ACE teachers give two years, receive lifetime experiences in faith-filled service

The Alliance for Catholic Education Teaching Fellows working in the Diocese of Peoria strike a pose before leaving their summer classes at the University of Notre Dame to take their posts in central Illinois: (clockwise from upper left) Erin McNally, who is teaching at St. Mark, Peoria; Luke Heineman, St. Edward School, Chillicothe; and Maria Wnorowski and Lucy Enright, Peoria Notre Dame High School. (Provided photo)

If things had gone according to plan, Lucy Enright would be in medical school and Luke Heineman might be pursuing a doctorate in history or attending law school this year. Instead, she is teaching physics at Peoria Notre Dame High School and he is teaching English and language arts at St. Edward School in Chillicothe, and they are both happy with how things turned out.

Enright and Heineman are the newest teaching fellows to be working in central Illinois through a partnership between the Diocese of Peoria and the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame. They join Erin McNally, who is teaching Spanish and English as a Second Language at St. Mark School in Peoria, and Maria Wnorowski, who is teaching chemistry at Peoria Notre Dame High School as part of the ACE cohort based in Peoria.

All four will be completing two years of study at the University of Notre Dame and classroom teaching next summer and receive their master’s degree in education.

While McNally and Wronowski taught at their respective schools last year, Enright and Heineman spent their first year at Catholic schools in Memphis, Tennessee. With those schools making a transition to charter schools next year, however, ACE leadership decided to move them to the established community in the Diocese of Peoria.

LOVE FOR SERVICE WORK

“There are plenty of similarities, plenty of differences — different place, different people, different curriculum, different school. But I’ve still found the same passion I had last year and I can work with that,” said Heineman, who holds a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Boston College.

He discovered a love for service work during his years in Boston. He got involved in the PULSE Program there, which put students in underserved areas to work with the young people there. In time he was helping to recruit others.

“Service work became my calling,” he said. “As much as I loved studying history and politics — I really did enjoy doing research and writing papers — the idea of only doing that and losing the service work didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to do something to keep on with that.”

Heineman found what he was looking for during his senior year, when he learned about the Alliance for Catholic Education. He admitted that going into the classroom as a full-time teacher seemed intimidating, but thought, “Wow. What an experience that could be.”

A native of Rhode Island, he also remembered the impact a special teacher had on him in high school and wanted to offer that joy to another generation of students.

His goal is to “make sure these kids know that there’s someone who cares about their well-being, who cares about their academic future.”

That’s especially true for his middle school students, Heineman said.

He’s not sure what the future holds, but told The Catholic Post, “This is the most meaningful work I’ve ever done.”

WARM WELCOME

This isn’t the first time Enright has been in Peoria. As a cross country runner at Marist High School in Chicago, she visited at least once a year for competitions.

Her return as a teacher may have been unexpected, but the Peoria Notre Dame community has made it easy, she said.

“It is very different from my past school — culturally, demographically, size-wise — but even so, because everyone has been so welcoming, it hasn’t been hard to adapt to this new situation,” Enright explained.

She heard about ACE in high school, where one of her teachers had been through the program and talked it up. Enright had an opportunity to learn more as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame, where she studied English and pre-professional sciences and had medical school “on my radar.”

“I knew I wanted to teach at some point, just because it was something people recommended to me and something I enjoyed,” she said. “I was also attracted to doing some sort of service after graduation, so I was considering different service options.”

ACE combined her Catholic faith, teaching and service.

“It was kind of the ideal option,” she said.

Enright had asked to be placed at a high school because she wanted to teach more specialized subjects, such as biology and physics. This trimester she is teaching physics to juniors and seniors, and will switch to physical sciences and chemistry for freshmen and sophomores during the next trimester.

She said she would like to get involved in campus ministry and perhaps go with the students to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January, just as she did in high school and college.

“TERRIFIC JOB”

Peoria Notre Dame principal Randy Simmons said both Enright and Wnorowski “are doing a terrific job.”

“They both bring excellent subject matter knowledge to the classroom and as important, a high level of enthusiasm to the culture of our great school,” he told The Post. “They build positive and lasting Christian morals for our students and a sincere attitude of caring about our Catholic community here at Peoria Notre Dame High School.”

Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria, said the collaboration with the Alliance for Catholic Education has been a very positive experience for all concerned.

“I am very grateful to principals Randy Simmons at Peoria Notre Dame High School, Dr. Noreen Dillon at St. Mark School, and Mike Domico at St. Edward School in Chillicothe for allowing their schools to host our ACE Teaching Fellows these past four years,” she said. “It has been a wonderful partnership that I hope will continue well into the future.”

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