During his three years at Cristo Rey, Leo Maldonado had started to care more about school, but he still didn’t plan to go to college. Despite Leo’s insistence that he wasn’t cut out for college, Fr. Planning convinced him to visit a local school. Leo seemed surprised by the visit. It was “cooler” than he thought he would be, but he still wasn’t going to apply.
Planning continued to press Leo, constantly reminding him that even if he was accepted, he didn’t have to go to college. He finally applied. And was accepted. And enrolled. And if you’re interested in more of his story, you can find it in More Than a Dream.
The Jesuits are often credited with taking a huge risk on Cristo Rey. And they deserve the credit. They took a chance on a completely untested educational model and made it work, despite a chorus of doubters telling them it never would. The celebration of the great work of Cristo Rey’s founders sometimes glosses over the fact that Cristo Rey’s students also took major risks and are just as responsible for the school’s success.
Leo Maldonado enrolled in a school with no track record, no cafeteria, and toilets made for third graders. Though he’d never had a real job or been in a downtown office building, he agreed to go work at Katten Muchin Rosenman, LLP, a Chicago law firm, to help pay his own tuition as part of the school’s innovative Corporate Internship Program. He took a huge risk on college, when every fiber of his being told him he didn’t belong and shouldn’t go.
The risks paid off. Today Leo tutors students at the college he attended and runs his own business. This fall over 6,000 students will attend Cristo Rey model schools. 96% of the students who graduated from Cristo Rey schools last year will be starting college.
There’s a great lesson in both Leo’s life and in the Cristo Rey story. Change, whether in our own lives or in our communities, doesn’t come easily. We must work for it and often must risk something for it. But it is possible. The Cristo Rey story is inspiring proof of that.
This is not an image of Leo, but of the cover of the Cristo Rey Network’s annual report.