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GRACE Graduates Future Educators

Amelia Galiunas, one of the five Class of 2011 graduates of the University of St. Thomas School of Education GRACE (Gulf Region Academy for Catholic Educators) Program said teaching wasn’t her dream job when she moved to England for her undergraduate degree. But seven years, three degrees and a conversion to Catholicism later, she’s happy to be teaching and credits the GRACE program for much of her success.

Started in 2008, the UST GRACE Program is a member of the University Consortium for Catholic Education (UCCE), a group of Catholic colleges and universities with graduate teaching service programs supporting Catholic and parochial education.   The students spend two years living in community, earning their Masters in Education and teaching at a Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.  Dr. Robert LeBlanc, former dean of the School of Education, served as its director. LeBlanc stepped down as director of the program last year and was replaced by Dr. Ana-Lisa Gonzalez.
The Class of 2011 GRACE graduates unanimously agreed that the program has helped them succeed as teachers and grow as individuals.

When Galiunas, a native Houstonian, first heard about the GRACE Program, she was pursuing her second degree in theology from the University of Bristol in England.

“I moved to England to study theology as a United Methodist and over my years of studying I became more and more interested in Catholicism,” said Galiunas. “I studied John Henry Newman, an Anglican convert to Catholicism, and his writings on education and the theology of education.  I knew I wanted to serve the Church; I had started the process of becoming Catholic and I wanted to live in a Catholic community.”

Galiunas moved back to Houston to join the GRACE program and to take on the challenges of first-year teaching and pursuing a graduate degree in education, while still writing the thesis for her first master‘s degree.   She took a job at St. Clare of Assisi school in Clear Lake and less than a month after joining the Catholic Church found herself teaching pre-K through fourth grade theology.

“If you come into the program passionate, ready to give your heart and your soul to teaching, it doesn’t matter what kind of qualifications or experience you have. The GRACE Program will give you the support system you need to succeed,” said Galiunas. “I had a great community of people to live with and the joy that we found together sharing the same struggles and happiness was the most beautiful part of the program.”

Galiunas’ master of theology thesis on John Henry Newman has been accepted for presentation at the Newman Association of America’s annual conference this summer.  She plans to continue teaching at St. Clare of Assisi for at least one more year and is considering pursuing a doctorate in the near future.

Grover Green, Lauren Chevalier and Lauren Barnes, also 2011 graduates, plan to remain as teachers in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston for at least another year.

“Doing the GRACE Program has really shown me that my vocation is in Catholic education; I think this is where I belong,” said Green. “Whether I stay as a teacher I guess is up to God, but I feel like I might be called to other kinds of leadership in Catholic education as well.”

Green plans to pursue a doctorate in Catholic education administration and principalship.

“The GRACE students are the future leaders of the archdiocese,” said Gonzalez, the GRACE program director. “They are really dedicated, really enthusiastic; they do well in their coursework and are just outstanding students.  I have principals from the Archdiocese calling me looking specifically for our students because they’ve done so well.”

The graduates all spoke enthusiastically about the family-like atmosphere of community-living and the positive effect it had on their lives.

“The love that I have for these people will probably last forever,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure if Dr. LeBlanc, the former director of the program, knows that we affectionately called him ‘Papa LeBlanc’ because it really seemed as if he had taken us in as his children.”

Joel Garcia said the program has given him the tools for success no matter where he goes.  His post-GRACE plans are either to join the National Evangelization Team (NET) in Canada or continue teaching at a Catholic school in Mexico City.

For more information about the GRACE Program, visit their website at or contact Dr. Gonzalez at or 713-942-3422.