Archdiocese to Open First New High School Since 1951

Innovative Cristo Rey High School to Start in Takoma Park

January 19, 2006

The Archdiocese of Washington plans to open its first new high school in over 55 years in Fall 2007. The school, which will provide low-income students with an affordable college-prep Catholic education through an innovative work-study program, will be cosponsored by the Salesians of Don Bosco, Eastern Province, and part of the national Cristo Rey Network. Salesian Father Steve Shafran, SDB, the former director-president of Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey, New Jersey, will serve as project manager for the new school.

The Cristo Rey school will open at the site of Our Lady of Sorrows School, a parish elementary at 1010 Larch Avenue, Takoma Park, Maryland. An initial enrollment of 100 students is expected to grow eventually to 500 students. Under the Cristo Rey model, students attend classes four days each week and work in a local business one day per week through a job-share arrangement. The businesses pay a non-profit internship corporation for the students’ work, with the funds covering most tuition costs. Just 11 Cristo Rey schools have been established in the United States since 1996; another eight are slated to open in the next two years.

“We are very pleased the Cristo Rey Network approved our request to open a school. This region already has wonderful Catholic high schools, but Cristo Rey offers moderate- and low-income families something new. The Cristo Rey model not only makes a quality Catholic high school education affordable, but it also engages the business and broader community directly in these young people’s lives, increasing their opportunities for success beyond high school,” said Dr. Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, superintendent of Catholic schools.

“We have worked with the Archdiocese of Washington for the past year, exploring the possibility of opening a high school. There is much work still to do, yet with the vision of so many economically deprived youth in the Washington area before us, we go forward with zeal and trust,” said Very Rev. James Heuser, SDB, provincial for the Salesians, Eastern Province.

Our Lady of Sorrows’ pastor and principal, in consultation with the Archdiocese, determined that it was no longer possible for the parish to continue to maintain a quality elementary education. Students will be assisted in transferring to nearby Catholic schools next fall. Since 2001, the 137-student school has lost 44 percent of its enrollment and tuition has increased by 46 percent. The school also has been heavily subsidized by the Archdiocese of Washington for a number of years to fund day-to-day operating expenses.

“It was difficult for Our Lady of Sorrows and the Archdiocese to recommend transitioning the students to other schools. Yet, it was clear after several years of effort that it was no longer possible for the parish to continue to provide the quality Catholic education that the children deserve. We are working closely with the principals of St. Camillus and St. Michael schools, both in Silver Spring, and St. Mark, Hyattsville to welcome Our Lady of Sorrows’ students to those schools next fall,” said Dr. Weitzel-O’Neill.

“While we had been considering other sites for the Cristo Rey school, it was important to everyone to keep Catholic education available in this area. The decision finally was made to start the high school in Takoma Park,” she continued.

The first Cristo Rey School opened in Chicago in 1996. The school’s success led to the founding of the Cristo Rey Network (, started by the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation in 2001 to replicate the Cristo Rey model in high schools nationwide and to support innovative grade schools. Dioceses and Catholic religious orders interested in establishing a Cristo Rey school must undertake a rigorous feasibility study and be approved by the Cristo Rey Network.

The Archdiocese of Washington feasibility study took one year to complete and included broad community input, including focus groups and 1,500 parent surveys conducted in over 20 parishes, meetings with business and community leaders, and analyses of demographics and area business centers to ensure the school would be accessible both to low-income families and to potential employers for the students. The Takoma Park school will be one of two Cristo Rey schools slated to open in Maryland in 2007; the other will be operated by the Jesuit community in Baltimore.

The Archdiocese of Washington includes 560,000 Catholics, 140 parishes and nearly 33,000 students attending 113 early learning, elementary and secondary schools in Washington, DC and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

The . Salesians of Don Bosco were founded in Italy in 1859 by Saint John Bosco to educate and form young people. Today, 30,000 priests, brothers and sisters serve in 128 countries. The Salesian charism continues Don Bosco’s vision and responds to a great need felt by young people to “know that they are loved.” This movement of love for the young and the Salesian educational approach of “Family, Faith, Future and Fun” defines Don Bosco’s belief that education is a “matter of the heart.” Salesian education is focused on students, on engaging them with a love for life and learning.

Susan Gibbs
Director of Communications
[email protected]