Fighting Irish ride into Denver

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 http://ace.nd.edu/20/.

KIDS SPEAK OUT

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: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

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The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.