University of Notre Dame’s ACE program honors Fr. Stephen Jasso for supporting Catholic education

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

October 29, 2013

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Father Stephen Jasso, TOR, (right) smiles as members of Notre Dame’s ACE program lead the congregation in applause. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen)

When the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) teachers arrived at All Saints School 17 years ago, the pastor, Father Stephen Jasso, TOR, quickly noticed a change in the student body. Youngsters at the Northside campus were more reverential at Mass and had a better understanding of the Eucharist.

“Our two ACE teachers did an outstanding job with the children in general but were very active in their religious education as well,” he told the North Texas Catholic in a June 1998 interview discussing the University of Notre Dame-based program. “What I’ve seen them do here has really made a difference.”

But the praiseworthy ACE volunteers and staff turned the tables this year and offered their own words of thanks and gratitude to the ardent supporter.

Fr. Jasso received the University of Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools on Oct. 4 at St. Rita Church. Named for Notre Dame founder, Father Edward Sorin, CSC, the honor recognizes champions of Catholic education.

Father Timothy Scully, CSC, who initiated the ACE program in 1993, made the presentation following a school Mass celebrated by Diocesan Administrator Monsignor Stephen Berg and several priests from Notre Dame. Representatives of the university were in town to kick off a 50-city bus tour marking the 20th anniversary of ACE and to attend the “Shamrock Series” football game between the Fighting Irish and Arizona State University at AT&T (Cowboy) Stadium in Arlington.

A volunteer program started at the University of Notre Dame, ACE sends Catholic educated man and women into classrooms around the country where they help students achieve academically and grow in faith. After two years of service, augmented by online and on-campus academic work, ACE participants are rewarded with a Notre Dame Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree. Ninety graduates are accepted into the program annually.

The talents and resources of these young people have benefited the Diocese of Fort Worth since 1996. ACE teachers have touched the lives of children at St. George, St. Peter, St. Rita, Our Mother of Mercy, Our Lady of Victory, and All Saints schools.

“We’re here to celebrate the gift you children are getting in Catholic school and to celebrate a wonderful person who has devoted his life to Catholic education,” Fr. Scully told the crowd of enthusiastic St. Rita students.

Dressed in colorful, ethnic costumes for the school’s International Fair Day, the youngsters listened as the Congregation of Holy Cross priest described the 40-foot-long bus parked in front of the church.

“There are 8,000 names of schools on the bottom of that bus and one of them is St. Rita,” he said as students cheered.

Fr. Scully hopes the countrywide bus tour draws attention to the legacy of Catholic schools and the idea that access to a high-quality education is a basic civil right. As the blue and gold bus journeys across the United States, the university plans to honor community leaders, educators, and civic partners who promote the message that Catholic schools are good for America.

Fr. Jasso is one of those honorees. The Waco native, who is celebrating 50 years as a Franciscan friar, received a standing ovation from the young audience before accepting the award.

“This award honors those whose tireless commitment to support, sustain, and transform Catholic schools shapes the lives of countless children, their families, and communities,” Fr. Scully said, reading the tribute. “He inspires others every day through his service to the Gospel and the apostolate of Catholic education.”

The pastor of All Saints Church said supporting his parish’s school and others in the diocese is an easy task.

“I’m privileged to serve Catholic education because I’m convinced that’s what the Church and the country needs,” he said emphatically. “We need solid Catholics with a living conviction of the truth they have discovered through the process of a Catholic education.”

Catholic schools are a gift to the country, the friar added.

“We have given this country quality education free of charge. It doesn’t cost the government one penny because people who send their children to a Catholic school pay twice,” Fr. Jasso insisted, referring to public school taxes. “If you want to give a gift to this country, educate well in the Catholic school.”

The ACE program helps carry out that mission. Abby Salazar, a Notre Dame graduate who taught at St. Rita in 2009, now works at the central ACE office where she offers pastoral support to current teachers. Based in South Bend, Indiana, she reaches out to young educators dealing with life issues, conflict resolution, or other problems.

“When I taught here, it felt as if I was part of a family,” says the former middle school science teacher. “Whatever talents you bring to St. Rita School are viewed as a gift to the community. I was the school dance DJ when I was here.”

ACE teachers bring an infusion of youthful enthusiasm, ideas, and innovation to a school. But that’s not their primary contribution.

“We have a drive and energy to be transformative leaders and a model of Christ in the classroom to our kids,” Salazar said.

ACE-Fr.-Jasso-BUTTON.jpgWhen the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) teachers arrived at All Saints School 17 years ago, the pastor, Father Stephen Jasso, TOR, quickly noticed a change in the student body. Youngsters at the Northside campus were more reverential at Mass and had a better understanding of the Eucharist.

Published (until 10/29/2063)
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