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Catholic Schools Week 2015 - For Our Students

Each day during Catholic Schools Week, we will post a reflection on a particular theme. Today's theme is "For Our Students".

"That’s it!” Steve flung his book on his desk in anger. “I’ve had you for three years, and you never give me a straight answer. Every time I ask you a question, you just answer with another question. Just answer me!”

Murmurs of agreement fluttered through the classroom. Heads nodded in grave assent: It was true. He never answered your questions.

“Wow, Steve. Thanks for saying something. Why do you think I do that?”

***

As a part of the corporate work-study program at Cristo Rey Jesuit, students spend one day a week working in Houston businesses. After prayer each morning, a number of students pass back out the front doors, tread across the school crest - the word "Magis" above a Christogram - and climb onto buses to go to work.

Four years ago, Andres had never been in an elevator before. Now, he steps off the downtown bus once a week, straightens his tie, and transcends realms. At the top of one of the highest buildings in Houston, this young man from the barrio looks out the window toward the sunrise and continues to his desk. He has work to do.

***

Late on a Friday night, the entire senior class sat together in the chapel. The pews buzzed with the electricity of raw emotion and the late hour. But when he stood up, the entire church went silent.

With 75 pairs of eyes tracing his uncertain steps, he stumbled toward the lectern. Everyone had been pouring their hearts out tonight, but what could he have to say? He almost never spoke in class, never said hello in the hallway. He climbed up into the sanctuary and into unfamiliar territory: He was the center of attention.

Somewhere in the darkness, someone clapped. And they began chanting his name.

A boy who'd hardly uttered a word to most of his classmates now stood in front of a chanting crowd. And he spoke.

"Thank you,” he said, “I know you’re all probably scared of me, but I love you.”

He told his classmates that even though they might not realize it, they were his friends. They were his family. "You said hi to me every day. I never felt like I belonged anywhere before here."

He leaned on the lectern, still anxious, and told them that he looked forward to walking through the school doors every day because he knew he would be safe. “No one really knew how important it was that the school was there for me,” he said, “even if I didn’t act like it.”

"If you say good morning to me next week, I still might growl at you," he finished, "but at least you'll know how much it means to me."

The chapel swelled with cheers and laughter, and he stepped back down, awkwardly enduring the barrage of hugs from his friends.

***

For three and a half years, I taught at Cristo Rey Jesuit in Houston, Texas. Most of the students in this low-income Catholic school are zoned to one of the three nearby public schools. In 2007, a Johns Hopkins study labeled all three of these large, overcrowded schools as "dropout factories," where more than 40% of the student body drops out each year.

At Cristo Rey Jesuit, the standard is about more than staying in school. It is a safe place, where students face more than homework, grades, and lectures. In this Catholic school, students encounter mystery, dignity, and love. They are invited to be more – to strive for the magis – and to reach for something higher than they ever thought possible.

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This reflection was originally written on January 29, 2013 by Andrew Hoyt. You can view the original post here.