Jesuit Father TJ Martinez, president of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School, was featured as one of four “new influencers” in Houston by local magazine, Papercity, in its April issue. The magazine noted the success of the new school in providing a top-notch education to the city’s underprivileged children through its innovative work-study program that pays the students’ tuitions. Fr. Martinez was praised for his ability to galvanize donors and corporations to support the school’s mission of providing a rigorous college preparatory track to Houston’s youth.
The section highlighting Fr. Martinez’s achievements appears below:
A decaying, abandoned school building in Houston’s gritty Southeast side and a young cowboy-boot-wearing priest might seem an unlikely stage and protagonist to reform Houston’s secondary-school system. Yet this script is successfully performed every day at Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School.
At its helm is the dynamic Jesuit Father TJ Martinez, founding president of Houston’s Cristo Rey, which is part of a national network of innovative Catholic high schools offering promise — and rigorous college prep — to the kids of urban America. In Houston, the Cristo Rey campus near Hobby Airport revived a Catholic high school that had closed due to shifting demographics and declining enrollment. Enter the recently ordained Fr. Martinez, a Boston transplant raised in South Texas who was tapped after receiving his Harvard degree not only to lead, but to forge the Houston branch.
The campus opened in August 2009, with its first class set to graduate in May 2013. It currently serves 270 students and is set to enroll grades 9 through 12 in the fall of 2012. The new school “relies on the private sector, not the government, to educate Houston’s youth who are living in poverty,” Fr. Martinez says. At the heart of Cristo Rey’s model are high-powered corporations — energy to finance, ConocoPhillips to Deutsche Bank — which pay the students’ tuition as part of an intriguing work-study program: Each Cristo Rey kid is employed one day a week by his or her sponsoring firm throughout the school year. The community has embraced the new college prep’s vision, with a lead gift of one million dollars from the Kinder Foundation and an inaugural gala in January 2011 that raised an astounding $1.6 million. Giving a tour of Cristo Rey’s gleaming hallways, then dropping in on a chemistry class where students enthusiastically cluster around lab experiments, Fr. Martinez emphasizes the power and primacy of his school’s mission: “Cristo Rey Jesuit marries Houston’s corporate culture with a college-prep culture serving children living in the most financially challenged neighborhoods, to form a partnership that will not only save the lives of these children, but [ensure] Houston’s future as well.”