Let’s F.A.C.E. It: The Southern Illinois Bus Group is an Unsung Hero of Catholic Education

In 2011, a group of parents from Southern Illinois decided that acquiring a Catholic education was a non-negotiable good for their children. They wanted a school with good academics and a great faith foundation, but they couldn’t snap their fingers and conjure up a large school with a fully functioning staff overnight. The closest Catholic school was nearly an hour and fifteen minutes away, so the parents rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

They called themselves Families for the Advancement of Catholic Education, or F.A.C.E. These parents convened to brainstorm ways to bring a Catholic education to their kids. The group’s founding president, Teresa Machicao-Hopkins, says, “In the beginning, [my vision for F.A.C.E. was] maybe a Catholic school in Southern Illinois.” But the first step they had to take – a feasibility study – was going to cost around $60,000, a daunting, costly endeavor.

As a shiny new local Catholic high school seemed more and more an impossible goal, the welcoming family of Notre Dame seemed more and more plausible.

By May 2011, five students from the Herrin and Carbondale area had committed to attending Notre Dame. So the parents again put their heads together — carpooling seemed like an obvious solution. Robbie Wiseman, the group’s founding treasurer, says, “The most difficult [challenges] for us to figure out were how to make it affordable, finance a vehicle, and pay for insurance and fuel.”

However, the families were so impressed with Notre Dame that they worked tirelessly to find ways for their kids to attend the school. Wiseman notes, “[After visiting the school] we were sold immediately and were committed to try and make it happen on the very first visit.” The group bought a van, dubbed it Rhonda the Honda, and worked to get the students from Carbondale to Cape Girardeau every school day.

It was hard work. The group had very little money, and scheduling who would drive on which days and how late the van would stay after school took negotiation. Students had to wake up early and stay late, sometimes until 4:30 P.M. to accommodate student meetings and activities. Parents had to drive often and commit to remaining in Cape Girardeau for the entire day. It truly is a testament to the quality of the school that so many families sacrificed so much to send their children to Notre Dame Regional High School.

F.A.C.E. is now beyond the one van and five-student group where it began. As the group gained popularity among Southern Illinois families, it outgrew the cozy Honda Odyssey and had to pick up a 12-passenger van, one fourteen-passenger bus, and then another fourteen-passenger bus. Last year F.A.C.E. ran two buses based on the east and the west sides of Carbondale to accommodate 19 students who rode to school each day. Still dealing with changes due to Covid-19, today the group runs one bus from Herrin to Cape Girardeau, picking up students in Carbondale, Murphysboro, and Anna-Jonesboro. This school year, seven students from Southern Illinois call the F.A.C.E. bus their ride and Notre Dame Regional High School their home.  They look forward to the end of the pandemic and returning to the two bus routes with more students attending in-person classes next school year.

Without F.A.C.E., many students from Southern Illinois would not have the opportunity for a Catholic education, and Notre Dame would be without the hard-working students from the Carbondale area. The group had to play against all the odds, but it has grown into the F.A.C.E. community that Southern Illinois and Southeast Missouri know today. F.A.C.E. has changed its goals, methods of transportation, and members throughout the years. One objective remains constant: to bring Catholic education to those who desire it.