Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee High School: Educational Dreams CAN Become Realities

CRJM LOGOBy Bill Henk —  For the record, this past Wednesday clearly marked THE single most gratifying day in my 40 years as a professional educator.  After an extraordinary journey spanning over two years, I had the rare opportunity to be part of educational history in the making.

Put differently, one vital chapter of  this history closed and another incredibly exciting one opened.  A very happy ending gave way to what figures to be innumerable and profound happy endings.  On this truly momentous day, old dreams gladly yielded to new ones.  Young lives would be changed.  THEIR dreams would be the next chapter.

And it carried great meaning for me, because there was a distinct possibility that this day would never come.

I’m referring here to the public announcement on April 23, 2014, that a Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee High School would open its doors to students in the fall of 2015.  This reality represented a dream that a number of remarkable, passionate champions for such a school have shared as colleagues at nearly the deepest levels of camaraderie and commitment imaginable.  An incalculable amount of time, energy, and effort had been expended on behalf of this noble cause, and literally through the grace of God, all the many barriers to this dream and its realization could be laid to rest officially once and for all.

As a result of this collaborative effort, some 400 to 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 the corporate work experience and sensitivities so many of our business and industry leaders covet in their workforces.

For the record, Cristo Rey graduates complete college degrees at twice the national rate for this population. And we know that the life trajectories of these college graduates and their families are likely to change forever. For an educator, it just doesn’t get much better than that.

There are so many individuals and organizations to thank specifically for their contributions — that I’m astute enough not to try!  As categories go, there were executive committee and task force members, individual donors and philanthropic foundations, religious orders, corporate executives, community and Archdiocesan leaders, sponsoring businesses, Cristo Rey graduates, and on and on.  Subtract any one of them from the process, and the effort would have been put at risk.  They were THAT important.   And by the way, they know exactly who they are, and don’t need or seek public credit.  The end result is plenty good enough for them.  That’s because this work was THAT fulfilling.

From Marquette’s standpoint, we are proud that, through our College of Education, we represent the first institution of higher education (IHE) in the country to sponsor a Cristo Rey feasibility study.   Along the way we  helped, with our community partners, secure a beautiful facility at St. Florian’s parish, identify ample paid work placements to support the entire first freshman class, qualify the school legislatively to participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, and raise over $5,000,000 in feasibility study and start-up funding.

It was rewarding for me as a dean to witness academic and administrative leaders from across Marquette University step up to assist in the feasibility study.  To be honest, I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my decade of service here, and it was a profound testimony to the way we approach our social justice mission. Rather than looking at the prospect of the Cristo Rey school effort failing as a risk to our institutional reputation, my colleagues and I believed that, given Milwaukee’s struggling educational landscape, the real failure would be in not trying.

My expectation now is that Marquette will continue its involvement with the school as a willing partner in Catholic and Jesuit education through its launch and growth.

And I guarantee that will be true of the College of Education. This is our work.  More importantly, this is God’s work.




3 Responses to “Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee High School: Educational Dreams CAN Become Realities”

  1. 1 Alfonzo Thurman, Director April 25, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Hi Bill, this is truly worth shouting about. Congratulations! I am so pleased for you and more so for the children and families of Milwaukee who stand to benefit from this truly outstanding initiative.


    • 2 billhenk April 26, 2014 at 4:59 am

      It’s very kind of you to acknowledge the success of our Cristo Rey high school efforts, Alfonzo. Praise from a distinguished educator like you on this initiative is humbling. Our kids and their families deserve the kind of education this school can provide, and it’s been an honor to fight on their behalf.


  2. 3 Donna Fisher April 27, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Bill, Congratulations to you and all involved for seeing the fulfillment of
    your dreams to provide a quality education for so many young people
    who would otherwise not have access to such an opportunity.

    I am really proud of you!!


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