More than 150 people gathered under a makeshift canopy in an open lot at 5058 W. Jackson, the site of the new Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School, which officially broke ground last Thursday.
Christ the King, a Jesuit school run by the Cristo Rey national network of schools, is the first Catholic School to be built on the West Side in more than 80 years. The facility is estimated to cost $27 million.
Several Christ the King freshmen, local elected officials and religious leaders attended the morning groundbreaking. The Christ the King student gospel choir also performed throughout.
Mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife, Margaret “Maggie” Daley, joined Cardinal Francis George, State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) and Ald. Ed Smith (28th) for the ceremony.
The mayor spoke briefly about attending Catholic high school himself, and how he’s tried to improve education for the city’s youth.
“One of the most difficult challenges I have had as mayor is taking responsibility for education, especially since we have seen that with a good education children have a much better chance of success in life,” said Daley. “This is the first of many institutions we want to support that will provide our children with the best possible chance at being successful.”
Cardinal George spoke and performed a blessing at the site. After taking part in the ceremonial ‘first shovel sod toss,’ the cardinal praised those who made the school’s opening possible.
“As a man who attended Catholic school on the West Side, I am very happy to see the new school built here,” he said. “One of the great elements of this project is the fact that it is not a work of justice, which can be divisive and have winners and losers, but a work of love, which unifies.”
While the school is being built, the 120 freshmen will take classes this upcoming school year temporarily at The Circle Rock campus, 116 N. Le Claire. Classes began on June 23.
Father Chris Devron, who kicked-off the groundbreaking ceremony, serves as the school’s president. Along with Principal Brendan Conroy, he’ll oversee a staff this year of five instructors.
The Cristo Rey network has 22 schools across the country, including Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Pilsen. Tuition at the schools is covered through students’ earnings at paid internships at area businesses and institutions. ABC Bank, Collins Engineering and Rush Oak Park Hospital will host students from the Austin school.
“I think that [Christ the King] will have me more prepared for college and the workforce when I graduate than another school would,” said 14-year-old Jhalil Gafeney, who graduated from KIPP Ascend Charter School. “On [June 23] we met with our instructors to begin to prepare to work in an office setting. My goal is to be an architectural engineer and the experience I obtain through this school would help me reach that goal.”
Chantelle Pickett, a 14-year-old graduate of Herbert Spencer Public School in Austin, said she would have had to go outside the city to attend this kind of employment training-based school.
“I think this school will give me a great head start. In all likelihood I would have had to go out of the city to attend a school that provided me with job training and a solid education,” she said. “I’m focused on my goal of succeeding in business. I consider myself very lucky to have this opportunity.”
Cardinal George expressed optimism about the possibility of more Catholic schools opening on the West Side.
“Finances are always the overriding factor. If other schools can get backing then it would be great to see more,” he said.