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ACE for all reasons

Letter to the Editor | Monday, February 19, 2007

Thirteen years ago I graduated from Notre Dame with majors in marketing and sociology, an optimism for the future and a desire to serve. One of 40 fortunately selected to comprise the first class of a new program called the Alliance for Catholic Education, I had an undergraduate degree, a big heart and a thirst for adventure.

We spent that first summer developing in each of the three pillar areas of ACE: teaching, community and spirituality. Then it was off to Hammond, La. For the next two years I taught religion and English to fifth and sixth graders at the under-resourced Holy Ghost Catholic School there. I lived in a community with fellow ACE teachers and we shared everything from evening meals to lesson plans. We celebrated classroom triumphs, supported one another when people less than half our age got the better of us and wondered together about the futures of our students, our schools and ourselves.

Now former pupils are calling me with engagement announcements, career plans and questions of their own about what impact they will have on the world. I know that somewhere in there a seed was planted a dozen years ago, and I hope that I played some part, even if a slight one, in these young men and women growing and blossoming into committed Christians and citizens who are going on, in turn, to create a better world.

In my current work with homeless men, women, and children, I’m tasked with thinking of new and more effective ways to break the ruthless cycle of generational poverty afflicting our nation today. It’s a very large and complicated problem, but there’s one thing I know for certain: there’s no replacement for a strong education. There’s no exaggerating the impact a teacher can have on the life of a young mind. I have also come to realize that there’s no exaggerating the importance of the preparation needed to become a highly effective teacher. I am convinced that ACE not only prepared me to be the best possible teacher I could be, but that it continues to get better each year.

There’s also great need in our Catholic schools today. Our Church is in a position to continue, as it has historically, to serve immigrant and inner-city families by providing them with quality schooling and formation in faith and character. But this is only possible if people like you commit your time and energy to the mission. ACE teachers today have a unique and crucial role to play in the future of our Church and country. Last July, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, speaking at the ACE Commencement Exercises, praised Catholic schools as “national treasures” that must be preserved. In particular, she cited their heroic work to educate the poor and marginalized, whether the students are Catholic or not.

So if you seek to change the world one life at a time or if you’re looking, like I was, to give to give back something of what you’ve been given here under the Dome, ACE is one incredible experience for a truly credible cause. I have profound gratitude for my challenging, awe-inspiring time in ACE, and I hope many of you will look to serve in this program that, without question, was the most transformative experience of my life.

Steve Camilleri

executive director, Center for the Homeless

Feb. 14