Posts Tagged ‘Cristo Rey’

Magazine Names Houston’s Cristo Rey Jesuit Prep President one of City’s Top Influencers

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.”

Cristo Rey Jesuit College Prep in Houston Experiences Exponential Growth

5346454991_b7f7496a68Jesuit Father T.J. Martinez’s enthusiasm is hard to miss, especially when he’s talking about the school he founded, Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston. His devotion to the school, which opened for the 2009-10 school year, has experienced explosive growth. In one school year, it has grown from 60 to 160 kids and from 19 to 40 corporate sponsors for the work-study program. Additionally, $9 million dollars have been raised for the $10 million campaign that was launched just a year and a half ago.

Before his assignment to open Cristo Rey Jesuit, Fr. Martinez was busy on what he called his “Plan A” path. With a law degree already under his belt, he was newly ordained and finishing up a graduate program in school leadership at Harvard in 2008. From there he thought his first assignment would be working at Loyola University New Orleans Law School.

A call from his provincial changed that plan. Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, then provincial of the Society of Jesus’ New Orleans Province, told him a group in Houston had done a feasibility study to open a new Cristo Rey style school and asked if he’d be interested in heading it up.

Martinez told Fr. Kammer he wasn’t interested. “I just got ordained. I hadn’t even worked in a parish,” he remembers.

Kammer’s response: “Let me rephrase what I just said: Congratulations you are the new president of Cristo Rey Jesuit.”

Martinez’s orders were to graduate and then report to Houston to found and launch the school.

“I thought this was crazy,” he says. “This was my first assignment — to go start a Jesuit high school? No money, no faculty, no staff. Fr. Kammer told me, ‘The great news with all this is the only way you can go is up!’”

Luckily Martinez was used to adapting to “Plan Bs”. Growing up in South Texas, as the oldest son, he says his expected role was to join his father in business, in his case, by becoming a lawyer. But while in the middle of law school, Martinez describes his calling to a religious vocation: “One day I woke up during my second year in law school at 2 a.m. and said ‘I have to go to Mass.’ I went off to the Catholic Church and it felt amazing. The next day I was back at church with this almost desperate need to go to Mass. It woke up old thoughts from earlier on in my life of joining the priesthood.”

Martinez went on retreat with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, because he grew up with the Oblates in South Texas. They were his “Plan A” for religious life. So he was stunned when at the retreat’s end, the vocation director told him that he didn’t have a vocation for the Oblates — he was meant to be a Jesuit. Martinez was put in touch with the New Orleans Province vocation director, and, after finishing law school, he joined the Society of Jesus. “The pathway to God, in my experience, was all about following the crooked lines in the right way,” he says.

Just over ten years after joining the Jesuits, Martinez, newly ordained and with several graduate degrees under his belt, arrived in Houston to work with the feasibility study group putting together a plan of action for the new school. Then he hit the streets and talked about the school to anyone who would listen. He also sat down with the Cardinal to negotiate buying property and came away with nine acres that included an old school building, a gym and a football field.

“By buying that piece of property, we became the real deal. People started saying they’re really serious about starting a new high school in an era when the Catholic Church was closing schools, at a time when there was an economic recession and then Hurricane Ike hit the city,” says Martinez.

Martinez talked to anyone who would listen to him — any group, grandmother or corporate sponsor. He says, “We need everything and we need everybody. Door’s open; come in, no exclusivity; this school needs the city to survive. And people responded.”

Cristo Rey Jesuit opened its first school year in 2009 with 60 students, and Martinez oversaw an exciting first year that included a visit from First Lady Laura Bush. He began emailing Bush with the school’s progress each month until he got a call from Secret Service that she wanted to visit. Bush toured the school, talked to Martinez and students and gave a speech to 500 people attending a luncheon at the school, in which she called Cristo Rey “the sun that is now rising over the southeast side of Houston.”

Getting others, like Bush, excited about Cristo Rey Jesuit is one of Martinez’s favorite parts of the job. “I love being a cheerleader for the school and drum majoring that message to the rest of the city. It’s about galvanizing the troops and rallying people rather than speaking at people.”

He also loves interacting with the students. “When looking at numbers and finances and spending and fundraising and strategic planning gets too much for me, I put it all aside and I walk out my door, and I dive into the ocean of kids that are the favorite part of my day.”

Martinez has seen a number of positive changes in the students. He says they walk and talk more professionally, partly because of the corporate boot camp each takes part in to train for their five-day-a-month corporate job that helps pay their tuition, making the school affordable for low-income families. They’ve also dramatically improved academically.

The building also continues to be improved. Money from the capital campaign has been used to renovate the old facility a section at a time as money becomes available.

Now in the middle of its second school year, Martinez sees Cristo Rey Jesuit as more than just a school. Once the first capital campaign is complete, he plans to launch another, with dreams of having a health care center on the property to serve the surrounding neighborhood. He’s already in talks with Catholic Charities about partnering with the school for the clinic.

Also on his wish list is opening a Jesuit community near Cristo Rey Jesuit once the school graduates its first class. With a new community he could get more Jesuits involved at the school, he says.

His ultimate vision is a campus “that provides multiple services — education, guidance and health care — to the southeast side of Houston and becomes a beacon that could transform a neighborhood that is desperately looking for a symbol of hope in a place that hasn’t had that symbol in a long time.”

Where in the World is Jesuit Father Martinez?

Martinez_Cookie_MonsterShare
As president of the newest Cristo Rey Jesuit high school in the country, Jesuit Father TJ Martinez is often asked to travel from his home base in Houston, Texas to places all over the globe for pastoral services and speaking engagements. So that Martinez can be in many places all at the same time, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Houston has launched a “Flat Fr. Martinez” project this summer so that the school president can also experience all the fun summertime activities his students have planned during their break.

A takeoff on the “Flat Stanley Project” where children document the places and activities the beloved paper doll encounters, “Flat Fr. Martinez” travels with his friends of Cristo Rey Jesuit this summer, and the school has been tracking his adventures on their website. Students have reported he’s been an ideal travel companion, but a little quiet.

To see some of the places “Flat Fr. Martinez” has visited this summer, view the photo sideshow below:

First Jesuit Cristo Rey School Opens in the South

Fifty years after the founding of the first Jesuit school in the city of Houston, the Jesuits and their lay collaborators are poised to once again found another school in the same city with a focus on getting the poorest and most-at-risk children of Houston ready for college.  Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston, the first co-educational school sponsored by the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province, will open its doors to 100 freshmen on August 10, 2009.  Its inaugural class of young men and women will participate in one of the most exciting educational models in the country – the Cristo Rey Network that consists of 23 schools across the nation.
To watch a video from News2Houston on the opening of Cristo Rey Jesuit, click on the picture below.
History of the Cristo Rey Network
The genesis of the Cristo Rey Network began more than a decade ago in Chicago’s Little Pilsen neighborhood, a low-income area largely populated by Mexican immigrants.  The Cristo Rey model, the brainchild of Fr. John Foley, SJ and his Jesuit and lay colleagues, emerged from the realization that the expense of a Jesuit college preparatory education was prohibitive to economically disadvantaged families living in this Chicago barrio.
Fr. Foley and his team turned to corporations around the city for help and asked them to provide entry-level corporate jobs for his students whose salaries would in turn help pay for the cost of their tuition.  Fr. Foley and his team developed and pioneered an economic and educational program that would be accessible to the poorest families in the city.  The result was the innovative Corporate Intern Program, sometimes referred to as the Corporate Work-Study Program.
The Corporate Work-Study Program allows students to earn approximately 70 percent of their tuition by working for corporations one day per week.  The students gain first-hand knowledge of the professional, corporate world while also attending a school which will provide them with the education and critical thinking skills needed to perform well in college and eventually in a career.  The students are not the only ones to benefit; the sponsors add to their workforce a group of eager, enthusiastic students working at a reduced cost. In addition, the sponsors gain the satisfaction of knowing that they have helped to break the cycles of poverty.
There are currently 23 schools in the Cristo Rey Network, with Cristo Rey Jesuit in Houston being its newest member.  The network has more than 1,250 corporate work-study sponsors that employ more than 5,000 students. Over 99 percent of the students who graduate from Cristo Rey schools have been accepted into two and four year colleges, including Georgetown University, Loyola University and Brown University.
The Beginnings of Cristo Rey Jesuit
Cristo Rey Jesuit in Houston was made a reality when the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province decided they wanted to support the opening of a Cristo Rey model school in their region.  They identified several potential cities, including Houston.  Advisory groups were formed in each city to conduct feasibility studies to identify lower income communities, the level of student and parent interest in a college prep education with a work-study component and the level of corporate support necessary to sustain the school.
In 2006, the Houston advisory group was formed.  They conducted the feasibility study where they first identified the neighborhoods that fell within the income bracket.  During the study more than 1,300 interviews were conducted with middle school students and their families in those identified neighborhoods.  The study confirmed the need and the desire of the families for a Jesuit college preparatory school.  The advisory committee then began to present the Cristo Rey story to individuals and representatives of companies throughout Houston asking for their support.  Over 30 companies signed letters of intent to provide jobs to the first class of students.  The advisory committee also secured over $2 million in donations, grants and pledges, with nine major foundations committing financial support for the school.
Having proven the great need and community support for a Cristo Rey school in Houston, the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province approved Houston as the home of the next Cristo Rey school – Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston.
Creating Cristo Rey Jesuit with Community Support
Cristo Rey Jesuit, located in southeast Houston, near Hobby Airport, is in the midst of a very busy start-up year.  With the naming of the school’s founding president, Fr. Antonio, “T.J.”, Martinez, SJ the plans for the school began immediately. After having received an undergraduate degree at Boston College, Fr. Martinez finished with five graduate degrees, including a law degree from the University of Texas and a graduate degree in school leadership and administration from Harvard University.
Once Martinez arrived in Houston, he quickly went to work with the advisory board and negotiated the purchase of an old educational facility on the nearly nine acre piece of property in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Houston.  The inaugural Board of Trustees was next named, meeting continuously since December 2007.  At this initial meeting, the Board approved the funding for moderate renovations of the purchased facility which will provide a safe, competitive and supportive learning environment.  Fretz Construction is generously managing these renovations on a pro bono basis.
Martinez set out to find experts in the field to comprise his founding senior administrative leadership team.  He first hired Dr. Catherine Thomas as the principal.  Dr. Thomas brings 20 years of experience to the job and currently heads the admissions and faculty recruitment campaigns.
“Any president, young or old, experienced or new, would be envious for the experience and dedication my leadership team brings to our mission,” Martinez said. “I went after the best and with God’s grace, I got it.”
At an event in March, the school unveiled its logo and crest at a cocktail reception for all of its donors, corporate sponsors and the many volunteers who have become involved over the past few months.  BrandExtract LLC, a branding and marketing company in Houston, generously devoted their time to develop not only the school’s logo and crest, but the entire branding campaign.
Since the March event, many more people in the community have stepped forward to offer their services to the start up of Cristo Rey Jesuit.  The school has received in-kind donations that have helped in all aspects of the opening.  The National Terrazzo Tile and Marble Company owner, Victor Longo, donated the installation of the new school crest in the entrance making an impressive and colorful impact to all visitors.  All school furnishing have been donated by individuals and companies throughout Houston.  Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, the first Houston Jesuit high school, has been extremely generous in their support of their new brother school and the Cristo Rey Jesuit Women’s Guild, a volunteer group from all over the city, help by answering phones, making copies, updating mailing lists, stuffing envelopes and organizing events.
Securing Business Support
The Houston business community has given a strong message of support to Cristo Rey Jesuit’s Corporate Intern Program model.  The school has 25 employment contracts signed by companies that represent Houston’s diverse employment industry. The response has been so positive that the school had to develop a “2010-2011 wait list” made up of companies eager to be Corporate Work-Study Sponsors.  Three Houston universities, Rice University, University of St. Thomas and University of Houston, are partnering with the Corporate Work-Study Training Camp, a mandatory 4-week camp created to prepare the students to be successful in their entry-level jobs, by teaching the computer training courses on their campuses.
“We have seen the impact that Cristo Rey has had in other communities and felt strongly that Houston would embrace the Cristo Rey model,” said Ron Martin, a member of the board of trustees as well as a corporate work-study sponsor. “It is humbling to know that Cristo Rey Jesuit will forever change the lives of 100 students who begin our inaugural class this fall and the many more who will follow.”
Recruiting Students to Cristo Rey Jesuit
While the jobs have been relatively easy to secure, the recruitment of students has proven a bit more difficult.  It seems that this population of students and families are not in the habit of applying for schools which makes the process more time consuming than expected.Given the economy, the staff was preparing themselves for a more difficult time in finding job positions for their students. Enrolling the students was the last worry in their mind.  A final push to fill the freshman class with 100 students is being made with the staff, members of the board and volunteers who are helping canvas the surrounding neighborhoods by spreading the word about the school and its wonderful opportunity. They are confident that the inaugural class will be filled by the first day of corporate training camp on August 10.
“The corporate training camp will culminate with the celebration of the Mass of the Holy Spirit on Thursday, September 3, 2009 with the Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza, Archbishop Emeritus presiding and Fr. T.J. Martinez, SJ and Fr. Mark Lewis, SJ concelebrating,” Dr. Thomas said.  “This opening mass promises to celebrate the diversity of the school which mirrors the diversity of the city of Houston.  This celebration will mark the beginning of the school’s mission ‘…to empower students of all faiths from economically challenged families to reach their full potential’.”
Martinez’s primary vision of the school is to provide a rigorous, first rate educational, moral and corporate environment that allows the students to re-imagine their futures as business, civic and religious leaders of Houston and beyond.  In a very real way, the students are our own “future at work.”
“Many people ask, ‘Why would you at all be interested in being involved in the chaos of starting up a school particularly at this time?’” Martinez said.  “My grandfather came over from Mexico, became a citizen and had an opportunity to work his way through school. Because of this, he was able to send my dad to school and my dad sent me, without which I would never have been a Jesuit and now president of Cristo Rey Jesuit.”
He added, “These kids are my grandfather all over again, making this mission not only one I believe in because I am a Jesuit priest, but one I believe in because it is my family’s story as well.”
Susan Branda Martin is the director of communications and public relations for Cristo Rey Jesuit in Houston. For more information about Cristo Rey Jesuit, visit www.cristoreyhouston.org.

njn_cristorey_martinezby Susan Branda Martin

Fifty years after the founding of the first Jesuit school in the city of Houston, the Jesuits and their lay collaborators are poised to once again found another school in the same city with a focus on getting the poorest and most-at-risk children of Houston ready for college.  Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School of Houston, the first co-educational school sponsored by the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province, will open its doors to 100 freshmen on August 10, 2009.  Its inaugural class of young men and women will participate in one of the most exciting educational models in the country – the Cristo Rey Network that consists of 23 schools across the nation.

To watch a video from News2Houston on the opening of Cristo Rey Jesuit, click on the picture below.

njn_cristorey_vidcap1

History of the Cristo Rey Network

The genesis of the Cristo Rey Network began more than a decade ago in Chicago’s Little Pilsen neighborhood, a low-income area largely populated by Mexican immigrants.  The Cristo Rey model, the brainchild of Fr. John Foley, SJ and his Jesuit and lay colleagues, emerged from the realization that the expense of a Jesuit college preparatory education was prohibitive to economically disadvantaged families living in this Chicago barrio.

Read the rest of this entry »