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CRISTOREY-GRADUATES Jun-24-2011 (870 words) xxxn

Seven Cristo Rey schools celebrate first graduating classes this year

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Across the country this year seven Cristo Rey schools celebrated their first graduating classes and at many of these schools, the graduates were the first in their families planning to attend college.

Jenifer Moreno, the salutatorian for the Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Md., told fellow graduates June 2 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, that she was the first person from both sides of her family to graduate from high school and go on to college.

"Back home in El Salvador, education is a precious gift, because so few have the opportunity to achieve it," she said. Moreno, who plans to attend West Virginia University this fall, said she was proud to be the first graduate in her family and the one who "made the path easier for my siblings."

Moreno thanked her parents for their many sacrifices and said she thought the best way to repay them was by going to college and pursuing a career in medicine.

"If I made it this far, why not go farther?" she said, noting that her dream is to become a transplant surgeon.

This sentiment was echoed by the first graduating class members at six other Cristo Rey schools -- in Omaha, Neb.; Baltimore; Birmingham, Ala.; Indianapolis; Minneapolis; and Newark, N.J.

These schools are among the 24 Cristo Rey schools that follow the model pioneered by Cristo Rey High School in Chicago, the Jesuit school that opened in 1996 and allows students to pay for most of their education by working five days a month in school-sponsored corporate internships that give the students work experience.

Although the initial Cristo Rey schools were sponsored by Jesuits, several religious orders are now committed to sponsoring them, providing staff members and financial support. The schools are part of the Cristo Rey Network formed in 2001 and which educates more than 6,500 students nationwide.

Currently the network is paired with several Catholic colleges that support students through scholarship programs, job sponsorship, and pre-college summer enrichment programs.

The Cristo Rey Network received a 2011 Best Practices Award June 22 from the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management during its annual meeting in Washington.

Kerry Robinson, the group's executive director, presented the award to Jesuit Father John Foley, the network's executive chair, and Robert Birdsell, president and CEO of Cristo Rey Network.

Robinson called the schools "hopeful examples of what Catholic education can achieve when people and institutions pull together, both intellectually and financially, to support students and the communities where they live." She praised the Cristo Rey Network for its "dedication to support urban students who have limited access to adequate college preparation."

The leadership group also gave a 2011 Best Practices Award to Frank Butler, president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, for his leadership and service to the church.

Another of the Cristo Rey schools celebrating its first graduating class this year is in Indianapolis. The principal at Providence Cristo Rey High School there said the school's priority was not just to make sure students graduate from high school but "successfully complete college."

Providence Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp, the school's founding president and now its principal, said it was "incredibly difficult" to say goodbye to this year's graduates.

"I suppose it's like parents feel when their sons or daughters get married. I feel like they are my children. They've been here since we opened. They've seen us through our growing years and have grown with us," she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

"I am so very proud of these young men and women. They have worked exceedingly hard to accomplish what they set out to do," she added.

For many of these students, juggling jobs and school work has been challenging but also rewarding.

Nestor Ramirez, a member of the first graduating class of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis and the first member of his family planning to attend college, said he received a lot of support and encouragement at school and at the companies where he worked.

During the work-study program, he said he learned "how to handle customers really well, how to start conversations and how to keep going with conversations." He also learned a lot about computers, computer programming, data entry, filing and answering phones.

He told The Catholic Sprit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that his work experience made him realize that his primary interest is in accounting, which he plans to study.

Students are not the only ones who say the school experience had an impact on them. Faculty members also say they have grown through their experience in the Cristo Rey environment.

Salesian Father Abraham Feliciano, the director of faith formation and youth ministry at Takoma Park's Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, said he came to the school one year after his ordination and felt blessed to accompany the students on their journey.

He told the Catholic Standard, Washington's archdiocesan newspaper, that he hoped the school's pioneer graduates learned to "always do their best, believe in God and themselves, and strive to make the world a better place while they fulfill their dreams."

- - -

Contributing to this story was Mark Zimmermann in Washington, Pat Norby in St. Paul and John Shaughnessy in Indianapolis.


Copyright (c) 2011 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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