Cheering children from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School in the Inwood section of Manhattan put on an A+ assembly from the moment the bus carrying their visiting “team”—the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE)—pulled up and parked in front of the parochial school building Nov. 6.
Notre Dame’s “Fighting for Our Children’s Future National Bus Tour” rolled into the New York area last week to promote the advantages of a Catholic education and to meet with school leaders and present a Notre Dame award to distinguished supporters of educational excellence.
The visit to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs was the only New York City stop on a nearly 50-city national tour launched to celebrate ACE’s 20th year.
Dr. Timothy McNiff, archdiocesan superintendent of schools, thanked the Notre Dame contingent for choosing the archdiocese as a stop on their bus tour.
“There’s a uniqueness about our Catholic schools that’s not matched by any other school system, but it’s very, very challenging to keep schools open. The University of Notre Dame is one of the best partners that we could have to make sure we have a vibrant Catholic school community in New York.”
Father Timothy Scully, C.S.C., founder of ACE and Hackett Family director of the Institute for Educational Initiatives at Notre Dame, publicly thanked the principal of Queen of Martrys, Andrew Woods, as well as Father Antonio Almonte, pastor of Queen of Martrys parish, and the school staff and teachers for all they have done on behalf of the students. “The faculty here could be doing just about anything, yet they’re here every day, pouring their hearts and souls and lives into forming you and modeling Christ for you,” Father Scully said.
Father Scully, a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross who is also a political science professor at Notre Dame, said the welcome offered by Our Lady Queen of Martyrs was like none other on the tour. He himself was awarded the $100,000 William E. Simon Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Social Entrepreneurship for founding and leading ACE. The award was conferred by the Manhattan Institute Nov. 5 at the University Club in Manhattan.
The monetary prize will be given to the Congregation of Holy Cross to support its worldwide education mission.
ACE trains hundreds of Catholic school teachers and leaders annually to serve predominantly under-resourced schools, provides an array of research-based professional services and builds broad support for schools in more than 75 dioceses across the United States and a growing number overseas.
Its long-term goal is to help transform the Catholic school system to ensure every child has the chance to enjoy the lifelong benefits of attaining a high quality education.
At the Queen of Martyrs assembly, Father Scully, on behalf of Notre Dame, presented the Edward Sorin Award to Tony and Christie deNicola for their commitment and contributions to Catholic education. The award is named for the late priest who founded the University of Notre Dame.
“Catholic education, for us, is the most important thing that we can do to help students, like all of you, become successful contributors to society for this earthly life and disciples of Jesus for the heavenly life,” deNicola said.
He acknowledged Queen of Martyrs as well as representatives of other Catholic schools who attended the assembly for their dedication to Catholic education. “Keep doing what you’re doing. We need you in the city. We need you to educate our kids and to teach them Gospel values and how to succeed in life.”
Alexander DeJesus Castillo, a seventh-grader at Queen of Martyrs, delivered a riveting testimonial about his experience at the school, where he said he and his peers “become the kings and queens of our own story.”
“And who are the authors of these stories? Our principal, Mr. Andrew G. Woods, and the school faculty…and the pastor…help guide our stories and give us meaning,” he said.
Michelle Eusebio, a 1999 alumna of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs School and a speaker at the assembly, had high praise for her alma mater, where her 6-year-old son Jayden is a first-grader.
“As a student here, I practically lived here,” Ms. Eusebio said. “This is the place where I found myself.”
Growing up, her mother instilled in her the importance of receiving of a Catholic education. “This school teaches our children values and morals,” she said. “It prepares them to become responsible men and women.”
As for her son Jayden, “he’s here because this is home to him.”
Ms. Eusebio is still a fixture at Queen of Martyrs School, now as a madrina, or parent ambassador. The Madrinas Program is an initiative of the archdiocese in response to ACE’s Catholic School Advantage (CSA) campaign, a national endeavor to improve the educational opportunities of Hispanic and Latino children. “Madrina” is the Spanish word for godmother.
Madrinas serve a number of CSA partner schools in the archdiocese. As part of the program, a one-time $1,000 scholarship based on financial need is available for newly enrolled Hispanic and Latino students. Each student must be referred by a madrina.
Father Almonte, pastor of Queen of Martyrs, is a 1982 alumnus of the parochial school. It was at Queen of Martyrs that he discovered his vocation to the priesthood, he said.
After the assembly, Father Almonte gauged how the gathering would continue to rally the student body even after the bus pulled away later that day.
“It’s really an important day for us,” Father Almonte said. “It reinforces our commitment to Catholic school education and to helping those of low-income to come to Catholic schools. Because of the madrinas scholarships, a number of our students are able to attend this school.”
The pastor was pleased with the rousing welcome the pupils gave the Notre Dame personnel. “The spirit of the children is always wonderful—it’s what our children are taught every day in the school.” At the end of the day, “we have to kick them out of school because they love the school so much,” he joked.
Rudy Vargas IV, a New York field consultant for ACE, predicted the event’s “collective impact” would be far-reaching.
“It’s an awesome day,” Vargas said. “There’s no doubt about the way the young people today received the people from the University of Notre Dame, from ACE. They’re transformed. They leave with an experience of wonder and of gratitude.”