Father John P. Foley, S.J. and Cristo Rey students
Newsweek magazine named Jesuit Father John P. Foley as one of the people to watch in 2007. Foley presides over the national Cristo Rey (“Christ the King”) network of Catholic high schools.
In 1996, Father Foley, who has been a Jesuit for 53 years and previously had been an educator in Peru, went to the Chicago’s largely Hispanic Pilsen/Little Village neighborhood to open Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in one of the city least-educated areas. Working with over 100 corporations, the school runs a work-study program in which every four weeks students work five days and attend classes for 15 days. Groups of four students share a full-time job. The companies pay a salary for each full-time job which accounts for about 70 percent of tuition, to which families also contribute.
In a city where some high schools see 50 percent of their students drop out, Cristo Rey’s four-year dropout rate was 6 percent, and 96 percent of the students went on to college programs. Since the Chicago school opened, 11 more schools have opened in Cristo Rey’s network, and seven more are scheduled to open this summer in urban neighborhoods where poverty is high. It seems at least these schools have returned to the mission Catholic high schools used to have in this country: serving immigrants communities and giving their young people an affordable and faith-centered way to move ahead in the world.