Ace: The Homework of the Holy Spirit

Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

He had a Roman collar, a doctorate, a book in the works and tenure on Notre Dame’s political science faculty — all before his 40th birthday. But he wondered if he’d started down the “deadly clear path” of a life too neatly laid out that his fellow Holy Cross priest, the theologian Father John Dunne ’51, warned about.

Father Timothy Scully ’76, ’79M.Div. shared his restlessness with his spiritual director, Sister Lourdes Sheehan, RSM, who suggested he tackle a practical problem. She told Scully of the trouble she had finding well-trained teachers for Catholic schools in her hometown, Savannah, Georgia.

Then, at a dinner party, he got it wrong when some friends described their fight to keep their kids’ school afloat and he told them he didn’t see a future in Catholic education. “They bit my head off,” Scully says. If a priest couldn’t figure out how to support Catholic schools, why should they?

Knocked off his horse, Scully called Sean McGraw ’92, ’00M.Div., an aspiring political scientist just back from studies in London who wanted to help Scully with his research. Instead, Scully offered eight hours a week, a desk and a $5,000 budget for this “little project.” They even had the acronym, ACE, before they had words to go with it.

Later, they ran an ad in The Observer that read, “Tired of getting homework? Then give some! Be a teacher!” Scully counted 200-plus seniors at the first meeting in LaFortune. “I called Lourdes and said, ‘I’ve got your teachers, but I think I’ve got a few more.’”

This summer, as it prepared to celebrate its first two decades with a 50-stop bus tour honoring the nation’s Catholic schools, the Alliance for Catholic Education graduated its 18th class of teachers and 10th class of principals, more than 1,500 degreed professionals over that time. About 75 percent of the teachers stay in education for at least five years. Half or more stay in Catholic schools over that period.

Meanwhile, Scully’s 150-plus “partners” on the ACE faculty and staff gather each week to celebrate Mass in the Christ the Teacher chapel in the Institute for Educational Initiatives.

ACE works in over a third of the 194 dioceses in the United States, supporting certification programs in special education and English as a new language, consulting, developing curriculum, researching and shaping education policy. The reach extends to Ireland, Chile and Haiti, and 13 Catholic universities now have teacher programs similar to ACE.

Scully and McGraw, who is now a Holy Cross priest, chair of the ACE board and member of Notre Dame’s political science faculty, call what they’ve done all along “improvising on Providence.”

John Nagy is an associate editor of this magazine.