Cynthia M. Allen

Private Catholic high school provides opportunity for low-income students

Our Mother of Mercy Catholic School serves as the campus site for the future Cristo Rey High School in Fort Worth.
Our Mother of Mercy Catholic School serves as the campus site for the future Cristo Rey High School in Fort Worth.

On Wednesday evening in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in downtown Fort Worth, amid the flash of cameras and delighted squeals of beaming parents, more than 70 students — all members of the new Cristo Rey Fort Worth High School at Our Mother of Mercy inaugural class — received their first piece of armor.

That’s what the school’s president, John Pritchett, called the tie and blazer given to each student after completing two weeks of GRIT Academy.

GRIT stands for grace, responsibility, integrity and tenacity — ideals affirmed during the graduation-like ceremony. But the evening marked the beginning and not the conclusion of something extraordinary.

Cristo Rey Fort Worth is part of a network of 35 Catholic schools that serve low-income students whose families would otherwise be unable to afford the kind of private institutions that all but guarantee college acceptance.

Elite private prep schools don’t come cheap. Cristo Rey is no exception. The school says the annual tuition is around $16,000, and that’s probably a gracious underestimate.

But the students and their families, who have already demonstrated a deep commitment to education through a rigorous admissions process, see only a small fraction of the bill. The students will spend about one week each month earning half of their tuition through the school’s corporate partnership program that matches students with jobs at local businesses. Families are responsible for a modest portion of the school’s cost, and the remaining tuition is covered by donors and sponsors.

Make no mistake — these students are not receiving charity. They are earning their world-class education.

The two weeks spent at GRIT were a kind of corporate boot camp for the teenagers who learned how to navigate all sorts of challenges they might confront in an office environment. The last several days of GRIT academy were spent on the Texas Christian University campus because the school’s leadership wants to expose the students to the idea of attending college as early as possible.

If the network’s national statistics are any indication, we should expect that the overwhelming majority (90 percent) of Cristo Rey Fort Worth’s students will enroll in college.

But there’s more to the academy’s ethos than readying kids for college and professional life.

Cristo Rey is Catholic in mission, which means the school’s focus isn’t just academics but forming the whole person, body and soul. “We don’t hide our Catholic identity,” said principal Tasha Coble Ginn.

Being Catholic is not required to attend Cristo Rey, although about 83 percent of the students are Catholic. Still, weekly mass and prayer are part of the school day, because, without proselytizing or catechizing, the school seeks to develop in the students a profound understanding of Catholic teaching — lessons and values embodied by that ubiquitous school acronym: GRIT.

“We want the students to learn the importance of grasping onto something greater than themselves,” said Ginn. “We are holding them to a higher standard because we are called to a higher standard,” said Pritchett. Both school leaders hope this will cultivate the value of service to community.

Working in local businesses will give the students access to the world around them that they might not otherwise encounter.

That relationship, of course, is symbiotic.

“These businesses are now going to get to know first-hand all that these students have to offer and all they can contribute the our community,” said Ginn.

Indeed, these ambitious young people have their armor and are ready to take Fort Worth by storm.

We should expect great things from the class of 2022.