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Mayra Gradilla to Serve as Principal of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

After serving the Cristo Rey Jesuit community for the past six months as Interim Principal, Mayra Gradilla will now officially assume the role of Principal. Mayra will be the fourth principal of Cristo Rey Jesuit in its 27-year history.

Now in her 11th year at Cristo Rey Jesuit, Mayra served for five years as the school’s Dean of Students, and five years as a Spanish teacher.  Mayra received her bachelor's degree from Northern Illinois University in 2008, and her master's in teaching from the University of Illinois Chicago in 2015. Born in Pilsen and raised in Little Village, Mayra brings a unique combination of a love for language, culture, faith, and high expectations both for students and her colleagues. 

President Antonio Ortiz expressed his delight for Mayra’s acceptance of the Principal position. “I am incredibly grateful that Mayra has accepted our invitation to serve the Cristo Rey community as the school’s next Principal,” he said.  “It’s an incredibly proud moment for our school to now have Mayra at helm of the academic experience here at Cristo Rey. She is the first of many for this position: the first Latina, the first from the Pilsen/Little Village neighborhood, and the first mother. I’m excited to learn from Mayra, and I have full confidence that she will lean on her faith as she grows into the role and challenges us to continue to evolve in a way that best serves our students and community.”

In her own words, Mayra shares: “With a heart full of humility and gratitude, I welcome the opportunity to be Principal of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. I am honored to serve Cristo Rey in this capacity and pledge to keep our community strong and moving forward. My family’s immigrant roots are in Pilsen, I grew up in Little Village, and I am very proud to be part of these two vibrant and hardworking communities that have formed me and the values of Cristo Rey.  

Eleven years ago, I joined Cristo Rey for the unique mission that continues to impact hundreds of students in the Chicago area: to provide a Catholic, college preparatory education and professional work experience to students from Spanish-speaking families with limited financial means. Serving this mission as a Spanish teacher and empowering students to be biliterate, bicultural and proud of their heritage has been the highlight of my career. Working as Dean of Students for the last five years alongside our very talented and creative teachers and administrators has taught me to relentlessly fight for our students and present them with every available opportunity to prepare them to succeed in college and beyond. 

With the love and support of my very talented husband Tony Ozuna, son “Toñito,”and my loving family, I am excited for the opportunity to continue to serve the Cristo Rey community. Driven by the mission and with the guidance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I am committed to ensuring our students receive the best education and work experience at Cristo Rey and together walk as men and women for others."

Mayra has the full support of Cristo Rey Jesuit’s Leadership Team, Board of Directors, and the Principal Search Committee, all of whom enthusiastically endorsed Mayra for this opportunity. Let us all express our deep gratitude to Mayra for accepting this call to serve our community. 

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Student Work Spotlight: Valeria at Loyola University Medical Center

The Cristo Rey Corporate Work Study Program is pleased to celebrate our largest and one of our longest-running CWSP partnerships with Loyola University Medical Center. LUMC has put students to work since 2001 with Cristo Rey and since 2008 with Christ the King. Multiple teams of students are deployed each year. In 2022-23, students are working in functional areas, including I.T., medical areas including Clinical Labs, and patient-facing roles including Rehab and Post-Acute Services, and Imaging Services. Students work for Loyola Medicine in Maywood, Loyola MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, and Loyola Center for Health at Gottlieb in Melrose Park. 

To showcase one current success story, senior student and Cristo Rey communications associate, Camila, interviewed senior student and PT assistant Valeria about her work at LUMC.  

Camila: Thank you for talking with me! I’m looking forward to hearing more about your work study experience. Please tell our audience where you work.  

Valeria: I work at MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn. I work in the rehabilitative services department, specifically, outpatient physical therapy. I started working with this group last year and am now in my second full year in the department, as a senior.  

Camila: How would you describe your work environment? 

Valeria: The environment is very uplifting, supportive, and caring. Each therapist here is focused on their patients’ progress, and they guide them through the entire process of rehabilitation. There are very natural, genuine, and caring connections between the therapists and the patients which makes the process of therapy for both the patient and therapist more enjoyable.  

Camila: What are some lessons you’ve learned in your role? 

Valeria: I have learned that asking questions is important, each question or concern is valuable, and that communication is the best way to make your voice heard as well as listening to what others have to say. Asking questions is important because it allows me to learn more about different aspects of therapy, what it is like being a therapist and the best ways to care for certain patients. I can bring up any questions to my coworkers – especially in moments of uncertainty or confusion – and they help me find a solution. 

Camila: How is your work placement preparing you for the long term? 

Valeria: I am interested in Physical Therapy as a career. My CWSP job is preparing me for the long term through real-world interactions with my coworkers, who are certified therapists that specialize in diverse types of therapy. And, working with patients who come with varying and unique diagnoses is a great experience. From observation hours to asking questions, I have developed an understanding of the most common diagnoses of both physical and occupational therapy patients and how they are treated.  

Camila: Tell us a story of something memorable that has happened at work! 

Valeria: One time as I was taking inventory of the fourth and third floor storage rooms, a visitor of a patient approached me asking me for directions to the patient’s room. She was looking for her husband and was confused because they placed him in a different room and she needed help to get there. I remember she was nervous at first, because she spoke Spanish and was unsure if I did. As soon as I spoke in Spanish and asked her if there was anything I could help her with, her face filled with relief, and she was happy to ask for my help. I walked her to the room and she said, “Que Dios te bendiga mija, muchas gracias” (God bless you, thank you so much). I was so happy after that, to have connected with her linguistically also made me connect with her culturally and spiritually. Although it was a small interaction, my week was made because I love helping people more than anything and so that moment has stayed with me.  

Camila: You said when you grow up you want to be a physical therapist, has this job influenced your decision?  

Valeria: Having this CWSP role has definitely influenced my decision as an aspiring physical therapist because of the moments and experiences I have shared both with the therapists and patients. The community here at Macneal has made me realize that helping people through therapy is my calling which will make me the best version of myself, not only as a future physical therapist but as a person in general.  

Camila: What do you look forward to when you arrive for your workday? 

Valeria: I always look forward to greeting everyone! Evelyn, one of the front desk receptionists, the therapists, my coworker Marisol (who I help with tasks), and Marc, the manager. I also look forward to asking them how they’re doing and helping them out in any way I can. My coworkers are amazing to work with. They are understanding and flexible, and they always check up on me, which I deeply appreciate. 

Camila: I know you have a lot of variety in your workdays. What are some of the things you do every time? 

Valeria: I start with inventory of the third and fourth storage rooms, pick-up laundry and make copies of charge sheets – which are the sheets we use to track patients during their care. I then move on to restocking the outpatient area - specifically cabinets and cubbies of the physical therapy gym, OT gym, and the pelvic floor therapy gym. I also shadow both occupational and physical therapists, and make copies of charge sheets for evaluations, and complete data entry using information from our database called Epic. Depending on the week, towards the end of the day, I take inventory of the fourth-floor gym and list our supplies to create an idea of what needs to be ordered. At the end of the day, I check one last time the outpatient area and restock anything that needs to be restocked. There is always a high level of activity in our department! 

Camila: Can you picture yourself in this environment in the future? 

Valeria: I do picture myself in this environment because I feel at home here - it feels right! To envision myself, as a physical therapist, helping patients regain strength mentally and physically through movement is what makes me most passionate, and I look forward to the day where I can begin that journey.  

Thank you, Valeria, for this in-depth look into your work experience with Loyola MacNeal Hospital. We think your colleagues would consider that you have already begun this journey! 

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Students Represent CRJHS at Ignatian Conference

By Rocio Juarez '10, Manager of Service and Jesuit Volunteer Program

The weekend of October 22-24 was not an ordinary weekend for Cristo Rey students Juan, Diego, Achilles, Beverly, Melanie, Lizette, Leslie, and Carlos. This group of students committed to represent Cristo Rey Jesuit High School at the annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice organized by the Ignatian Solidarity Network at Washington, D.C. This year, Cristo Rey was able to journey alongside our sister school Christ the King in the Austin neighborhood. Before our travels, the students were able to meet each other in retreat to prepare for the conference and reflect on their own experiences as witnesses of social injustices in their own communities. The goal of IFTJ is to gather students that are driven and are open to be advocates for social change.

This year Cristo Rey and Christ the King were able to meet with the staffers of both Congressmen Mr. Danny K. Davis and Mr. Jesus “Chuy” García to advocate for policies to support legislation on environmental justice and migration. I am so proud of all of the students because it takes courage and heart to be vulnerable in sharing impactful personal stories that are a living testament on why we should not be silent about injustices that harm our communities and the world.

Although the pandemic has left a lot of turmoil and sadness in our world that we are still processing, this collective experience has also lifted up the young voices of today and the future. Juan, Diego, Achilles, Beverly, Melanie, Lizette, Leslie, and Carlos continue to honor the lives and legacy of those that have been martyred and have passed away in the lucha (fight) for a more humane world.

Senior Diego R. reflects, "Representing Cristo Rey at the IFTJ this year filled me with pride. It was heartwarming seeing other Jesuit institutions advocate for Migration and Environmental Justice. My favorite part of the experience was attending workshops such as “Queer Prayer”. Thanks to this experience, I am more informed on the decisions that stakeholders make on these issues.  I believe it’s important for our youth to be informed and know that they can have a say in this."

Junior Beverly V. reflects, "To be completely honest, It feels great that we did represent our school at IFTJ, but to be completely honest, it felt like we were going to advocate as individuals for the same cause. I would describe this experience as incredible! I cannot emphasize how amazing it was! My favorite part would definitely be the breakout rooms. The topics were all so interesting, and I got to have a conversation with people who were experienced advocates or who were people that have actually had experiences with topics such as immigration and climate change. I learned that not everyone is as involved as we are. I felt good knowing that I was with people who shared similar thoughts and feelings towards these topics like me, yet I’m actually really surprised. I reflected on my experience, and I realized that people at my school aren’t as involved as the few of us who went are or applied for it are. It gave me the realization of hat not everyone worries about these social issues as much as we do and it’s really sad to see. My first goal now that I am back is to get more people involved. I want students at our school to feel comfortable talking about these issues because it’s something we as a Hispanic/Latino community have to confront. We will then move forward as a community to decide what action steps we will take to help take down these issues step by step." 

Senior Juan M. reflects, "In this trip, I sought to believe in representing Cristo Rey. As I spent more time, I came to realize that it was not only Cristo Rey who I was representing, but the Ignatian family of schools who came across the country to advocate.If I could describe my experience in one word, it would be inspiring.My favorite part of the experience was participating in a t-shirt swap with other schools. To me, this represented community, as we all came to share a piece of representation from each other.I got to learn more about non-violent resistance, Agape, and climate change effects around the community. I will bring awareness back to my community by sharing experiences and stories, at which listening to one another is the most important value to upgrade our environment. I came to learn more about what occurs in the world. Before, I was more in my own bubble. I showed more ignorance towards the world. After IFTJ, I came across various social issues that I myself was not aware of, which made me more open to knowing about these issues."

Junior Lizette G reflects, "I felt very honored to represent Cristo Rey on our trip to DC since we were with many other Jesuit schools sharing the same mission. I felt most proud being of being a Cristera when we met the other Cristo Rey schools, I truly felt proud of our school and how our rich culture makes us stand out. I would describe the trip as rewarding because of all the hard work that we put into preparing for IFTJ, then hearing all the amazing stories, and putting everything we learned into action by talking to our representatives about the change we want to see. We were so different but so alike in many ways. The environment was amazing! My favorite part of this experience was meeting new people and making connections. I learned a lot about immigration, how it affects our communities and I got to hear from amazing speakers on how they crossed the border and how they want to help others doing the same, I also learned about social justice and the ways that we can use our voices to advocate for causes we believe in. After coming back from IFTJ I will be more of an advocate for my community because I know the importance of having a voice and using it for good. IFTJ has made me realize that we are in this together and we need to be rooted to our cause to renew a solution. With this, I want to give light to issues and help others become involved to together create the change we want to see. I want to help create a safe environment. IFTJ made me feel like I belonged in the Jesuit community, I felt most like this when we were doing our school roll call, and everyone was so excited to be there. Mass was one of my favorite parts since I felt so connected with the faithful environment. Attending IFTJ has been such a great experience filled with unforgettable memories and I am so grateful for having had the opportunity of going." 

Junior Achilles R. reflectes, “My experience at IFTJ was eye-opening and was a call to action for social justice, it taught me the importance of using your voice for advocacy.”

Sophomore Leslie R. reflects, "We got to meet the other Cristo Rey schools, and since ours is the original, I felt incredibly proud. Meeting other catholic schools across the country made me realize how special our school is with the work-study program. I would describe my experience as meaningful, I got to meet so many new friends and people that had impacted the way I viewed the world. But also traveling with my classmates and growing with them.Singing the songs by the Peace Poets, such "No más, No more," was one of my favorite parts. I also loved making new friends and memories with people who also wanted to see a change in our world. During some of our breakout sessions, I got to learn about how the media does not always portray the facts as they are. By focusing on the negative side of percentages and facts we lose the positive aspects that can bring us good news. Hearing about the Jesuit Matrys and how they helped launch the IFTJ movement had showed me how we can all make a difference. After this experience, I want to raise more awareness of the environmental issues that the community is facing, like water and food waste. Even at our school, a significant amount of food is wasted, and i hope to create alternatives to simply throwing food away.I loved how we were all in one community, and although we came from different backgrounds, we got to connect to each other with our passions for justice. Meeting people who also knew Mr. Folkerson, our own Jesuit, was surprising but also fun finding out the Jesuits are all over the world helping people out." 



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