Cristo Rey St. Martin is 15 years old – she is our Quinceañera

Cristo Rey St. Martin is 15 years old!  She is our QuinceañeraLa Fiesta de Quince Años is a tradition in many Latinx cultures.  It celebrates a young woman’s entrance into adulthood.

Last Saturday at our annual Founders’ Dinner, we celebrated Cristo Rey St. Martin’s first 15 years.  I like to think that our school looks fantastic every single day, but that night was something extraordinary!  Just like a Quinceañera puts on her fanciest dress, our school was decked out for her special night, too!  While she looked all grown up, CRSM is really still quite young.  Nonetheless, our little school can no longer be called a “start-up.”  She is moving into a whole new stage of development – we have been around long enough to start showing measureable results while looking toward an even brighter future for more and more students.

Speaking on behalf of the faculty and staff, it is hard not to feel a little parental about CRSM.   The school she is today is the result of years of constant attention, careful nurturing, many sleepless nights, and the daily hard work of creating a rigorous but supportive learning environment.   Still, we were never alone in getting to where we are today.  Many of you reading this have been part of the journey.  Donors, board members, Work Study Job Partners, volunteers, alumni… you are the family and friends who have shaped our early life as a school.  Our 15-year celebration is as much a celebration of YOU as it is of CRSM.

Often at a Quinceañera’s fiesta, her Padrinos or Godparents are recognized for their significant role in guiding and supporting her throughout her childhood alongside her parents.   There are really only two people who could ever be called Cristo Rey St. Martin’s true Padrino and Madrina: Chris & Kathy Perry.

Seven and a half years ago when I came to Waukegan, Chris Perry was the first person I called.  We had worked together at the original Cristo Rey in Chicago where Chris was one of the earliest board members and was that school’s third chair of the board.   Over coffee, I told Chris that the school was floundering and the only way Cristo Rey St. Martin was going to survive was to get new board members. I asked if he could help me find some strong, effective, and experienced candidates.  With deadpan, self-deprecating humor that is classically Chris, he said, “Preston, I noticed as you described the kind of candidates you wanted that you didn’t ask me if I would join the board.”  I nearly choked on my coffee.  I never really thought Chris would even consider it.  I said, “Oh my gosh, Chris, would you? Would you really?”

That moment changed everything for Cristo Rey St. Martin.  In that second, the school’s future went from being a question mark to an exclamation point!  Within a year, Chris was our Chairperson and these last seven years have been nothing short of remarkable.

When Chris gets involved, it also means Kathy does too! They are a “dream team.”  I remember Kathy and her sister, Julie sitting upstairs in the cramped rectory of our old campus in the meeting room with the bullet hole in the wall putting together goody bags for our Senior Send-Off ceremony.  How far we have come!

Here are some statistics from 2011-2012, the year Chris & Kathy first became involved, compared to now:

  • 242 students enrolled then, 405 enrolled today
  • 68% of the 242 students were working in paying jobs then, 89% of 405 are in paying jobs today
  • Over $1Million in debt then, Debt-Free today
  • 68% of graduates accepted to Bachelors programs then, 97% accepted today

There are only 3 high schools here in our community: Waukegan High School, North Chicago High School, and Cristo Rey St. Martin.  Cristo Rey represents just 1/13 of the total high school enrollment for the area and yet, 57% of all the new Bachelors Degree being earned in North Chicago and Waukegan belong to CRSM alumni!

The real story of Cristo Rey St. Martin is only just beginning.  She is only just realizing her true potential.  While our students are on an incredible educational trajectory that will take them far and (we hope) permanently change the economics of this community for the better, there is still much more work to be done and many more students to serve.  We need a gym where our students can engage in physical competition, where they can develop healthy lifestyles.  We need fine arts spaces where our students can have opportunities to expand their talents and more fully express themselves. We need a chapel where they can deepen their spiritual understanding and strengthen their awareness of God’s active presence in our world.

But let’s face it.  We can only talk about an exciting new future of possibilities because Chris and Kathy Perry have led us to today.  We would not be celebrating or looking toward such a bright future without them.

Thank you, Kathy and Chris, for your selfless leadership, unparalleled generosity, and unwavering love for our students and mission!