Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Photo Courtesy of Cristo Rey
Deacon Sami Jajeh, right, led his students in a pumpkin art project tied to the teaching of the seamless garment of life. He is the Teacher of the Year at Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School.


‘Deacon J’ named Cristo Rey’s Teacher of the Year

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 14, 2024

ATLANTA—Walking into Deacon Sami Jajeh’s theology classroom is entering a living museum of colorful and expressive art and heartfelt signs of faith from the four corners of the world.  

From the walls to the ceilings, different representations of faith and culture come together. It purposely mirrors the diversity of the student body at the independent Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School. He is the downtown Atlanta school’s Teacher of the Year. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe images are dear to the large number of his sophomore students with Mexican heritage The intricate cross from Eritrea speaks to people from East Africa. Painted by students on the ceiling tiles overhead are depictions of the six days of Creation.  

At Cristo Rey, Deacon Jajeh is in his sixth year of teaching theology. He switched career tracks after some 20 years in communications in the tech industry. He started to think about a second career after his ordination to the diaconate at St. John Chrysostom Melkite Catholic Church in 2012, considering a position that could also serve as a ministry. 

Being in a classroom of teenagers is demanding, but the outcome is being in the “changing lives business,” he said  

Deacon Jajeh, 60, serves also at the Melkite church in Atlanta, one of the Eastern Catholic churches in the archdiocese. He is married and has two grown children. At the school, he assists as a deacon in school liturgies. He’s earned the affectionate nickname “Deacon J” from students, 

Teaching theology to 10th graders, Deacon Jajeh works to connect faith and theology to issues ripped from the headlines. Students have debated the pro and cons of “building the wall” to limit immigration at America’s border with Mexico and whether it was in line with Catholic teaching. After the 2020 summer of protests against police brutality, his students discussed the church’s role in fighting for racial equality, as well as racial healing.  

To aspiring teachers, Deacon Jajeh said the profession allows him to see evidence of his impact on students’ lives and growth years after they graduate.  

For him, the value was evident when a former student stopped by and shared how she enjoyed his theology class so much and plans to minor in theology in college. Other students come back to tell the deacon how his class helped them become better writers, presenters and to be more organized.