Chicago Jesuit Academy, where I was blessed to work for four years, is a place of hope. Although it is surrounded by violence and poverty, and although the students are choosing to use their already-tough middle school years to do something incredibly daunting, the attitude of these young men and their teachers, families, and benefactors is consistent: work hard, love well, pray often and there are great things waiting on the horizon.
It is shocking to no one that eleven and thirteen-year-old boys do not usually discuss the benefits of learning, loving and praying. CJA provides the West Side of Chicago a sanctuary where these activities can be praised by adults and other students alike—where sixth-grade readers can play “Vampire Tag” at recess, where young musicians can showcase their talents at the Black History Month Celebration, where aspiring mathematicians can recite up to the hundredth digit of Pi on March 14th, where zealous poets can display their work on the walls, and where young men of faith can share their stories out loud in weekly chapel.
However, CJA only works because it is part of a larger network of Catholic schools that are similarly dedicated to this community. I would argue that providing this middle school experience may actually be a detriment to these boys if it were not followed by a high school with similar priorities. Our young men are blessed to be offered serious options such as Loyola Academy, Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School and St. Ignatius College Preparatory School if they succeed in learning well and acting with integrity through the eighth grade. The young men of this community—many of whom are not Catholic—are greatly benefited by the larger network of Catholic Schools.
But, I believe that the greatest resource to the community is yet to come—these young men as adults. Because we are Catholic schools, we can emphasize joy through service to others alongside joy through success and learning. This value is apparent early in our graduates—even at their eighth grade graduations Donzell discussed becoming an environmentalist to discover viable, affordable transportation for all communities; Charles recognized the gifts of listening and empathy in himself and dreamed of becoming a psychologist; and Jaquan and Jerrod were determined to return to their very classrooms as teachers of future young men in this same community.
The students and graduates of Chicago Jesuit Academy are young men full of energy, joy and promise. They are the greatest assets to their communities and to the future of excellent and rounded education at Catholic schools. I believe that they will encounter ever-growing numbers of men and women with similar backgrounds of Catholic education and discover that their service to their community is part of a larger movement.
Also, I miss them terribly.