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Scully given presidential medal for ACE work

Nora Kenney | Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sitting in his office last semester, Fr. Tim Scully, received an interesting phone call – from the White House.

A member of President George W. Bush’s staff called to inform Scully he had been chosen as a recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal.

“I was struck by complete surprise,” Scully said.

He went to Washington, D.C. on Dec. 10 to receive the award, one of the highest medals a civilian can receive in the United States, second only to the Medal of Freedom.

According to the White House, the award is given in recognition of the recipient’s “exemplary deeds of service for their country or for their fellow citizens.”

Scully and three of his closest friends – fellow Holy Cross priests – traveled to the nation’s capital together. Fr. Richard Warner, who lives a floor below Scully in Fisher Hall, as well as his longtime friend Fr. Lou DelFra, and Fr. Sean McGraw, a priest at Harvard University with whom Scully co-founded the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program were there with Scully when he received the award.

“The four of us went to the White House and it was very beautiful and just very moving,” Scully said.

At the White House, Bush asked Scully to accompany him to his desk in the Oval Office, where he presented Scully with his medal.

Since graduation from Notre Dame in 1976, Scully has had a profound impact on Notre Dame. He served as executive vice president from 2000 to 2003 and is the current director of the Institute of Educational Initiatives.

One of his endeavors that has most affected the Notre Dame community is the establishment of the ACE Program.

Placing graduates from Notre Dame and other colleges around the country in under-funded Catholic schools, the ACE program has been one of the most influential projects in education.

The inspiration for the program came from Sister Lourdes Sheehan, one of Scully’s spiritual directors, who was worried about Catholic schools in her area of Savannah, Ga., that could not find talented teachers to fill open positions.

Scully was unsure of how to help her, so he put an ad in The Observer that said “Tired of getting homework? Then give some!” That week, he walked into a meeting for the responders to the ad in the Notre Dame room of LaFortune, expecting 12 or 15 people to show up.

“I walked into the room that night and there were 150 graduating seniors from Notre Dame and I thought ‘Wow, that’s just amazing.'”

Scully said he felt this was an indication that the Holy Spirit was asking him to think bigger than just a program in Savannah. Today, he has developed the program to include well over 1,000 young teachers in 33 communities in the U.S., as well as a program for principals and a consulting firm for at-risk Catholic schools.

The ACE program has come a long way since its first budget of two $5,000 checks from then-University President Father Edward “Monk” Malloy’s office, he said.

“The Holy Spirit really wanted this to happen and ACE has become kind of a juggernaut. The Holy Spirit has really been bouncing off the walls with this thing, and I think she is just getting started,” Scully said.

When Scully was asked if receiving the award from the White House was one of his greatest accomplishments, he said that he does not think in the terms of his own achievements.

“If anything, it certainly isn’t a recognition of my life. It’s a recognition of all of the work and the passion and the creativity of the hundreds and hundreds of the young men and women – ND grads – who have been ACE teachers,” he said. “To that extent, I am very proud of their work and their accomplishments. The President was recognizing the work of the ACE teachers and the ACE principals – and Notre Dame. To the extent that it gives glory to Notre Dame and the congregation of Holy Cross, I think [the award] is great.”