The Catholic Sunday Scriptures shed light on the mission experience at Cristo Rey, which contributes to Christian leadership. So why invest in the school and our students? Over the next few blogs I want to answer that question.
We are producing, consistently over 8 years, high school grads who are going to college, and persevering. Interestingly enough, the very same qualitative characteristics which abide in our faculty, grow within our students. I will explain with the light of this weekend's readings at Mass.
I want to focus on the qualitative characteristic called "grit." It is in our students. I see grit when I witness behaviors that manifest its presence. Grit is defined as "a passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission." (Quoting Angela Duckworth, in Paul Tough's How Children Succeed, (74). I see grit a lot of times at the beginning of the year when we realize that a number of students are here, not of their own choosing, but because their parents send them to us. They somehow get through those uncomfortable weeks. I see grit when I hear about students who have actually cut ties with some peers in their neighborhood and make new friends at the school. They choose not to walk down a path that doesn't feel right, though its so hard to cut those ties. (Unfortunately, in recruiting amidst our public housing, I have found that it is very difficult for some young people to persevere at the school, because of the social and emotional pull by their peers to remain safely in their world of familiarity… is too strong a pull for their fragile self-images.) I see grit when they walk into office buildings and take on adult responsibilities to help those companies succeed. I see grit when they join our sports teams, and they never have played the game but want to learn. All of our baseball and track teams compete totally on the road, we have no "home field advantage." And, I see grit when the data comes out which says that our most recent average ACT scores have risen 1.2 points over the past year! That's "grit" on the part of the teachers and the students.
Grit is God's gift, freely given. It comes a long with a nutrient that is indispensable for the activation of any character trait. Allow me to explain.
The Word of God, this weekend, strongly focuses upon every person's capability to freely choose what is most important in life. The Son of God, Jesus, Savior, clearly laid out the option to "have life within us" if we would eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood. He went on to say that these words, themselves would give spirit and life. And, further, we do not earn it, but that life is given freely by a loving Father God. "…no one can come to me unless it is granted them by my Father." (Jn. 6:65)
Well, what happened is what has happened through the ages, and that is, some believed Him, and others "turned back and no longer went about with Him." I believe that personal beliefs grow in us as we are tempered by the human realities of failure, disappointment due to unfulfilled or delayed expectations being met, unkept promises and even betrayal. Paul Tough points out that failure - or at least the real risk of failure - could often be a crucial step on the road to success. (177) He points out the lesson that "losing is something you do, not something you are." (116)
Our students see this grit in the daily service of our faculty who provides 7 hours of an expanding education. Our students see this grit in our sponsors at the work site, who actually draw the skills from within each of our students. (It is not magic) Our students see this grit in their parents, who make so many sacrifices in order for this opportunity to be offered in the first place.
Let us be grateful for the Source of this gift of grit. Where else? In the words of Simon Peter, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Fr. Alex Steinmiller, C.P., President
Fr. Steinmiller is the president of Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School. He has been president of HFCR since the school opened it's doors in 2007 as a Cristo Rey school.