Cristo Rey’s founders were convinced they’d have hundreds of students flood into the school as soon as they opened the doors. They were wrong. Just three weeks before classes began, the entire founding faculty spent a weekend trolling a local street fair for high school aged students who might be interested in joining the few dozen kids who had already registered at Cristo Rey.
One of those first students was Leo Maldonado. Leo’s transformation from a self-described “street kid” who didn’t care at all about school to a very capable student is precisely why the Jesuits wanted to open the school.
Leo isn’t shy about saying that Cristo Rey, and two of his teachers in particular, changed his life. When Leo refused to read a book she’d assigned, Sr. Frances Thibodeau, O.P., required him to come during lunch to listen to the book on tape. At the end of the fifth or sixth day, she remembers Leo asking her to let the tape keep playing. That’s when she knew he was falling in love with stories… and maybe with learning.
Leo’s grades steadily improved to the point where, during his senior year, Fr. Steve Planning, S.J., asked him where he was going to college. Leo said he wasn’t going to college. When Fr. Planning pressed, Leo said, “Man, what am I going to do in college?”
Leo’s question was sincere. He couldn’t see himself in college and didn’t know what he’d do there. But that’s not the end of his story. There’s more in tomorrow’s post.