For years my husband has led an annual “pilgrimage” to the University of Notre Dame to take in a football game. He would along whatever kids could get away as well as his brother and family. Besides the fun of going to a big college football game, he wanted the kids to see the magnificent campus and to think big. Today I have three children working on graduate degrees in the US, including one at Notre Dame. So I guess his plan worked. But I digress…
On one of their trips, one of my daughters learned about a new program at Notre Dame, Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). Still in high school, she knew this was exactly what she wanted to do and she began to plan for it then and there. The ACE program quickly spawned similar programs in other Catholic universities and together they formed the University Consortium for Catholic Education (UCCE) in 2005.
The programs are founded on three pillars:
UCCE members complete graduate coursework at their respective universities to develop their capabilities as competent Catholic educators. They also spend two years serving as educators who contribute to promoting and enriching their Catholic school communities.
UCCE members commit to sharing and deepening their faith and spiritual lives. Each university utilizes the traditions of its founding order to help teachers recognize God in the world and continually respond to the call to teach as Jesus did.
UCCE members live in intentional Christian communities in order to share household responsibilities, support each other and share their faith. Communities become powerful centers of personal and community growth through living simply and encouraging each teacher’s development.
My daughter is in her second year of the PLACE Corps program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She teaches full-time in an underserved Catholic school and takes courses toward her Master’s degree in the evening and during the summer. She lives in community with several other PLACE students in one of several houses situated in the neighborhoods in which they teach.
The beauty of these programs is that they place some of the brightest young teachers in the neediest parish schools in the diocese, schools that are sometimes hard to staff. The teachers hone their skills serving students who especially need the witness of faithful Catholic adults. The students often come from difficult situations. In my daughter’s school, most children are Hispanic, many illegal. They are poor and frequently from families that are not intact for a variety of reasons. There are gangs and drugs around and the only hope for the kids is to stay in school and get a decent education. The PLACE Corps teachers are experiencing teaching as a mission that extends beyond the classroom and the parish church and into the community.
Their Catholic faith, their commitment to service and the “preferential option for the poor” are all essential elements of their development as exceptional Catholic educators. The UCCE member programs graduate about 400 teachers per year – a drop in the bucket, I suppose, but hopefully these programs will continue to expand. They are renewing the spirit of the courageous men and women who founded Catholic schools throughout North America.
Just in case my readers think I am down on educators or Catholic schools after my recent posts on education, I am very hopeful when I see programs like ACE and PLACE Corps and the others in the UCCE. If this is the future of Catholic education, then the future is very bright indeed.