A nationwide bus tour aimed at sharing how Catholic schools are good for America made five stops in Arizona including two in the Diocese of Phoenix May 2. It set off from the University of Notre Dame 42 cities ago on its 50-city Fighting for Our Children’s Future tour.
Each visit celebrated 20 years of Notre Dame’s partnership with 30 dioceses through its Alliance for Catholic Education, which in part, puts 180 young, but wholly trained teachers in classrooms of under-served schools. Five currently serve at two diocesan elementary schools and a high school.
Every tour stop also honored local partners in education. ACE leaders, including Holy Cross Father Joe Carey, chaplain, honored Sr. Julie Kubasak, D.C., principal of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix and Tom Ambrose, a Notre Dame alum and prominent Phoenix community leader, for his efforts that helped open St. John Vianney in Goodyear in 1992.
Ambrose accepted his award during an evening celebration that merged with St. John Vianney’s fiesta fundraiser. Ambrose — a product of Catholic education — recalled the irony of coming to Phoenix decades ago and being unable to find a job as a teacher. Instead, the St. Theresa parishioner said God led him to community relations work for the Phoenix Suns and a log history of contributing to Catholic school efforts.
Fr. Carey presented him with the university’s Champion for Education Award. Earlier that afternoon, he bestowed Notre Dame’s Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools to Sr. Julie. Her seven years of leadership consistently brought in 50 new students the last several school years. Growth was enough to further build the campus and become double-graded again. Sr. Julie also supports ACE’s Latino Enrollment Initiative.
MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent, for the Diocese of Phoenix, said the Catholic Schools Office is blessed and grateful to have partnerships like ACE. Both tour stops showcased the difference the outreach has made for students and ACE teachers.
Abigail Hernandez transferred to St. Vincent de Paul in fifth-grade. The eighth-grade student council president recalled she was rarely happy before that.
“Once I entered this school, I realized God was missing from me and my family’s life. Here at school, they gave me joy because I learned to have faith, to love and rely on God,” Hernandez said. “The simple joy of knowing I wasn’t alone and that He loved me and cared for me really changed my life.”
Rene Portillo, a sixth-grader at St. John Vianney, said his teachers often remind him of a similar message. Students at both schools touted the strong academics plus their moral and virtue formation. The ACE teachers grow spiritually too by embracing a simple, communal life of prayer and fellowship.
The experience led Holy Cross Father Paul Ybarra, parochial vicar at St. John Vianney, to discern priesthood just three months after setting foot at the school as an ACE teacher. Fr. Ybarra just celebrated his third anniversary of ordination and said the ACE experience continues to form him throughout priesthood. There are roughly 15 ACE graduates currently at other stages of religious formation.
Others go on to secular vocations, but some remain in teaching. Shay Kleinpeter, a fifth-grade teacher at St. Vincent de Paul, will be the first to permanently join the school staff.
That’s a huge leap for someone who never saw school as enjoyable or a place he wanted to be during his youth. A high school encounter with an ACE teacher’s positive attitude changed that. He left with the desire to change the lives of others.
Fr. Carey left students at both schools with a similar message. He said God was calling them to do something beautiful with their lives.
“The ACE teachers spend long hours of preparing and coming to ACE schools across the country,” he said, “All they want to do is teach you and let you know that you are loved and that you have value and can do something to make it a better world.”
Fr. Carey said ACE simply inspires their volunteers teachers to become like Christ the teacher. Sr. Julie said their youthful enthusiasm cutting-edge knowledge and strong Catholic formation makes ACE teachers a solid fit on campus.
Georgia Gonzalez in Goodyear contributed to this story