Fighting Irish ride into Denver

Julie Filby

As the tour bus turned the corner to head down West Dakota Avenue in the Athmar Park neighborhood the morning of March 12, the 250 students from St. Rose of Lima Academy that lined the street broke into screams that would’ve made any rock star feel welcome.

It wasn’t rock stars that stepped off the bus, but Holy Cross Father Lou DelFra and staff members from the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). Father DelFra and team matched the students’ enthusiasm, running down the line of kids to greet them with high fives, handshakes and fist bumps.

The 50-city bus tour, branded “Fighting for Our Children’s Future,” was launched by ACE in honor of their 20th anniversary. From October through May, the team is traveling across the country to visit Catholic schools, primarily in inner-city locations, where they have placed teachers. ACE partners with more than 100 schools in 15 states covering 26 dioceses.

“St. Rose of Lima is one of the schools where we began our work and since then it’s just blossomed,” explained John Staud, senior director of pastoral formation and administration for ACE. “A lot of it was (former principal) Jeannie’s (Courchene) leadership and now Tracy’s (Alarcon) and Father (Jerry) Rohr, a great pastor.

“It’s really a community in sync. You can just feel the energy in this place.”

ACE provides teachers and administrators to schools in high-poverty communities to ensure access to a quality Catholic education for low-income students. The alliance’s Service Through Teaching program accepts 90 applicants each year. The participants teach in select Catholic schools for two years, assisted by a living allowance. During that time, they complete a curriculum that results in a master’s in education from Notre Dame.

Of more than 1,300 graduates of the program, 75 percent work in education, and most in Catholic education.

Staud considers St. Rose of Lima an extraordinary success.

“If you just look at the demographics, you might say: ‘Well this school might be closed,” he said of the low-income, predominantly Latino neighborhood. “But in fact because of its great leadership and spirit, the school is excellent and bursting at the seams.”

According to Alarcon, in her fifth year as principal, the school has “the numbers” as far as enrollment, though finances remain a concern.

“Ninety percent of our kids are at or below the poverty level,” she said. “The majority of our students are on scholarship so we’re heavily scholarship and grant dependent. We always have financial concerns.”

She appreciates the partnership St. Rose of Lima, the first Catholic Expeditionary Learning school in the country, maintains with the university.

“Each year Notre Dame and ACE continue to staff our school with high quality teachers,” she said. “These teachers are such wonderful role models for our students each day. We are blessed and I am grateful.”

Currently there are six ACE teachers at St. Rose and there have been 26 through the years, including Elias Moo, currently assistant principal. There are also ACE teachers at Annunciation, Guardian Angels, St. Therese and St. Pius X in the Denver Archdiocese. There are about 50 former and current ACE teachers in Catholic schools in the archdiocese,

Following the celebration of the bus’ arrival around 9 a.m., the school community headed to the church for a Mass of thanksgiving with Archbishop Samuel Aquila.

“It is exciting to see (all that’s been accomplished here),” the archbishop told the congregation at the end of Mass. “When I returned to Denver a little over a year and a half ago, one of the exciting surprises I discovered was that St. Rose of Lima was still in existence and doing very well. That was a gift to see.”

He thanked ACE for providing dedicated and faith-filled teachers.

After Mass eighth-grade students led a community meeting in the school gymnasium, followed by an awards presentation honoring supporters Joanne Horne, and Ralph and Trish Nagel.

Horne received the University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools for her role in founding the Ambassadors of Hope program of volunteers that serve in Catholic schools. Since 2003 it has grown to 100 active members.

The Nagels were recognized with the University of Notre Dame Champion for Education Award for their generous support of Catholic schools including St. Rose of Lima. Donations have amounted to more than $1 million allowing the school to build a gym, library and preschool.

The bus then headed out to its next stop: Colorado Springs. For more information visit


Eighth-graders: What do you like about St. Rose of Lima Academy?

“I just like being here; you get a feeling of joy. You know that the teachers really care about you. You get a feeling you won’t get left behind, they’re always there to support you.”
—Miguel Zarzo

“The teachers are always there for us when we need them.”
—Saul Marquez

“I’ve been here since kindergarten, so I really like how we’re all like a family, not just students.”
—Alyssa Acosta

“I really like St. Rose because they push us to do our best, to be better people; and that prepares us for high school.”
—Monse Pineda

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”