Tag Archives: cristo rey

Refuge and reprieve for the distressed

Driving into Houston a few days after Hurricane Harvey swept through eastern Texas in late August, J. Antonio Fernandez saw huge piles of sheetrock, carpets, clothes and other debris stacked along the streets in America’s fourth-largest city.

“People had nothing inside their houses,” said Fernandez, a member of Legatus’ San Antonio Chapter who serves as the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

Many with nothing left

Fernandez is one of dozens of Legates who volunteered time, talents and resources to help the people in Texas and South Florida whose homes and property were badly damaged or destroyed from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which combined caused hundreds of billions of dollars in estimated damages.

Legates collected, packaged, shipped and delivered in-kind donations and relief items that included clothes, food, first-aid kits, cleaning supplies and care packages. Legatus members and their fellow volunteers also helped to provide temporary shelters during the storms, coordinated relief efforts between their companies and public agencies, and have donated money to help people pay for the costs of cleaning and repairing their homes.

Networking organizations for unified effort

“Legatus provided leadership in connecting organizations that might not otherwise have been in contact with one another throughout this,” said Anthony DeToto, a member of Legatus’ Houston Chapter.

DeToto said seven Legatus Houston members are involved with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. They helped to provide bottled water, non-perishable foods, canned goods, sweaters, blankets and jackets. Many houses of worship in the Houston area, including Catholic parishes, opened their doors to serve as temporary shelters.

“A number of the Legates are helping at their local parishes and hosting meals for those who have gone through Harvey,” DeToto said. “And not just Thanksgiving meals, but regular meals on a Tuesday night where they’ll bring in 15 families at a time, then match them up with parishioners who ask them what else they need.

In addition, a local Catholic foundation in Houston that wants to remain anonymous is donating $25,000 to help parishes cover the deductibles on their insurance policies. “People are doing their part to chip in in various ways with their time and treasure,” DeToto added.

Ave Maria provides shelter

In South Florida, Jim Towey, the president of Ave Maria University and a member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter, directed the university’s field house to serve as a temporary shelter when Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm at the time, swept through the region on the weekend of Sept. 10. Hundreds of people were also sheltered in the university’s dormitories and ballroom.

“We ended up sheltering a total of 1,200 people on our campus the day that Hurricane Irma came through,” said Towey, who added that the hurricane caused about a quarter of a million dollars in damages to the university. During the storm, a tornado touched down on the campus and literally moved the stadium’s football bleachers onto the field.

Towey said the university took in many people from the farmworker community in nearby Immokalee. Elderly patients with dementia and other illnesses were housed in the dorms and looked after by the university’s nursing students.

“It was quite an experience for our university community, but a wonderful opportunity to see the Gospel come to life with our students.”

Meals after days unfed

When people were permitted to leave the campus a few days after the hurricane, several Ave Maria students delivered 8,000 bottles of water and two vans full of food into the area’s trailer parks.

“They went trailer to trailer, passing out food. Many people said it was the first food they had in days,” Towey said. “It really was a chance to live out the Gospel of St. Matthew, when the Lord says, ‘When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat.’”

Legates helped in any way they could. Kelby Woodard, a member of Legatus’ Dallas Chapter who is also president of Cristo Rey Dallas College Preparatory School, and his school community assisted their counterparts at the Cristo Rey school in Houston. The Houston school had been mostly spared by Hurricane Harvey, but many of the low income families the school serves had their homes flooded.

“The first thing we did was contact Catholic Charities in town, and they donated about 300 food packs. One pack represents enough food for one person for a month,” Woodard said. “We loaded those into our Cristo Rey vans and a group of students and myself and a couple of faculty members drove down, including my wife, and delivered those food packs.”

Raising much-needed cash

Woodard said the Cristo Rey Dallas board, which includes Woodard and another Legatus member, signed a $30,000 check for the relief efforts. He added that the Cristo Rey Dallas school’s students raised $3,000 by themselves for their fellow students in Houston.

“The communities surrounding the school in Houston were pretty devastated,” Woodard said “When you drove down the streets, they were full of debris that families had started taking out of their homes and putting outside along the street.”

Vincent Hess, the president of Legatus’ Dallas Chapter, said he and the other Legates in Dallas were especially concerned for the Houston Legates because they have many common professional and social connections. He said Legates in both cities were in frequent contact in the days leading up to Hurricane Harvey and afterward.

“We’re upstream from Houston but we certainly empathize with what they’re going through,” Hess said. “It really affects just about everyone in Dallas at some level, either on a personal or business level. This continues to be a incredibly and horribly devastating event for them.”

Hess said he has family in Houston, adding that they saw the rising waters approach their homes, though they were spared from any flood damage.

“A lot of people were not that fortunate,” Hess said.

DeToto, of the Legatus Houston Chapter, said nine of the 12 homes on his street were badly damaged from Hurricane Harvey. He said the local schools opened two weeks late, and there were no trash disposal services in his part of town for about a month.

Remediation will take years

“The remediation that is going to have to be done is going to last years,” DeToto said. “Some of the outlying communities were really hard hit.”

As public officials in Texas and Florida seek to rebuild the hurricane-damaged areas, Legatus members say they plan to continue helping out with the relief and recovery efforts. DeToto said his Houston Chapter intends to continue buying personal safety equipment such as goggles, masks and ventilators for people who will be repairing water-damaged homes.

Extending to Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

Fernandez, from San Antonio, estimated that 60 Legates and more than 3,000 volunteers from his part of Texas have so far helped out people not only in Houston, but also those people who were affected by the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Legates have driven trucks to Houston, delivered food on a plane to Puerto Rico and collected more than six million dollars in in-kind donations.

“Those are amazing numbers,” said Fernandez, a Legatus member for five years who added that he and his fellow Legates will next be looking to help people in Houston who need housing.

Said Fernandez, “I think it’s our responsibility as a Catholic community to provide these people with housing, as much as we can at least.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

¡Viva Cristo Rey! Jesus conquers through us

In 1928, Mexican soldiers tortured a 14-year-old boy, prodding him to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. It was during the Cristero War, which began when the government eliminated Church privileges and seized Church properties throughout the country in accordance with anti-clerical laws written into the Mexican Constitution.


Patrick Novecosky

José Sánchez del Río was 12 when his brothers joined the rebel forces. He had cultivated a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and prayed his rosary devoutly each day. José begged his mother for months to join his brothers in fighting to restore the rights of the Church. “Mother,” he said, “Will you deny me the chance to go to heaven, and so soon?” She finally relented, but José was rejected by the commander of the local force because of his youth.

The leader of another band of Cristero fighters 25 miles away was inspired by the boy’s grit, so he made him an aide to their general. When the general’s horse was killed in battle, José volunteered his horse, allowing the general to escape. Mexican soldiers captured the boy, and the captain offered José freedom in exchange for information about the Cristeros. He refused, so they skinned the soles of his feet and forced him to walk to the graveyard, promising to spare him if he denied Our Lord. José died yelling, “Viva Cristo Rey!” — Long live Christ the King!

José’s witness — told in the 2012 film For Greater Glory — is among the most compelling of the past century. At a time when Christian, and in particular Catholic, beliefs are under attack, we can draw strength from his profound faith.

At the boy’s Oct. 16 canonization Mass, Pope Francis reminded us that in order to be great saints, we must be people of deep prayer. Saints, he said, “struggle to the very end with all their strength, and they triumph, but not by their own efforts: The Lord triumphs in them and with them.”

Scripture encourages us to move forward in confidence. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us … persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Heb 12:1). The winds of our secular culture may be blowing hard against us, but the Church offers us a rock upon which we will always find firm footing.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.

Bright young minds

The work-study director of Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep was having trouble finding a student who was supposed to be in a business meeting in a crowded downtown coffee shop.


As he scanned the tables, he finally picked Andrew out of a group of 10 employees of the commercial real estate firm CBRE. In his blazer and tie with a laptop in front of him, the student fit right in and looked like any other young professional.

Kelby Woodard, president of Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep, loves to tell that story because it shows how Cristo Rey students — who spend one day per week working for companies like CBRE — integrate and collaborate at a high level. “These are 14- and 15-yearolds. Imagine what they’re going to do when they’re seniors!”

Not only do students develop a sense of pride, self-accomplishment, self-worth and self-confidence, Woodard said, they have the opportunity to interact with the free market, learn how it works and how to become part of it. Along the way, they gain beneficial experience and become valued employees.


The Cristo Rey model — now in place at 30 schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia — was the inspiration of Jesuit Fr. John P. Foley, who, upon returning to his hometown of Chicago in 1995, wanted to start a Catholic college-prep school in a Hispanic, working class neighborhood on the city’s southwest side. Working with a team, he proposed a plan in which the school would partner with corporations and nonprofit organizations to allow each student to work five days per month in an entry level job for a fee that would go toward the student’s tuition.

Kelby Woodard

Kelby Woodard

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School opened in 1996, combining “rigorous academics” and Catholic moral values with work experience in law firms, banks and other professional settings. The Cristo Rey Network was established five years later after groups in Portland, Denver and Los Angeles expressed interest in starting schools.

Schools in the network serve only low-income students in urban communities where educational options are limited. Most go on to college at a rate consistent with that of high-income students, and they complete bachelor’s degrees at 2.5 times the rate of high school graduates from low-income families nationwide.

Two more Cristo Rey schools opened this summer in Baton Rouge and Tampa; six others are in development stages in places like Jacksonville, Fla., where Legate Doug Wilson is involved in a feasibility study to assess need and interest in that community.

Wilson learned of the Cristo Rey Network when Deacon Scott Conway, the superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of St. Augustine, approached Legatus’ Jacksonville Chapter for help with a study to determine the need and capacity to support such a school.

Before the network will agree to add a school, a study also must assess the business community’s willingness to provide jobs, availability of facilities and possibilities for sponsorship by a Catholic religious entity. Each school is required to have a religious sponsor or endorser to ensure its Catholic identity and mission.


Wilson is a court-appointed guardian for abused and neglected children and a former trucking company executive. He said he believes in the Cristo Rey concept because it gives young people from low-income communities something to believe in and helps them discover how they fit into the world.

Doug Wilson

Doug Wilson

Deacon Conway concurs. “It takes students who are not necessarily in the greatest environments both at home and in school and gives them a true family at Cristo Rey where they can grow, use their skills, and learn new skills in the corporate world. What we’re doing is preparing not just future Catholics for college, but far beyond college, giving them the skills they need and the values they need for eternal life. It’s a great twofold model.”

Woodard, a member of Legatus’ Dallas Chapter, is a former business owner and state legislator in Minnesota. He said Cristo Rey links those who think they don’t have a chance with a system that the culture has told them is rigged against them.

As he sends students from Cristo Rey Dallas out into the workplace each week, he knows he’s giving them the opportunity to make connections that otherwise might not be available to them.

For example, he said, students who work at the Dallas Morning News know the newspaper’s owner and the editor. “They give them fist bumps in the hallway. They see that these guys worked hard, went to college and the system is within their reach. There is a benefit to the free-market system they can buy into and tap into.”

Legate Joseph Heidt, president of Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis, said Cristo Rey offers students the opportunity to explore careers and to learn and develop the social skills and behaviors necessary for success well before they go to college or enter a profession. By contrast, he said, the seniors at the Catholic college prep school where he previously taught often didn’t know what they wanted to pursue in college and had limited exposure to career opportunities and the skills they would need.

“They knew they had to go to law school or medical school to be a lawyer or doctor, but beyond that, they didn’t have a great depth of understanding of what they had to study in college to become a professional. That was at a college prep school where 98% of the students went to college!”

At Cristo Rey schools, Heidt explained, students develop transferable skills in communication, time management and synthesizing information. Typically, he said, “those are skills students don’t embark on until their later years of college when they’re doing internships or when they’re out of college.”

A Cristo Rey Dallas Prep student is ready for her once-a-week job at Jackson Walker LLP

A Cristo Rey Dallas Prep student is ready for her once-a-week job at Jackson Walker LLP

Before she even started classes at Cristo Rey Dallas last year, 15-year-old Viviana Gomez was learning communication skills at the school’s required VIVA! Summer Institute. “It prepares you for the modern workplace and life in general. We had a communications class that talked about body language, eye contact, and tips and tricks with presentations. That honestly really helped.”

Viviana’s mother, Julia Gomez, said her youngest daughter used to be a “shy little girl,” adding, “Cristo Rey has helped her to develop her personality, to be able to speak in front of people without any fear. You learn those skills once you’re in college, but she’s learning at a young age how to speak in front of people. That’s one of the best opportunities Cristo Rey has given her.”

After just one year at Cristo Rey Dallas, during which she worked at a law firm, Viviana said she already recognizes the advantage of spending time in the workplace as part of her education.

“Having this experience,” she said, “we’re one step ahead of the game and really prepared for life.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Learn more: cristoreynetwork.org

Miguel Pro (1891-1927)

This heroic Cristo Rey priest gave his life for his faith during government persecution . . .

miguelproFeast Day: November 23
Beatified: September 25, 1988

Many of us often act as though we are afraid of sharing the Gospel. Miguel Pro had reason to fear, but he spread the Word anyway. Miguel was the third of 11 children born to a Mexican business executive and his wife. The family was happy and devout in its faith. However, they paid for their devotion because it came at a time of governmental persecution.

Miguel discerned a priestly vocation and was ordained in Belgium. Upon his return, he had to practice his ministry in secret. He held a retreat for mechanics dressed as a driver to avoid attention. He dressed as a street cleaner or beggar in order to visit homes incognito and administer the sacraments. He even dressed as a policeman to administer Last Rites to some condemned men.

All of this made him the government’s Public Enemy No. 1. Authorities arrested him on trumped up charges and after a kangaroo trial, sentenced him to death. That morning, he bravely walked to the place of execution, blessed his executioners, prayed, stretched out his arms like Christ on the cross, and having shouted his last words, “Viva Cristo Rey! (Long live Christ the King!),” received the bullets that ended his life.

BRIAN O’NEEL is a writer, husband and father of six living in southeast Pennsylvania. His latest book is “39 New Saints You Should Know.”