ACE donors make Catholic education possible for more students

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The Advancement of Catholic Education held its virtual fundraiser on Tuesday, Oct. 27, to raise money for tuition assistance for students at the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Nashville. Mia Markham, a sophomore at Pope John Paul II High School and a graduate of Holy Rosary Academy, writes a thank you note to a donor as the virtual fundraiser is shown on the television screen in the background. Photo by Andy Telli

The virtual Advancement of Catholic Education fundraiser on Tuesday, Oct. 27, provided much needed funds for tuition assistance at the Diocese of Nashville’s 16 schools, and the opportunity to contribute to the effort is still open, said Ashley Linville, diocesan director of development.

People can go online to watch the videotaped presentations from Bishop J. Mark Spalding, Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Hammel, students, parents, alumni and others that made up the virtual fundraiser at, Linville said.

The variety of presenters talked about the impact of a Catholic education that can last a lifetime, Linville said.

“They paint a story of what’s going on in our schools,” Linville said of the videotaped presentations. “It allows you to hear directly from our students and parents on what makes our schools important … and why ACE is important for the future of our schools.”

The fundraiser raised $210,000, Linville said, and people can still make a gift online at or by mailing their gift to ACE, 2800 McGavock Pike, Nashville, TN, 37214.

An anonymous donor has offered to match all the money raised up to $250,000, doubling the impact of a person’s gift, he added. With the matching grant, the total haul from the event was $420,000.

“I am overwhelmed by the generosity of our donors and everyone who made our event such a success,” Linville said. Half of the money raised will be used immediately to provide tuition assistance to families who could not otherwise afford to send their children to a Catholic school, and the other half will go into the ACE endowment to provide assistance into the future.

Currently, the endowment is valued at about $5 million.

“Three and half years ago a very small group of us put together the first fundraising event,” ACE board chair Betty Lou Burnett said in the opening presentation of the event. “It was a small but powerful evening that raised about $70,000, but most importantly began the conversation to our

broader Catholic community about what ACE is and what a powerful impact it can make on Catholic education in our diocese and ultimately on the future leaders of our country.

“Well, fast forward three years,” she said. “Tonight, we have the opportunity to raise a half a million dollars.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on large public gatherings, this year’s event was converted from a banquet to a virtual affair.

“Even though this may look and feel different the need for strong Catholic schools and a top notch education for our students has not changed and is important now more than ever,” Burnett said. “This is the reason we are together tonight. Our Catholic schools continue to forge ahead. They are open, they are meeting the needs of our students, and they are providing an education that will help them build strong minds, kind hearts and confident leaders in the faith.

“Your support is needed now more than ever,” she added.

“It’s hard to believe but four years ago if you had done a Google search on Nashville Catholic schools and endowment you would have come back with a blank page,” said Marty Blair, an ACE board member who emceed the event. “This year we’re approaching almost $5 million in our endowment. Last year through ACE, $540,000 was distributed throughout our schools directly to support tuition assistance.

“For the first time Welcome Grants were part of that initiative,” he added. “Welcome Grants were given to students who were either new to Catholic schools or who were returning to Catholic schools after an absence. Because of the generosity of many of you viewing tonight, 70 students received these welcome grants.

“So far this year, $134,000 has been given in student retention programs to help families that have been affected economically due to COVID-19,” Blair said.

“Tonight, we invite you to open your heart and share your blessings with families who would like a Catholic education for their children,” Blair said.

Help transform society

Father Michael Fye, pastor of St. Ann Church in Nashville which operates one of the diocese’s schools, also made a pitch for supporting ACE during the virtual event.

“When it comes to how can I help transform society and help real people, then Catholic education is where it’s at,” Father Fye said. “Mostly because you’re investing in children. How could that be a mistake? There’s no better place.”

“Families spend most of their time investing in their children,” he added. “If as a Church and as a community we can invest in the children and help parents do the same, I think there’s no failure conditions for that. It’s obviously the best possible use for our funds.”

In her presentation, Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Hammel talked about the excellence of the schools in the diocese.

“We offer a full complement of learning experiences to nurture our students in mind, body and soul,” she said, “from the fine arts, athletics, (physical education) courses, academic classes that include coding and robotics and the wonder of science, and of course the wonder and beauty of our faith all sustained through the Holy Eucharist.

“Excellence is our aim because that’s what God calls us to be by using the gifts he has given us,” she said.

Donors to the ACE event can make their gift in honor of a teacher who has had an impact on their life or the lives of their children. “Now more than ever our teachers are raising the bar, and now more than ever our teachers would love to know of your support for them,” Hammel said.

Rooted in faith, service

During the event, Will Donnelly, a St. Henry School and Father Ryan High School graduate, spoke about the impact Catholic education and the Catholic community made on his life.

Growing up in a single-parent household, “I turned to God and faith even at a young age because that was what I was taught at school, because I believed it, and it worked,” Donnelly said. “Without that foundation of a Catholic education, I would not have had the faith that got me through those tough times as a kid.

“The other thing that helped me through those years at St. Henry was the Catholic community, the people,” he said.

Donnelly pointed to the influence of his coaches when he was involved in organized sports as a student at St. Henry.

“I was blessed with some amazing coaches who became lifelong mentors,” he said. “They also managed to teach us how to be more, do more, how to play up in life and challenge ourselves. I learned through example what was expected of me on an off the field, and those lessons I learned continue to serve me today.”

Donnelly said his experience as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee “has really opened my eyes to the opportunities that St. Henry and Father Ryan produced for me and continue to produce for kids today.

“Throughout my school years I was taught that I had a responsibility to my fellow man. I was consistently shown the importance of being other centered,” Donnelly said. “A drive to be actively engaged in my community was planted in me early on and that drive is what led me to give back to this life-changing organization. Without the lessons I learned from Catholic school I would never have volunteered at Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I honestly cannot imagine my life today without that gift of service.

“All these values, all these benefits that I received and now share with others could not have been possible without support of my family and friends who ensured that no matter what, I was able to attend a Catholic school,” Donnelly said.

“However, not everyone is this fortunate,” he said. “Your contributions effectively help kids who are in similar situations as I reap the benefits of this life-changing education and community. But remember it doesn’t stop there. The return on investment of these kids compounds exponentially as they take the lessons they learn and share it with their own community for years to come. It’s a ripple effect. What better way to spend your money than to directly invest it in the well-being of future generations.

“I’m humbled to be living proof of the difference a community can make,” Donnelly said.

‘Generous of mind and hearts’

Bishop Spalding asked the people of the diocese to be generous.

“All of this happens because we are generous of mind and hearts and generous with how God has blessed us,” he said. “I’m asking you to dig down and really help our Catholic education, to really help each and every family that wants to place their child in one of our schools.”

“Now more than ever we need to make sure that our Catholic schools, our Catholic system of education, is strong,” the bishop added.

Linville thanked the people who have already donated and the sponsors of this year’s event, including the Catholic Business League’s three Leadership Catholic classes that put together virtual table sponsorships. “Without them we wouldn’t have an event,” he said of the sponsors. For more information about how to donate, contact Linville at 615-645-9768 or, or Assistant Director of Development Anna Beth Godfrey at 615-645-9769 or

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