Catholic Herald Staff
Five years ago Cristo Rey High School opened its doors near the intersection of National Ave. and Miller Park Way to students and families on the South side of Milwaukee. As enrollment grew faster than other network schools in the country, Andy Stith, President of Cristo Rey, along with the staff and Board, determined that the early success mandated a new school site.
Spanish teacher Rodrigo Pertierra de Rojas explained that now the school has a better understanding of students’ needs and the reality of the neighborhood and city than it did in 2014. This area of Milwaukee needs support and love, he said, and that is what students find at Cristo Rey.
Students and staff describe the school as a family and a home— a safe place where students are surrounded by “people who care for each other,” said Periterra de Rojas.
Before the first class had graduated, the attractiveness of Cristo Rey spurred an increase in enrollment. The school family was growing and they needed a new home.
Mike Giffhorn, a corporate work study partner and the Board Chair, said that as Cristo Rey expanded beyond the capacity of the facility, “it scared us because of the challenge.” Property space is limited on the South side of Milwaukee, “but that invigorated me because I am a builder.”
“And quite frankly, we prayed a lot,” Giffhorn added.
They debated renovating versus building, but when a Clarke Square neighborhood property was placed on the market, the Board and staff concluded that constructing a new school would best further the Jesuit mission of Cristo Rey to be serving in and with the local community.
On Wednesday, Sept. 18, 800 students, staff, Board members, corporate work study partners, and other community members gathered at the construction site to celebrate the next chapter for Cristo Rey in Milwaukee.
Stith thanked those in attendance and said, “Today, we literally and figuratively began to construct the next chapter in the history of our school.”
“We just couldn’t be happier,” Tim Hanley of the Governance Board said, remarking on the success of the school thus far.
Now enjoying retirement after 40 years at Deloitte, Hanley plans to reinvest his time by assuming the Board Chair and helping Cristo Rey thrive in this next chapter— he attributes his business success to his own Jesuit training at Marquette University, which fueled his passion for supporting both inner-city education and Jesuit organizations.
Enlivened by St. Ignatius’ zeal for service, the mission and success of Cristo Rey in Milwaukee demonstrates the fruitfulness of the Jesuit spirit. Stith explained, “Simply put, we nurture our students to be people of conscience, competence, compassion and commitment.”
As Stith thanked benefactors, the staff and students, and other partners, he explained how the new facility will be better equipped to further this mission and serve students by preparing them for college and professional work settings.
“Our bold mission requires a bold vision in response,” said Stith. “The time is now.”
That bold vision includes a $33 million campus and a 100,000 square foot facility complete with flexible learning spaces, visual and performing arts center, STEM labs, competition courts, chapel, and other amenities.
The campaign for the new facility launched Sept. 12, 2018. Since then, they have fundraised 75% towards the total goal and in July surpassed their short term goal, said Tracy Josetti, the Managing Director of Advancement.
The progress is not only financial but also evident in the students’ success and community partnerships. 100% of the students in the first graduating class were accepted into college. Additionally, Milwaukee companies like Baird partner with Cristo Rey through the corporate work study program.
By working as interns, students are given an opportunity to envision themselves as professionals in the workplace. Exposure to professional environments, though hard to quantify, is invaluable for the students, and also for the corporate work study partners.
Former volunteer and now full-time staff member, Andrew BoddySpargo said, “We have seen that when we invest in these students, we get amazing dividends, and this building represents a big investment in what our students can do and what they can be for Milwaukee.”
“Looking into the future, having empowered leaders from minority communities that are coming back and have the connections to local Milwaukee businesses is incredibly valuable for the city and for the families of our students, whose siblings see a path blazed for them and whose communities see their own members coming back and investing in the community,” said BoddySpargo.
As for the partnering companies, “in the end, we were the beneficiaries,” Giffhorn, Board Chair and owner of Cubic Designs, said.
After remarks from Fr. Bill Johnson, Fr. Glen Chun, and Cristo Rey junior John Jimenez, Stithe emphasized his gratitude for their new Clarke Square neighbors and said, “We are so excited to join you in your neighborhood and become a part of the life in this community.”
Finally, to the students Stithe said, “Its’ your resilience, determination, hard work, and hope for the future that inspires us all on a daily basis.” With this new campus location, “I know that God’s grace is at work.”