Posted by https://www.americamagazine.org
on 23 March 2020
It is 8 a.m. on a cloudy November morning, and a group of sleepy-eyed high school students in Oakland, Calif., is getting a pep talk. Located in a stucco building showing some signs of age, on a leafy side street and tucked behind an imposingly large church, their school might be just one of many urban high schools in struggling cities, full of kids still trying to wake up. But these 14- and 15-year-olds are not being lectured to about homework or study skills; instead, a young business coach in a suit and tie is reminding them not to use their phones in the office. Outside, vans are arriving to take the students from Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School to their work-study jobs, all located in the offices of local corporations and colleges.
Like all the other 37 Cristo Rey schools in the United States, Cristo Rey De la Salle in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood is focused on educating low-income students. Many students who attend Cristo Rey schools come from underperforming and underfunded schools and arrive in high school academically disadvantaged as a result. One day a week, each student works in a corporate office in a job-sharing program that offsets 50 percent of their tuition costs and helps them gain job skills on top of their accelerated academic work.
But as one of the newest Cristo Rey schools, Cristo Rey De la Salle is growing from the ashes of a school closed by the Diocese of Oakland just three years ago. It is growing with the help of groups of low-income students of color who face multiple challenges every day, and it is growing with the guiding charism of the La Salle Christian Brothers, a religious order exclusively committed to education, along with their Lasallian lay colleagues. And it is growing in a city where the relationships between faith, education and business are often uneasy.
Since the founding of the first Cristo Rey school by John Foley, S.J., in Chicago in 1996, Cristo Rey schools have become a national network with multiple religious orders as sponsors. The Brothers of the Christian Schools, also known as the De La Salle Brothers or Lasallians after their founder, St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, were already sponsoring two Cristo Rey schools in Tucson, Ariz., and Portland, Ore., and thus were natural partners for Oakland's first Cristo Rey school. The charism of the brothers is to serve the poor through education; and since they run several area high schools and St. Mary's College, they are embedded in the fabric of Catholic families throughout the Bay Area. (Full disclosure: I am a second-generation alum of St. Mary's College, which my father and sister also attended, and my brother attended St. Mary's High School; so the Christian Brothers have educated a large portion of my family).
Chris Trinidad, the vice president of Cristo Rey De La Salle, who has a background in liturgy and liturgical music as well as education and studied at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, came to the school from a position at St. Mary's High School in Berkeley, so he was already familiar with the Lasallian charism. Mr. Trinidad also completed a three-year course at the Buttimer Institute for Lasallian Studies at St. Mary's College. In the hallways at Cristo Rey De la Salle, the five core Lasallian principles are displayed on large posters: concern for the poor and social justice, faith in the presence of God, quality education, respect for all persons and inclusive community.
Mr. Trinidad says that while the Jesuit charism and the Lasallian charism are similar, the Christan Brothers bring an added dimension to their ministry to students. Lasallians, according to Mr. Trinidad, "believe that before we can teach the mind we have to touch the heart." Mr. Trinidad adds that "guiding students, honoring and 'seeing' Jesus in the students entrusted to our care is at the heart of what it means to be Lasallian."