This article is reprinted from the winter 2009 issue of HOPE.
Let’s take a quiz. What do these things have in common?
• An affordable and flexible Catholic college prep school
• A teenager who emigrated from Nigeria and settled in Baltimore
• Two married Providence Associates
• Sisters of Providence teachers
• And many Indianapolis companies and individuals?
The thread that ties these pieces together is Providence Cristo Rey High School (PCRHS) in Indianapolis.
Founded in 2007 as a sponsored institution of the Sisters of Providence, PCRHS is a shining example of how Providence is woven into the fabric of life. The school offers students who otherwise could not afford a private education the opportunity to have a high-quality, Catholic education and to pay for more than 70 percent of their tuition through corporate work-study experience. So, from freshman year, while they learn the fundamentals to make them successful in college, they also learn critical job skills to make them successful later in life.
The school manages these opportunities through partnerships with community businesses, which offer paid work experiences. The school, meanwhile, ensures that the students are “office-ready” from the first day of work — with phone skills, appropriate attire and professional manners.
According to Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp, president, just getting the doors open last year was an achievement of community effort.
“This school would not be open today if it had not been for all of the individuals who came forward to help,” she said. “These were people who may never have direct contact with the students. They are people who know they wanted to be connected in some way, so they do that by volunteering their time or their gifts.”
Jude Okpalannaka, a junior at PCRHS, has had his life touched in many directions by Providence. Born in Nigeria, Jude settled with his family — mom, dad and two brothers (a little sister arrived later in the United States) — in Baltimore and became citizens. Connections between family and friends led his parents to information about PCRHS last year and he came to Indianapolis to live with a host family, Richard and Angie Sontag. This year, he lives with Gary Meister and Mary Weber, a married couple who are Providence Associates.
Jude is an exceptionally polite young man who is bursting with ambition, but, as he tells it, this wasn’t always the case. “[The teachers at PCRHS] made me think about what I really wanted to become,” he said, adding that when he arrived, he was a poor student and with probably not the best attitude. “A year later, I am making all A’s, one B and a D that I am still working on. I went from a 2.5 G.P.A. last year to a 3.4-3.5 G.P.A. this year.”
While Jude works for Doyle Legal Corporation, other students serve in a variety of professional businesses, including Eli Lilly & Company, a global pharmaceutical company and one of the largest employers in Indiana. In January 2007, John Lechleiter, president and chief executive officer of Eli Lilly said, “I can honestly say that I have not talked to a single business owner or corporate executive who isn’t willing to consider sponsored employment of Cristo Rey students. I think this reflects a desire on the part of the business community to do something constructive to improve the standard of education for the youth of our community.”
Jude is living out the benefits of these providential connections, from the Sisters of Providence who teach him, to the business connections the school has made in the community, to his host family.
At PCRHS he said he, “learns to respect others. You learn the importance of togetherness. The school is like another family outside of your family. It makes you feel like you belong somewhere. It makes you feel like whatever you set your mind to, you can accomplish it.”
Now this young man has big dreams that he feels are within his reach. “I want to be an anesthesiologist,” he said. “And I feel that now I have people who will help me get there. That is not something I could have said a few years ago. … [PCRHS] makes the next generation better than the last. It prepares the next generation better than the prior. It is improving our world one step at a time.”