Dr. King would have been proud. The 160 students and their families beamed with pride, and rightly so. We, mere witnesses to this amazing feat, couldn’t help but praise proudly and respond loudly, delighted as we were to be celebrating the opening of the first brand-new school on the West Side of Chicago in nearly a century.
There were many reasons for all of us to sing, dance, drum and shout out on Monday, Jan. 18, as Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory High School celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the completion of their state-of-the-art school building. If you haven’t yet seen the amazing architectural achievement, gleaming like a garden of flowers in what was formerly a weedy parking lot at Jackson and Leamington, please treat yourself. As one of the first students welcomed us, “This is not a day to suppress the spirit, let it flow!” And so we did, for nearly three glorious hours. Not an easy task for my two small children on their day off; yet afterwards, they admitted to loving every minute and insisted on a full three-story tour investigating every nook and cranny.
More than 30 Jesuits and fellow concelebrants reminded us of our place in history this day, 450 years after the first Jesuit school opened in Italy. Rev. Chris Devron, the school’s president and celebrant extraordinaire on this day, introduced us to the students, confidently and proudly presenting them to us as our future doctors, artists, politicians, musicians and fathers – no small hope.
Why a new school? Because you wouldn’t pour new wine into old wineskins. This respectful vision has now become reality by a group of insightful Jesuits and ambitious lay-people partnering in our own backyard. A community which, among other monumental tasks, has only half the needed spots for high school-age students to matriculate at a time of 50 percent dropout rates. Why a new school here? Because it’s necessary, right now.
This multigenerational, multiracial and even interfaith mixing of community members was dynamically transformational. Not to be missed was Christ the King’s intimate chapel. Though it created the feeling of being placed in the middle of a crystal bowl carved from a glass block, it was simply too small for this gargantuan gathering. The soaring spirit of this moment required, instead, every corner and rafter of the immense gym space, still smelling of new paint.
That Monday morning, in the name of Dr. King, we were entertained and inspired. We were also challenged to soar even higher by students dancing in flowing white gowns to hope realized. Spiritual leaders ritualistically wafting incense and splashing us with a blessing of water. And musicians drumming celebratory vibrations leading us to spontaneous clapping, not to mention a feast-filled tour of perfectly-planned classrooms. It was truly a sensational experience. Don’t miss out joining in on this celebration of a garden growing in our wintry, formerly-weedy, backyard.
Susan Lucci is a River Forest resident and former lawyer who volunteers at Christ the King.