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Nearing the realization of a dream

This article is reprinted from summer 2006 issue of HOPE.

A project that once seemed like a dream and posed an incredible challenge is heading toward reality.

Providence Cristo Rey High School, sponsored by the Sisters of Providence, will open in Indianapolis in July. The new school will focus on serving primarily inner-city students who would not otherwise be able to afford tuition for a Catholic-based education.

Providence Cristo Rey will follow a concept established through a national network of Cristo Rey schools. Students will attend classes four extended days each week and spend one day working for a sponsoring employer.

Sponsors agree to hire a team of four students who will share the work experience. They also agree to pay $25,000 annually to the school to cover a portion of each student’s tuition.

“It’s been an incredible challenge from a variety of standpoints,” said Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp, the school’s president. “It takes a tremendous amount of faith in Providence; in fact, I have never leaned so heavily on Providence.”

Sister Jeanne said recruitment of potential students has been the first major hurdle. Catholic schools in the Indianapolis area have welcomed the concept and have allowed Sister Jeanne and Sister Stacy Pierce, admissions director, to make presentations to prospective students and families. Many parishes have been welcoming as well. However, public schools have not been welcoming because they don’t want their students recruited away.

Sister Jeanne’s concern is that a significant number of students will not hear about this truly impressive educational model, in which 100 percent of students nationwide are accepted for higher education by colleges, and 98 percent actually go to college. These students normally come from areas where 75 percent of the students are high school dropouts.

“We’re looking for all venues possible to get in front of students and parents to let them know about the opportunity that opens doors for a lifetime,” Sister Jeanne noted.

She met recently with four students who graduated from the Cristo Rey school in Chicago. Two of the four worked in law firms during high school. They have now graduated from college and are employed by those same law firms.

Finding corporate sponsors has not been an issue. She said there is a waiting list to sponsor students for the second year.

“The business community has been so supportive. We have law firms, accounting firms, architectural companies, construction engineering companies, hospitals, banks, colleges, universities and investment firms who want to help,” Sister Jeanne said.

One challenge that remains is fundraising, which is off to a slow start, somewhat by choice. She said donor solicitation in Catholic circles has been minimal until now out of respect for a capital campaign launched in the fall by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. However, as she begins doing more aggressive solicitation, she’s finding that people truly see their contributions as their way of helping to transform these students’ lives forever.

The curriculum will follow a traditional college-prep schedule and will include Catholic religious studies as well. Students also will be taught skills used in the workplace, such as a good handshake, looking people in the eye, conflict resolution and team building.

“We’re looking for students who are motivated and who have enough skills that they are employable at a young age. We’re not necessarily looking for the cream of the crop. We’re looking for students who are willing to work hard to get themselves up to speed. If they are willing to work, they will succeed,” Sister Jeanne said.

She is excited about the potential for this ministry.

“There has not been a morning that I have wanted to do anything other than keep moving forward. Student recruitment and fundraising have posed incredible challenges, but the struggles are inconsequential when one considers the end result. Meeting potential business partners and inviting them to join with us in this remarkable endeavor has been such a blessing. Likewise, talking with potential students and their families has been a gift. Certainly, building a school such as this ‘from scratch’ and with few resources involves long hours of hard work, but it is all worth it, knowing that we may well be changing the lives of our students forever!”

To make an in-kind gift or a financial contribution, please call 317-341-5331.

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Dave Cox

Dave Cox was media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence for many years. Prior to his work with the sisters, he spent over 30 years in newspaper newsrooms.

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