By DEACON BILL GARRETT, Special to the Bulletin | Published August 7, 2014
“When we are dreaming alone it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality.” Archbishop Hélder Câmara.
When Jesus came to dwell among us, he conducted his ministry with a group of followers. As God incarnate, he could have just as easily healed the sick, fed the hungry or clothed the naked by himself. Why did he choose to work with others in ministry and not work alone? Perhaps because he knew that in working together and in community with others, we are all made stronger.
A new Catholic school, Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School—significantly different from our other Catholic schools—has opened in Atlanta. Only low-income students can apply for admissions. Each student will work five full days a month in a corporate setting with a corporate work study partner to offset a portion of the cost of their education. And one of the most important features of Cristo Rey is the role of the community: the dedication, support and ownership of many people in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Cristo Rey is a gift for the educational needs of our youth here in Atlanta. The idea started with Archbishop Wilton Gregory and his focused desire from the first day he arrived in Atlanta to open a Cristo Rey school here in the city. Archbishop Gregory not only talked about his vision of the school, he also put resources behind this effort with a gift of $1.5 million and rent-free use of the former archdiocesan administration office building in the heart of midtown. The education commission and the archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, Diane Starkovich, thoroughly endorse and support the Cristo Rey concept, which has now become a reality in our city.
During the past year, as our faculty and staff have worked to establish the new school, we have been blessed with the generous support of many in the local community. More than 25,000 hours of volunteer time was dedicated to Cristo Rey, from the people who worked in our offices helping to recruit students, jobs and faculty, to the hundreds of high school students from Our Lady of Mercy, St. Pius X, and Blessed Trinity who moved furniture up the fire escape stairs for several days, to teachers and administrators from area schools who participated in our student interview process, to the 60 volunteers from Deloitte who spent a full day helping our faculty prepare their classrooms, and to the more than 150 men and women who volunteered to serve as one-on-one mentors to each of our students.
Cristo Rey is a broad and ecumenical community undertaking. We have been blessed with support of 26 parishes, most in the metropolitan Atlanta area, that invited us to visit and give homilies about Cristo Rey Atlanta to assist in recruiting jobs and students. Cascade United Methodist Church and The Temple also provided access to their members.
Catholic parishioners who listened to our message contributed in a myriad of ways. Carlisle Kellam heard us speak at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and volunteered to produce a video inviting Pope Francis to come to the city to dedicate our school. Jeffrey Burke from St. Catherine of Siena arranged with his company, Meru Networks, to provide wireless coverage in the school at no cost. And dozens of parishioners from companies like Cola-Cola, UPS, Delta, Invesco, Georgia Tech, Ernst & Young, SunTrust, Bank of America, Southern Company, Emory Healthcare, Piedmont Healthcare, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Northside Hospital believed in our mission and helped us secure their company’s participation in the corporate work study effort.
All Saints Church in Dunwoody contributed generously, being the largest provider of volunteers, to outfitting our chapel. The All Saints Knights of Columbus Council 11402 provided lunch for hundreds of volunteers over five workdays. And All Saints Episcopal Church, our neighbors on West Peachtree, stepped in with books and the use of their kitchen facility and youth space.
We are the grateful recipients of various in-kind support, including four school buses from Woodward Academy; lockers and human resources and accounting support from Marist School; more classroom furniture than we can use from Pace Academy; use of the athletic field at The Howard School; office furniture from Carter’s and chairs from Christ the King Cathedral; meals for our board meetings, open houses and interview days from numerous donors and church groups, especially the work of the Knights of Columbus Council 660 who served 500 students, families and mentors at our opening event; and the use of the Mercy Care clinic and the services of 10 volunteer physicians who offered free physicals to our students.
We have been blessed with donations from hundreds from the archdiocese, the Society of Jesus’ Maryland, New York and New England provinces, numerous foundations and individual donors. Some helped us through the GRACE Scholars program, and others offered to subsidize school uniforms or pay for daily student breakfasts or lunches. And others helped underwrite our athletic and arts programs.
All of this generosity has been awesome and yet humbling.
Our school will be the 28th in the nation operating under the Cristo Rey model. We will be the 60th Jesuit school in the nation. We are thrilled to have such a meaningful increase of the Jesuit presence in the archdiocese and in Atlanta.
For the past 200 plus years, Catholic education, particularly for immigrants, low-income families and the marginalized of our communities, has been a point of great accomplishment for people of our Church in this great nation.
Cristo Rey uses a successful, proven educational and financial model that allows the Catholic Church to continue the ministry to our Atlanta community. We take the journey not alone but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the active engagement and participation of so very many.
We are Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, the school that works in the heart of Atlanta.
Ad majorem Dei Gloriam
Deacon Bill Garrett is the founding president of Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School and a deacon in the Archdiocese of Atlanta at All Saints Church, Dunwoody. He and his wife Susan have two grown children.