Mission and History


The Cristo Rey Network of high schools delivers a career focused, college preparatory education in the Catholic tradition for students with limited economic resources, uniquely integrating rigorous academic curricula with four years of professional work experience and support to and through college. We partner with educators, businesses and communities to enable students to fulfill their aspirations for a lifetime of success.


When Cristo Rey Jesuit High School opened under the leadership of John P. Foley, S.J. in 1996, it introduced a highly innovative integration of academic and professional experience to Catholic secondary education in the United States. The model had immediate appeal, first to Catholic educators across the country and soon after to prominent philanthropists committed to educational reform.

Through the talent and commitment of local communities and generous and enthusiastic support from philanthropic investors, the Cristo Rey Network has grown over the last 20 years from a single school in south Chicago to a national network of 35 schools. During a period when traditional Catholic schools were shuttering their doors at an alarming rate, the Cristo Rey Network has grown into the largest network of high schools in the country that exclusively serves low-income students.

this is a story about mission-driven innovation in education—innovation that is giving thousands of children an opportunity to access high- quality university preparatory education.

- Tom Vander Ark
CEO, GettingSmart

Timeline of Growth



The Society of Jesus seeks how to respond to the needs of Chicago's Pilsen community, a working-class neighborhood teeming with Mexican immigrant families who lack good and affordable educational options for their children.

Bradley Schaeffer, S.J., the Provincial of the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus, invites newly-ordained James Gartland, S.J. to conduct a needs assessment. His door-to-door canvassing of neighborhood families led to the recommendation to establish a Jesuit-sponsored college preparatory high school.


At the invitation of Bradley Schaeffer, S.J., John P. Foley, S.J. leaves his long-standing ministry in Peru to return to his hometown of Chicago. A veteran educator with 30 years of school leadership experience in Peru, Fr. Foley actively embraced the new assignment to help create the high school in Pilsen.

In their efforts to establish an academically rigorous and financially sustainable school, the founding team pioneers an unconventional educational and business model that contemplates students working five days each month in paid, entry-level professional jobs and assigning their earnings to underwrite the cost of their education.


Fr. Foley is named Founding President of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, and with Fr. Schaeffer’s assistance, assembles inaugural members of Cristo Rey’s Board of Trustees.

This leadership team forges partnerships with local businesses and philanthropic leaders. The school welcomes approximately 100 sophomores and juniors for classes on September 5th.


The international Christian

Brothers meeting in Rome challenges members worldwide to find creative ways to serve the poor. Later that year, as a guest speaker at the annual education conference of the U.S. Christian Brothers schools held in Chicago, Fr. Foley challenges the Brothers to replicate what is happening in Chicago.


Cristo Rey Jesuit High School changed the trajectory of the lives of countless students and sparked a resurgence in inner-city Catholic education in the United States. More than a Dream tells the inspirational story of the start up of the school and its pivotal impact on the lives of four of its students.



The Network is formed, initially started by a one-person national staff based in Chicago. BJ and Bebe Cassin commit $12 million from the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation to support the replication of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in other U.S. cities.


Christian Brothers are open and helpful in forming this new type of school board with both business leaders and educators together. De La Salle North Catholic High School opens its doors. The school points with pride to being the second school within the new Cristo Rey Network.

The first formal meeting of the Cristo Rey Network takes place at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago. Six approved groups who are conducting feasibility studies, funded by the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation, attend the meeting. This meeting marks the adoption of the Cristo Rey trademark Cristo Rey Network®.


Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles, previously an Archdiocesan high school, converts to a Cristo Rey school.


In January, the first Mission Effectiveness Standards are approved.

IRS grants non-profit status to the Cristo Rey Network in March 2003. In May, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation formally commit $9.9 million to continue replication of new schools.

Arrupe Jesuit High School in Denver opens in September.


Six new schools follow in rapid succession:

Saint Martin de Porres High School in Cleveland; Cristo Rey New York High School in Harlem; San Miguel High School in Tucson; Cristo Rey Boston High School; Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan; and Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence, MA.

Fr. Foley resigns as President of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in June to become the new President of the Cristo Rey Network.

60 Minutes profiles Cristo Rey Jesuit and the early replication of the school across the country.



Two new schools - Cristo Rey Kansas City High School and Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento - open.


In August, Robert Birdsell, a proven leader with a strong background in Catholic school teaching and educational research and consulting, is elected by the Board as the new President of the Network. Fr. Foley assumes the position of Executive Chair for the Network.

Six additional schools join the Cristo Rey movement:

Holy Family Cristo Rey High School in Birmingham; Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore; Christ the King Preparatory School in Newark; Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis; Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Washington, DC; and Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis.


Three new schools open:

Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory in Chicago; Cristo Rey Brooklyn High School; and Detroit Cristo Rey High School.

Chair Emeritus and Chief Mission Officer John P. Foley, S.J. receives the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian honor, for founding the Cristo Rey movement.


The Cristo Rey Network launches the Educational Enrichment Initiative, an ambitious long term plan to set clear college-ready standards for all students and to provide instructional tools for teachers to help students achieve these standards.

The Cristo Rey Network hosts its first Leadership Academy in conjunction with Northwestern University’s Kellogg Center for Nonprofit Management to serve the needs of current and future Cristo Rey school leaders.

Two new schools open:

Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco and Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory High School of Houston.



DePaul Cristo Rey High School in Cincinnati opens its doors as a member of the Cristo Rey Network.

The 2011 Leadership Roundtable Best Practices Award for Innovation in Catholic Education is presented to the Cristo Rey Network.

Fr. Joe Parkes, S.J. is elected the new Chair of the Cristo Rey Network Board and Fr. John Foley, S.J. becomes Chair Emeritus and Chief Mission Officer.


Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School opens.

The Walton Family Foundation announces a $1.6 million investment in the Cristo Rey Network to support the onboarding of the School Growth Team and award seed funding to new schools opening in choice markets.

One of 2,400 nominees nationwide, the Cristo Rey Network receives the National CLASSY Award for Educational Advancement.

More international recognition follows. The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) honors the Cristo Rey Network’s Corporate Work Study Program, naming it one of six groundbreaking projects from worldwide to win a 2012 WISE Award. The Cristo Rey Network joins MIT as one of the four U.S.-based innovations to win this award.


A new school, Cristo Rey Columbus High School, joins the Network.

Randy Kurtz is appointed the organization’s President and CEO. The Board of Directors elects Kevin Baine, a nationally recognized First Amendment attorney at Williams and Connolly LLP in Washington, D.C., as Chairman.


Two new schools open: Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School and Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School.

Putting Education to Work: How Cristo Rey High Schools Are Transforming Urban Education by Megan Sweas is published in August 2014 by HarperCollinsPublishers.

Jane E. Genster is named President and CEO. Previously Vice President and General Counsel at Georgetown University and a member of the Cristo Rey Network Board of Directors, Jane brings a deep commitment to Cristo Rey, broad experience in secondary and post-secondary education, and extraordinary leadership skills.

Board of Directors adopts 2020 Strategic Plan, which seeks to deepen impact while sustaining growth, and projects 14,000 students in 40 Cristo Rey schools and 20,000 graduates by the start of the next decade.


And then there are 30! Two new schools open: Cristo Rey Jesuit Milwaukee High School and Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep.

In August 2015, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago participates in a virtual conversation with Pope Francis in anticipation of his historic trip to the United States. The ABC News special program airs on “20/20.”



Two new schools open: Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School and Cristo Rey Tampa High School.

The Wilson Sheehan Foundation awards a three-year gift totaling $2.4 million to launch College Initiatives 360, a multi-pronged program aimed at increasing college completion by for Cristo Rey graduates.

Board of Directors elects W. Nicholas Howley, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Transdigm Group, Inc. as the organization's Board Chair.


Elizabeth Goettl named Network President and CEO.

Growth plan approved for 50 schools serving 20,000 in the decade ahead.


Three new schools open: Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School, Cristo Rey De La Salle East Bay High School (Oakland), and Cristo Rey Fort Worth High School.