Alumni Voices: Saul Becerra Hernandez

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-53-17-amSaul Becerra Hernandez is a Cristo Rey graduate. Through the Corporate Work Study Program, Saul worked at BMO Harris Bank where he developed his passion for business. He is currently a senior at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, a Cristo Rey University Partner.

What sets Saul Becerra Hernandez apart is his business mindset. “The more time and effort you put into something, the more success will come along the way,” Becerra believes.

This mindset started when Becerra worked at BMO Harris Bank through a corporate work study program while attending Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, Minn. Becerra credits learning the  aspect of banking in creating his business mindset.  “I noticed customers with a lot of financial stress often revolving around debt or bad credit. I wanted to have a better financial future so I decided to do my best in college so I would not have any debt.”

This led Becerra to major in finance at  Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, where he attends on a full-ride scholarship through the First Generation Initiative (FGI) program. “This semester  I’m taking entrepreneurial finance and learning different viewpoints in the financial industry.”

In Fall of 2015 Becerra attended the Saint Mary’s job fair which led him to an internship with NorthWestern Mutual in summer 2016. “I was proud of being hired by Northwestern Mutual which is one of the top 10 best financial internships in the nation,” Becerra said. As a financial representative he got his internship contract extended throughout the school year.  “I had to go through an extensive training and I had to be certified in health, life, and disability insurance in order to sell those products to current and future clients.” Becerra said.

Becerra would like to continue gaining experience with different financial institutions to find his career calling. The investment courses this semester may help  Becerra find that calling. “I would like to apply for a financial analyst position because I like to see how companies make good investments,” Becerra said.

Becerra firmly believes he has the qualifications to succeed in the financial world. “One thing is that I know how to conduct myself professionally around individuals and help guide them through their financial process whether it is in the risk management side of finance or the investment side of finance.”

A big piece of advice Becerra received while working at BMO was to carry himself in a professional way in and outside of the office. “A CEO at the branch told me to always carry your brand with you. If you work alongside someone that tells you about their problems and what they did this weekend. When you become manager you will likely  hire another person who barely spoke about their life  but did their job right,”  Becerra said. “So I carry my brand in everything I say, and  do.”

The biggest thing Becerra has learned at Saint Mary’s thus far is that “college is not meant for the ‘social scene’ but is meant to get you where you want to be in life.”

FGI has helped Becerra earn  a good college education “When I first started here at Saint Mary’s the study hall was very helpful to me because it gave me a backbone to my education. It allowed me to have structure in my college academic career.” Becerra would love to change people like FGI has changed his life. “I want to make it to the top and when I make it to the top, I am going to change people’s lives. Nothing has changed my life more than the FGI program, so why not give back to FGI in the near future?”

Corporate Partner Spotlight: BMO Harris Bank

bmo_harris_bank_823692BMO Harris Bank is a valued Cristo Rey Corporate Partner. BMO Harris Bank employs student teams at Cristo Rey Milwaukee Jesuit High School, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School – Twin Cities,  Cristo Rey Jesuit High School (Chicago), and Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School, for a total of more than 16 student workers across the Network. BMO Harris Bank was recently featured in the Cristo Rey Jesuit Chicago newsletter Las Obras.

In the fall of 2010, BMO Harris Bank planted the seed for a growing corporate partnership with Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. The bank’s Latino Alliance Employee Resource Group reached out to Cristo Rey, contributing scholarship funds donated by employees in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. This first touchpoint led to the hiring of four students through the Corporate Work Study Program, and since then, the relationship has blossomed beyond the 12 students they currently employ. Through volunteerism, financial literacy education, paid student internships, and scholarship fundraising, BMO Harris Bank and its Latino Alliance support our students while creating a more diverse workforce, increasing awareness for diversity and inclusion, and providing opportunities for employees to engage with our community.

Over the past two years, BMO Harris Bank has become a familiar face at our November Career Day event – an opportunity for the entire Sophomore Class to explore career options, talk with caring professionals, and practice job interviewing skills. At Career Day, students have a chance to ask volunteers what they really do every day at their jobs, how they got to where they are now, what they studied in college, and what advice they have for succeeding in their positions. Last year, our students had a chance to hear from BMO Harris employees during panel discussions on the topics of finance and entrepreneurship, before diving in for one-on-one conversations and even mock interviews with the volunteers.

BMO Harris employees also lent their expertise during Cristo Rey’s annual March interview weekend, helping our families complete time-sensitive financial aid applications. Each year, 100% of families applying to Cristo Rey request financial aid toward the $2,950 family contribution toward the cost of education. This year, the average freshman family of five earns only $35,729, necessitating over $600,000 in direct financial aid disbursements. Together with BMO Harris Bank employee volunteers, who contributed their time for a portion of the weekend, our families navigate the application process and receive the support they need to join the Cristo Rey community.

These opportunities stemmed from BMO Harris employees’ initial support for our student scholarships. Since their first fundraising effort in 2010, the BMO Harris Bank’s Latino Alliance Employee Resource Group has raised over $30,000 in scholarship funds through hundreds of donations from employees. Last year’s graduating BMO Harris Scholar even received a surprise visit at graduation from Latino Alliance representatives bearing flowers and well-wishes for her transition to college! Last month, we joined the BMO Harris Latino Alliance in kicking off the fundraising effort for this year’s scholarship campaign at their annual Hispanic Heritage Month event.

Complementing its community involvement with Cristo Rey, BMO Harris Bank also launched a new mobile-friendly, Spanish language website, providing Spanish-language resources for personal finance decisions. Together, these efforts creatively engage the Cristo Rey community at multiple levels and serve as an example of the many ways Cristo Rey welcomes its corporate partners to get involved in our school, in addition to hiring students.

Stay tuned for another Voices of Cristo Rey post tomorrow from Saul Becerra Hernandez, a Cristo Rey Jesuit Twin Cities graduate who was a student worker at BMO Harris Bank and now attends Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, a Cristo Rey University Partner. He shares that his experience at BMO Harris Bank motivated him to carry himself professionally. 

“A CEO at the branch told me to always carry your brand with you. If you work alongside someone that tells you about their problems and what they did this weekend. When you become manager you will likely  hire another person who barely spoke about their life  but did their job right. So I carry my brand in everything I say, and  do.”

Alumni Voices: Tasvir Singh

tasvir_singh_graduation-2-copyLittle over six years ago, I was fortunate enough to represent Cristo Rey High School Sacramento’s first graduating Class of 2010 as their valedictorian. Both my parents are immigrants from India, which is where they completed their schooling; I grew up in a family where education was highly valued, and I knew from a young age that the high school I attended would shape my career goals.

My four years at Cristo Rey were an enriching and rewarding experience that I would not trade for anything. Because of the unique work study component of the curriculum, I not only learned academics that prepared me for college, but also matured and gained confidence by working alongside health professionals. I had the great privilege of working at Sutter Medical Center for four years, which exposed me to the health care field and cemented my interest in a medical profession.

My work experience helped me get accepted into University of the Pacific’s Pre-Pharmacy Advantage Program; the connections I built at Sutter allowed me to volunteer at the inpatient pharmacy and get to know the staff personally. I spent three years as an undergraduate to complete all my pharmacy prerequisites, and then moved on to pursue a doctoral degree at the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. In May 2016, I graduated with my Pharm.D. and B.A.A.S. degrees, with aspirations to work as a clinical pharmacist in a hospital setting. My long-term career goal is to become a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist and advanced practice pharmacist.

Seeing “Dr. Singh” in emails addressed to me is surreal; as a freshman, I never dreamed of graduating at the age of 23 with a doctorate, let alone two degrees! But I can say with absolute faith that Cristo Rey is what helped make this into a reality—by allowing me to spread my wings, step out of my shell, and mature into the health professional that I am today. My teachers and coworkers were always there when I needed them, and by my senior year, I knew that they would remain lifelong friends and mentors.

I am beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to spend four of the most important years of my life at such a unique high school, one whose sole mission was to make sure that I received quality education both inside and outside of the classroom. I would like to extend my deepest, most heartfelt thanks to the faculty, staff, work study sponsors, and benefactors of Cristo Rey High School. Without you, none of this would have been possible.

Message from Cristo Rey Leadership

Dear Friends:

The Cristo Rey movement began in 1996 when Cristo Rey Jesuit High School opened its doors to 70 students in southwest Chicago. The school’s founders prayed that their bold idea of a rigorous college preparatory school supported in substantial part with student-earned income would allow them to provide a high quality education and a promising to-and-through college trajectory to children from economically disadvantaged families in one Catholic parish. They readily concede that they did not at the start foresee the powerful formational impact and opportunity that the combination of academics and professional work experience would entail for Cristo Rey students. Nor did they imagine that they were creating a model that could and should be replicated across the country.

As the Cristo Rey movement begins its third decade, the 32 schools that today comprise the Cristo Rey Network collectively welcome 10,933 students to classrooms and corporate workplaces in 21 states and the District of Columbia. As the Network’s presence and impact has grown, so has our understanding of the ingeniousness of the Cristo Rey model in building financial sustainability on the one hand and student character, competence, confidence, and aspiration on the other. The 7,000 Cristo Rey graduates who have either earned their undergraduate degrees or are currently enrolled in colleges and universities across the country are the best evidence of the power of the model—and the best ambassadors for our Network.

Our students and graduates remind us daily of the high human stakes and profound human consequences of this worthy work. They motivate all of us to continue the innovation and the audacious thinking that spawned the movement. They explain—indeed compel—our continuous focus on assessment, improvement, and innovation in all domains of our work, an approach that this Annual Report succinctly conveys and our newly revised Network website now shares in inviting detail.

No one suggested that “transforming urban America one student at a time” would be easy or the province of a few talented individuals. But the founders could not have envisioned the strength of the talent that the Cristo Rey movement would galvanize across the country. An extraordinary team of school leaders, teachers, and administrators; supporting Religious Sponsors and Endorsers; Corporate and University Partners; national staff members; and school and Network boards work locally and nationally to ensure the excellence of each of our schools and all of our schools. That work is fueled by the many supporters who demonstrate belief in the Network’s power and progress through their generous investment in our work. We are deeply grateful to all of you for your commitment to our mission.

Sincerely in Cristo Rey,

W. Nicholas Howley, Board Chair and Jane E. Genster, President and CEO


Fr. Foley on the Feast of Christ the King

To all the Cristo Rey Network Family:

This Sunday, November 20, waView More: 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

Fr. Foley Reflects on the Year of Mercy

View More: Friends:

The Holy Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis, is coming to a close. When the Year was first announced it seemed like a pretty innocuous topic.

As Pope Francis understood and we have learned, however, “mercy” itself is a very powerful concept. Our liturgy teaches us that God shows might through mercy. Mercy evidences strength and has its own logic. As James (2:13) states very succinctly, “mercy triumphs over judgment.” Where mercy is involved, all the rules change. In the early days of the Cristo Rey model, someone described “a Cristo Rey moment” as “flying in the face of logic.” A Cristo Rey school was by design, for example, only open to those who could not afford it. So those of us familiar with Cristo Rey are used to working with a different logic.

In April 2016, at the Cristo Rey Network Annual Meeting in Denver, Jose Alberto Mesa, S.J., assistant to the Jesuit General in Rome for secondary and pre-secondary education worldwide, lead a dynamic workshop for 200 school leaders and Religious Sponsors and Endorsers. He challenged us to be open to change and to recognize opportunities to extend mercy, compassion, and support to our students as early as the admissions process and to sustain this promise through four years of high school and beyond graduation as alumni matriculate to and through college. The Pope himself challenged those who work in education to reflect on how we can do the different works of mercy through that apostolate. In doing so the Pope invited the whole Cristo Rey family to rethink how we educate, to ask ourselves if we can educate more as Jesus did. He called upon the entire Cristo Rey community to identify areas in our lives and in our institutions where mercy can be more present and where we can all exercise greater compassion.

As Pope Francis said in declaring this Holy Year, “The mercy of God is able to transform hearts,” an ideal to consider as we all seek to “transform urban America one student at a time.”

Reflections from Sr. Eileen on Her Jubilee Year

Reflecting on the past and looking to the future

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-3-12-52-pmThis fall, as her beloved students mark the return to class, Sister Eileen Enright, RSM, President of Cristo Rey High School Sacramento, is marking a milestone of her own – her jubilee as a Sister of Mercy. “In some ways, I stand back and I think, ‘Can it really be 50 years?'” Sister Eileen reflects. “I’ve taken it day to day, year to year, and to now stand back and look – I realize that it is only through God’s grace that this life is possible. He blesses us every step of the way with what we need.”

For Sister Eileen, the jubilee anniversary offers a time for reflection, gratitude, and humility. “For me, the jubilee means 50 years of professed, consecrated life. I look back and see that it is through great openness and trust that we move forward.”

Throughout the past 50 years, Sister Eileen has served others through her work in the Sacramento region, most notably in education. For 25 years, she served as teacher, principal, and associate superintendent for Catholic schools at the Sacramento Diocese. She then spent 15 years working for Bishop William Weigand, first as director of lay personnel, then as chancellor and director of research and planning.

This year, Sister Eileen begins her sixth year as president of Cristo Rey. Her pride in the school and its students and staff is evident. “This year we have our largest enrollment yet–367 students,” she says. “We are continuing to grow, and we are enjoying this beautiful new campus. We are so grateful to our donors and friends, Mercy Foundation, our board of directors, our staff and to the community for making this possible. It truly takes a village!”

Looking forward, Sister Eileen is introspective. “I am always discerning what God is calling me to in the future. Through prayer and reflection, I trust that the path will become clear.”

For now, Sister Eileen will continue to advocate for the students and staff at Cristo Rey, working to ensure that every possible opportunity is made available to those who work to earn it. And along the way, she will allow herself just a moment to reflect. “There is no way I could have imagined 50 years ago what I would be doing today. I truly stand in awe.”

This piece was originally published in Horizons Fall 2016 issue from The Mercy Foundation.