
On each stop of the tour, the University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools is presented. Father Scully presented the award to Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, accepted on his behalf by Diane Starkovich, superintendent of Catholic schools.
Father Scully reminded students that Archbishop Gregory made a very important decision while a sixth-grade student in Chicago—to enter the Catholic Church.
“I’m very proud that Archbishop Gregory was a Catholic school student,” said Father Scully, himself a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Father Scully called Archbishop Gregory an “important voice” for equality and access to Catholic education and commended his “tireless commitment to the apostolate of Catholic education.”
“He’s here in spirit,” said Starkovich upon accepting the award. “I want you to know how very proud Archbishop Gregory is to be associated with you and the Alliance for Catholic Education.”
Kelly Tolcher, a graduate of St. John the Evangelist and Our Lady of Mercy High School, hopes to pursue a master’s in Catholic education at Notre Dame through ACE. Tolcher spoke about how her own ACE teachers impacted her life.
“They were such a huge influence to me,” she said.
Tolcher came to St. John the Evangelist in the fifth grade and admitted it wasn’t an easy change.
“It was definitely a transition period for me,” she recalled.
Tolcher said her teachers supported her in both classroom and faith challenges. “They were looking out for my wellbeing as a human being,” said Tolcher. “They were not just my teachers.”
Tolcher, who earned an English degree at Kennesaw State University, is now working as a para-professional in the kindergarten setting. She plans to teach middle school English and religion.
11 ACE teachers served SJE
St. John the Evangelist teachers Mary and Bill Canning first met at ACE. They are the parents of a newborn son.
Mary Canning, a resource teacher, explained that ACE educators are very well prepared over the summer instruction portion.
“You live in community with other ACE teachers,” she said.
Spiritual retreats are also held during the year for current participants and Canning called the pastoral staff of ACE a great resource.
Savannah Hobbs, current ACE teacher, is in her first year of teaching at SJE. Hobbs teaches Spanish to students in pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade. The Nebraska native, placed at the school through ACE, said the program has been phenomenal.
“It’s just been absolutely gorgeous,” she said of the experience.
For Father Scully and his bus crew, it was back to Notre Dame before heading to Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico to see Catholic education at work.
“We use those masters’ (degrees) to drive buses,” joked ACE graduate Alec Torigian.
A middle school teacher, Torigian is learning a lot out on the road but is also looking forward to returning to the classroom.
“I miss it every day,” he said.
Father Scully remarked that 20 years ago, ACE was launched with just one part-time employee and a budget of $5,000. Now, 110 ACE employees work in partnership with hundreds of Catholic schools, many under-resourced and located in inner city neighborhoods, to help ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education.
In addition to the Cannings, and Hobbs, the other current and past ACE teachers of St. John the Evangelist were recognized. They include Monica Rowinsky, Bill Sanford, John Gargano, Katy Walker, Kate Aiello, Laura Waite, Dennis Rankin and Michelle Monk.
Of more than 1,300 graduates of the ACE Service Through Teaching program, 75 percent are still working in the field of education, mostly in Catholic education.
In addition to the Service Through Training program, ACE also offers the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program. This 26-month formation program culminates in a master’s degree in educational administration, enrolling about 80 aspiring principals at any one time. Coursework incorporates rigorous, mentored internships and generation of scholarly action research projects addressing leadership challenges.
The alliance has two certification programs—English as a New Language and Teaching Exceptional Children. Both address Catholic schools’ demand for teachers with inclusionary skills. These one-year programs, which lead to licensure and eligibility for state certification, expand the skills of Catholic school teachers to better serve the needs of all children.
SJE students were also pleased to be part of the national bus tour and took time to find the school in the myriad of other names listed on the side of the bus.
“It’s quite creative,” said Nigel Sapp.
“It’s definitely incredible to be picked,” said fellow eighth-grade student Eden Rorabaugh.
For more information on the Alliance for Catholic Education, including how to apply to teaching programs, go to www.ace.nd.edu.