Jesuit priest among Newsweek’s people to watch

NEW YORK (CNS) — Newsweek magazine has named Jesuit Father John P. Foley, president of the national Cristo Rey Network of Catholic high schools, among “the people to watch in the year ahead.”

Two other religious figures — Episcopal Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Muslim professor Ingrid Mattson — also made the magazine’s gallery of 20 figures to keep an eye on in 2007 in various fields, from politics to sports, religion to entertainment, and education to business.

The look-ahead feature was part of the magazine’s final issue in 2006, most of which was devoted to reviewing news of the past year.

In 1996 Father Foley opened Cristo Rey Jesuit High School as a college prep school in Chicago’s predominantly Hispanic Pilsen/Little Village neighborhood, which has the city’s least educated population.

In collaboration with more than 100 area corporations, the school operates a work/study program that has every student working five days every four weeks and attending classes 15 days in that time. Four students share a full-time job, so that on any given day one of the four will be at work and the other three at school.

Father Foley, now 71, is a Chicago native who joined the Jesuits 53 years ago. He told Catholic News Service he had spent most of his Jesuit life as an educator in Peru before he was called back to Chicago to form Cristo Rey. The name is Spanish for “Christ the King.”

He said after four years of experience with the Chicago program “we realized this was replicable, that this model can be disseminated” to do the same thing in other cities.

Since then 11 other Catholic high schools have opened within the Cristo Rey Network and seven more are due to open this summer, all in poor urban neighborhoods.

To belong to the network, schools have to meet tough standards, including serving “only economically disadvantaged students” and making no exceptions to the work/study requirement. They must be explicitly Catholic in mission and enjoy church approval.

The corporations that contract with the Chicago school for student workers pay $27,000 for each full-time-equivalent job, which covers about 70 percent of the tuition of the four students who share that job. Families are required to pay $2,650 tuition, although assistance is available in cases of need.

Within five years after their opening, the schools in the network are expected to be financially sound and to cover more than 85 percent of their operating costs through tuition and work/study contracts.

Noting that many inner-city schools have dropout rates of 50 percent or more, Newsweek said, “Cristo Rey has succeeded where so many others fail: the four-year dropout rate for the network’s graduation class this year was 6 percent, and 96 percent enrolled in a two- or four-year college this fall.”

Bishop Jefferts Schori, 52, made the Newsweek list because last June she became the first woman to be elected presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church. She took office in November.

The U.S. Episcopal Church is a province of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is still struggling over the question of women bishops. Some provinces allow them, while others do not, and the issue has significant ecumenical implications, especially for Anglican relations with the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

A Catholic in early childhood, Bishop Jefferts Schori joined the Episcopal Church along with her parents when she was 9 years old. She was a professional marine biologist before she entered the seminary, becoming an Episcopal priest in 1994 and a bishop in 2001.

Canadian-born Mattson, 43, was also a Catholic and attended daily Mass as a child, but she stopped believing in her teenage years. Impressed by some of her Muslim friends she began to study the Quran, the sacred book of Islam, and became a Muslim when she was 23.

She is fluent in Arabic and teaches Muslim studies at Hartford (Conn.) Seminary, where she founded the only Muslim chaplaincy training program in North America.

Recently she was elected president of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim educational and social outreach organization in the United States and Canada. Newsweek said she has become “an ambassador for Islam in the West, preaching tolerance and understanding.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.