WEST MILWAUKEE – St. Florian School will be the home of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Milwaukee, beginning with the fall semester of 2015, announced Anne Zizzo, CEO of the Zizzo Marketing Group, Wednesday, April 23, to more than 50 people from the religious, business and education communities, gathered in a classroom at the former St. Florian Grade School.

Zizzo, a member of the Marquette University board of trustees, who co-chaired the feasibility study with

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Jesuit Fr. James P. Flaherty, assistant professor of philosophy at Marquette, explained the work done by more than 30 people on the feasibility committee and various task forces over the last two years as they examined the feasibility of opening a Cristo Rey High School in Milwaukee.

The Cristo Rey Network, comprised of 28 schools in the United States, provides Catholic, college preparatory education to students in urban communities with limited educational options. The first Cristo Rey Network school in the country, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, opened in 1996 at the encouragement of then-Chicago archbishop, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who encouraged the Jesuits to find a way to provide quality, Catholic secondary education to the impoverished immigrant Hispanic population of the area.

“The Cristo Rey Network has a very rigorous process to determine the need for Cristo Rey in any given community and that community’s willingness to support the school,” Zizzo said.

Determining viability

Five “key viability factors” had to be met if a Cristo Rey High School was to exist in the Milwaukee area, she said.

“We needed to answer questions and explore how deep of a need there is for a Cristo Rey school here in Milwaukee and define who needs the school,” she said of the community need factor.

Zizzo said they had to determine “funding streams” available for students’ outplacement so that the school could remain financially sustainable over time.

“We had to secure a minimum 35 job placements in order to satisfy this requirement,” she said of a key component in the school’s work-study model. “As of today, 26 companies had issued letters of intent for over 35 work placements to satisfy this requirement.”

Among those making work placement commitments are Marquette University, R.W. Baird, Manpower and Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C.

Proof of sustainability

Another criterion that needed to be met was sustainability of the school.

“We went through deep rigor of financial modeling and determination as to whether start-up and ongoing needs could be met by available funding sources,” Zizzo said. “We needed to raise $4.1 million to get us through the start-up phase and first year of operation.”

She added that contributions from various sources, including the Faith in Our Future trust, resulted in that amount being raised.

Another criterion, the sponsorship of the school by a religious community, was addressed by the provincials of the Jesuits’ Chicago-Detroit Province, Fr. Walter Deye, and the Wisconsin Province, Fr. Thomas Lawler. The provinces will merge within a couple of years to form the Midwest Province.

“Our goal in starting this school is to continue the outreach of Catholic, Jesuit education, to share the good news of Jesus Christ with more young people, young men and women, in the service of evangelization in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” Fr. Lawler told the gathering.

The fifth criterion for approval was a suitable site for the school. (See sidebar)

Support of archbishop, MU

In welcoming Cristo Rey as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s 15th Catholic high school, Kathleen Cepelka, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese, noted Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, in Rome for the canonizations of St. Pope John XXIII and St. Pope John Paul II, “was one of the first people on the bus” when it came to Cristo Rey in Milwaukee.

“Our commitment is to change Catholic education for the better one school at a time,” she said. “At its essence, Catholic education is the integration of faith with culture.”

Jesuit Fr. Robert Wild, interim president of Marquette University, admitted he had been skeptical about the project, which the university funded.

“We had started another effort before and I wondered how it would all play out; I worried particularly about the ability to obtain the jobs,” he said. “But every step of the way, people said, ‘No, we’re going to get this done,’ and, by golly, the men and women involved did it.”

Fr. Wild noted the jobs students filled were about more than financing the school.

“The jobs give students a concrete experience which gives them a powerful sense that they too could be a part of a workforce at a much higher level than they first thought as they looked at their life possibilities,” the priest said. “They are doing things they might not have imagined themselves doing.”

Demonstrates social justice

Dr. William Henk, dean of Marquette’s College of Education and co-principal investigator on the feasibility study, called the two years the study consumed, “the most exciting, challenging and gratifying chapter in my nearly 40 years as a professional educator.”

“It was my job, as an objective researcher, to make sure that the study was conducted in a valid and reliable, as well as an exhaustive, manner,” he said. “The document demonstrates that Milwaukee Cristo Rey High School is viable and sustainable.”

Henk said the research revealed something more – something he termed “testimony to our social justice effort.”

“Most importantly, the study foreshadows that some 400-500 deserving students and their families, whose options are economically limited, will instead benefit from a high quality, Catholic, Jesuit college preparatory high school immersion that includes corporate work experience and sensitivities so many of our business and industry leaders covet in their workforces,” he said.

Henk introduced Andrew Stith, a Marquette University graduate who directed the feasibility study, as the school’s first president. Prior to leading the study, Stith served as founding vice president for advancement of Cristo Rey Kansas City, Kan., since 2005.