On July 15, students of the 22nd Alliance for Catholic Education class were awarded master’s degrees and recounted the importance of faith-filled, relational learning and its potential to transform classrooms and cultures.
The ceremony included 88 ACE Teaching Fellows who received master’s in education degrees, as well as 27 graduates of the ACE Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, who received Master of Arts in educational leadership degrees.
Additionally, the university conferred awards upon individuals whose achievements have made significant contributions to the ministry of Catholic education. One of this year’s recipients of the Michael Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education was diocesan Director of Catholic Education Carl Loesch.
Loesch has been connected to Catholic education his entire life. Raised in a faith-filled home, Loesch’s parents, who were math teachers, made sacrificial efforts to send all seven of their children to Catholic institutions, amassing 119 years from kindergarten to graduate schools.
After graduating from the University of Notre Dame with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology, Loesch served as a teacher, coach and service coordinator at Bishop Dwenger High School. It was there that he began implementing the principals of Catholic social teaching into his curriculum. He took students on service pilgrimages to Appalachia – making over 30 trips in total – and began looking for ways to serve others to a greater extent in the local area. He founded the first Habitat for Humanity high school chapter in Indiana and led a diocesan Catholic school effort to raise $25,000 to build a home for a single mother of six. He also spearheaded a collaborative effort to partner with 10 high schools throughout the Fort Wayne area to raise $100,000 for the building of three more homes.
Additionally, Loesch partnered with Turnstone, a Fort Wayne-based organization offering assistance to disabled individuals, to help construct ramps at the homes of those suffering from limited mobility. After learning how to construct the ramps, Loesch’s students built 15-20 each year. He also obtained a grant from the Lutheran Foundation to do a “Ramp Camp” to build five ramps in five days, where students offered some of their summer vacation to serve various men and women in need. He recounted his admiration and amazement at seeing such a joyful attitude of service from his students. “Time and time again I am surprised by the generosity and goodness of kids in our high schools. When we give them opportunities, they step up and do beautiful things.”
His additional accomplishments, including earning master’s degrees at Notre Dame in both education and education administration while serving as principal of Marian High School in Mishawaka, reveal his passion for providing quality education and meeting the needs of his students on a fundamental level.
“If students know you care, they are going to care about what you know. St. Mother Theodore Guerin said “love them first and then teach.” When I meet with all the new teachers, I remind them that “yes, bulletin board material is important, but it’s about the relationships.” That’s what brings students back and make a real lasting impression.”
Loesch also shared how the importance of faith within the lives of his students has guided his educational ministry. “Offering gentle challenges to students, reacting with patience when they make a mistake, inviting them to spend time at Mass or in chapel instead of in detention, and asking them what their relationship is like with the Lord; these things can make a profound difference.” He also remarked that his greatest joy as an educator was to see the vocations that have arisen from local Catholic high schools, including recent examples of men and women entering into priesthood, religious life and holy marriages both within the diocese and around the country.
Among the aspects of his education for which he is grateful is his time spent at Notre Dame. “Notre Dame is at its best when helping to bring the academy to the streets. I am grateful for the example, dedication and leadership which prepared us to go out, be missionary disciples, and share the joy of the Gospel.”
For Loesch, this Christian joy is perhaps most apparent in the life of ACE graduate Emily Voorde. A native of South Bend and alumnus of St. Anthony School, Marian High School and the University of Notre Dame, Voorde conveys a remarkable and contagious enthusiasm amidst tremendous adversity. Born with a condition known as Brittle Bone Disease, she has been limited to the use of a wheelchair throughout her life. However, this physical limitation has not impeded her ability to make a positive impact on those around her. As a student at Notre Dame, Voorde started a wheelchair version of the Bookstore Basketball Tournament to raise money to purchase wheelchairs for children in Third World countries.
Loesch recounted one of the most touching moments of his time at Marian: It involved a Thanksgiving service where Voorde had planned to offer a speech on the topic of gratefulness to the student body. However, just before the event she was hit by a drunk driver. From her hospital bed, she recorded a speech which was played at the event and shared that while the one thing she had desired – her newfound mobility – was again taken away from her, she was still able to find joy and gratitude for the many blessings she had received from God. According to Loesch, Voorde’s resilience and witness of hope offers a tremendous example of the type of influence a Catholic education can have within a community.
In addition to Loesch, the second recipient of the Excellence in Catholic Education award was Brynn Johnson, a graduate of Holy Cross grade school, Saint Joseph High School and Notre Dame. Johnson, while serving as a fourth-grade teacher in Alabama, wrote and received grants to study rebuilding efforts in the wake of tragedies, specifically comparing the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and Hurricane Katrina. Her research allowed her to create a global studies unit for elementary students. Additionally, she hiked the Camino Santiago de Compostela and drew parallels between the cultural assets of Spain and New Orleans, where she now serves as a middle school math teacher. She was recently awarded the Grosvenor Teacher Fellows Award through the National Geographic Society and Lindblad Expeditions, where she will have the opportunity to lead teachers in their development as educators committed to geographic knowledge and global awareness.
Also recognized in the ceremony was Dan Bowen, Ph.D., recipient of the Michael Pressley Award for a Promising Scholar in the Education Field. Bowen is currently an assistant professor of educational administration at Texas A&M University and serves as the principal investigator of Houston’s Arts Access Initiative, a policy designed to increase arts educational learning opportunities and resources for students from historically underserved populations.
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