Notre Dame program hits road to promote Catholic schools

Staff and faculty from the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program have sallied forth aboard a brightly decorated bus this fall to promote the value of a faith-based education for children.

Notre Dame launched the “Fighting for Our Children’s Future National Bus Tour” in early October to highlight the profound role Catholic schools play as agents of human formation and social transformation. The school’s nickname, “The Fighting Irish,” has flavored the trip, asking the question, “What are you fighting for?”

Local connections

“The bus tour was the brainchild of the founder of ACE, Father Tim Scully, who thought a wonderful way to celebrate ACE’s 20th anniversary was not just to meet a group of our graduates and friends on campus at Notre Dame but really to go out and to see what’s going on at Catholic schools and what’s happening on the local level,” Sarah Greene, director of ACE Advocates for Catholic Schools, told Our Sunday Visitor. The first round of stops in the Midwest and on the East Coast so far have included: Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Dallas, Memphis and more. The travelers will take a break for the holidays, and then start up again in February visiting the South, Southwest and the West Coast. By the end of the 2013-14 school year, the bus will have stopped in approximately 50 cities.

At each city, the group visits at least one Catholic school (and fellow “ACErs”) and confers awards. “We get the chance to honor the great things that are going on in the schools themselves,” said Greene.  

Meeting with leaders

According to Greene, the name of every Catholic elementary and high school is spelled out on the bus, which was a gift to the university. Children love watching the bus pull into a parking lot and then finding their name on it, she said.

“It’s been amazing to see how much the students identify with their particular school and how proud they are to be a part of that particular community,” Greene told OSV.

She relayed numerous inspiring examples displayed thus far on the road, including teachers who have given 55 years of their lives to students. Or the Diocese of Memphis that reopened “Jubilee” schools to serve underprivileged and low-income families when complete shutdowns were looming.  Imagine the pride of teachers when a little girl, rallying with her class on the U.S. Capitol steps, replied, “To be a Catholic school teacher,” when asked what her aspirations were.

“The tour has really afforded us the opportunity to meet great leaders in Catholic schools,” Greene said. “We have a chance to meet the students and faculty and to pray with them and to thank them for all they do for Catholic education.”

It addition to carrying out its mission, the trip also has provided its share of smiles.

At Our Lady Queen of Martyrs school in the Bronx, about 250 students were waving their self-made Irish banners and chanting “No-tre Dame! No-tre Dame!’

“They were fired up because they feel important that Notre Dame was coming to see them, but we feel way more important because we get to meet them,” ACE co-founder Holy Cross Father Sean McGraw told OSV.

Furthering the mission

Looking forward, ACErs aren’t merely looking back at 20 years of success; they’re looking forward to plunging even further into their mission.

“Pope Francis has said that not only does the Catholic Church have to open up the doors to welcome, but we also have to walk out those doors into the community. The Church has to go where people are at,” Father McGraw said. “So we’re taking Pope Francis quite literally and hitting the road and going to where the people are. He has been an inspiration to us.”

Greene agrees that there’s more than a bus tour going on here.

“It’s a pilgrimage for Catholic schools,” she said. 

Mariann Hughes writes from Maryland.