The GRACE program began because of the efforts of Dr. Robert LeBlanc, former Dean of the School of Education at the University of St. Thomas. With the help of the ACE Fellowship (ACE program: University of Notre Dame), his co-director, Dr. Terry Brandt, and the generosity of Mr. David Harvey who funded the program, the GRACE program commenced in 2008 with 5 members in Cohort 1. The students moved into the former convent/rectory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, where the Pastor, Fr. Sean Wenger, CC, generously welcomed them and acted as spiritual director for the students. This small community paved the way for the future of the GRACE program by teaching in schools such as Queen of Peace, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady of Fatima, Texas City, and Holy Rosary.
In 2009 the program welcomed Cohort 2 with 6 members. Cohort 2 lived on UST campus over the first summer, until the program was divided into two communities: one at OLMC and the other at the former convent at St. Pius V in Pasadena. The two small communities continued to struggle to manage teaching, graduate courses, and community life including building a connection between the two communities. New teaching opportunities manifested on the campuses of Resurrection Catholic School, St. Clare of Assisi, Corpus Christi, St. Cecilia, and St. Christopher. At the end of this academic year, the two communities were consolidated into one larger community at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. At this time Dr. Ana-Lisa Gonzalez took over as director of the program.
In 2010 Cohorts 2 and 3 lived as a community of 11 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Cohort 3 members taught in schools including Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Thomas More, St. Pius V, Resurrection Catholic School, and St. Mary Catholic School. The community invested in a large dining room table to accommodate the large community and its frequent guests. Fr. Sean continued to offer support to the students, and the transitional Deacon Jim Lowe (now Fr. Jim Lowe) offered much spiritual insight and humor to the community. In the summer, the program members became involved with the Youth Ministry at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and continued to direct the musical aspect of the monthly youth Masses.
In 2011 the program director decided to move the students closer to the UST campus. The students bid a heart-filled farewell to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (coincidentally, Fr. Sean and his community, the Companions of the Cross, left the parish at the same time). Currently the students live in two houses on campus. The community continues to gather nightly for community meals despite the two separate households. We are currently in negotiations to obtain a single household, which we hope will be a more permanent dwelling for the members of the exciting program! Schools served by Cohort 4 members include Resurrection Catholic School, Cristo Rey College Preparatory Academy, Incarnate Word Academy, and St. Mary Magdalene School. The alumni continue to be involved in the GRACE program's development as we seek to provide spiritual, academic, and community support for students considering the vocation of teaching in the schools of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.