To all the Cristo Rey Network Family:
This Sunday, November 20, was the Feast of Christ the King, our feast day. Our movement bears that name, reminding us constantly that the work is not ours. This is a mission that has been entrusted to us to give glory to our King. That also means that we should take time now and then to check back on how we are fulfilling that responsibility. How faithful are we being to this mission of Christ the King?
I hope we continue to be focused on those around us who are most needy. May it really be true that “if you can afford to come here, then you can’t come.” That sounds like pure gospel, doesn’t it? I think it’s true to say that every religious order got into education to serve those who have less, and yet today the great majority of our schools are in the suburbs. I would hate that to happen to us. Sometimes we hear from schools that are becoming well established and get more applications than they can accept. When that happens, when the school has an excess of applications, sometimes they make economic need the final deciding factor and they go lower than the established “norm” would permit. Across the Network let’s help each other to be faithful to our original resolve of serving only the needy.
No doubt the most distinguishing feature of our educational model is that our students themselves earn a big part of their education. “The school that works” has turned out to be much more than we ever anticipated. Originally we adopted the work/study model because it was a way to keep the doors open. We had no idea of its educational value. The work component at our schools is so much more than any kind of extracurricular activity where, by the way, the students also hold down a real job. The work experience is fundamental to the Cristo Rey model. It is not an add-on. When it is taken seriously, it is as formational as the academic content the students receive. And it is unique in the educational world. It makes the students feel good about themselves, that they really are capable of performing in the work world and they really do have something to contribute to the companies that hire them. They begin to see that education is important for their future and worth working at. I never tire of telling the story about the student who was showing a visitor around a Cristo Rey school. The visitor asked the student, “Tell me what’s the difference between going to school and going to work.” The student thought a moment and responded, “At work, you have to get it right the first time.” If that isn’t educational, I don’t know what is! Our schools are writing the book on the virtue of grit!! I think we’re just beginning to appreciate the value of the work part of our model.
Finally, in this revisiting of the mission of the Cristo Rey Network, let’s bring to mind once again that tag line we came up with in our first days. We declared that we were about “transforming urban America one student at a time.” I confess my hesitancy when we first talked that way. It seemed too pretentious, that maybe we were getting carried away. With our almost 11 thousand students at our 32 schools, and with almost the same number of students who have already graduated from our schools, I’ve come to think that to talk about transforming our society is not too far-fetched. And it certainly fits right in with celebrating our universal King. It is our great privilege to be involved in nothing less than contributing through our schools to the formation of the Kingdom of God!!
Happy feast, everyone! Viva Cristo Rey!!
John P. Foley SJ