The promise of Cristo Rey Network

It is a fundamental of parenthood: we hope for the best when it comes to our children, and we dream that they may reach such heights in life that our own parents never imagined.

Education, of course, is the key that unlocks that dream. And thankfully Massachusetts -- and its 351 cities and towns - has long embraced the responsibility of providing a diverse and varied set of opportunities to help our children reach those heights.

There is a vital mission, however, in seeing those opportunities expanded to families at all income levels, in all communities, and in the most challenging of circumstances.

Catholic education has, for generations, assumed a role in fulfilling that mission in Massachusetts. Yet the most promising and exciting development is still relatively new.

On January 6th in Braintree, Cardinal Seán O’Malley led a celebration of the Cristo Rey Network and its successful approach to urban Catholic education. It is a success that students and families in Greater Boston and Greater Lawrence have been a part of for the past five years.

Through partnerships with corporate sponsors, North Cambridge Catholic High School and Notre Dame High School in Lawrence offer students a work-study education with students earning the majority of their tuition by working 5 days a month at local businesses in entry level white collar positions. By all measures, the work study program accelerates and enhances the students’ journeys on the path to a promising future. It also opens doors that, quite simply, are not otherwise available to these young men and women. The Cristo Rey model for urban Catholic education balances an enriching and demanding curriculum with the development of real workplace skills, while instilling the principles of Catholic identity that are so central to education in the Archdiocese of Boston. Students at even the 9th Grade level are mature beyond their years -- a credit to their families, their educators and themselves. The college acceptance rate for graduating seniors at North Cambridge Catholic and Notre Dame High Schools is 100 percent.

Corporate sponsors, meanwhile, are investing in the future by helping train tomorrow’s workforce. They are also investing in their own success by employing hard-working youth who make significant contributions to the workplace.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 14 percent of children in Massachusetts come from needy families. In addition, more than half of Massachusetts children whose parents have no high school diploma live in needy households. This is the population being served by the Cristo Rey model and Catholic education.

It should be a source of tremendous pride and honor for the Archdiocese that the most successful and exciting thing happening in education in Massachusetts is happening in Catholic schools.

Because of it, more parents can dream of their children reaching unlimited heights. In fact, in his book “The Cristo Rey Story,” author G.R. Kearney called it “more than a dream.” It is a vision that is changing the world.

And as is evidenced by any tool of ministry, the world is best changed one individual -- or one student -- at a time.

Thomas P. O’Neill III is chief executive officer of O’Neill and Associates and serves as North Cambridge Catholic High School Board Chair. Mr. O’Neill is the former Lt. Governor of Massachusetts.