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CR Alumni: A Decade of Service at the School That Works

by Rex Ovalle '08

In the fall of 2012, Cristo Rey welcomed two alumni to the faculty and staff for the first time: Carlos Angeles '06, as Program Manager in the Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP), and me from the Class of 2008, as an English teacher through the Jesuit Volunteer Program. Since then, nearly every department of the school has had alumni join their team. Nine alumni have been called to serve through the Jesuit Volunteer (JV) Program, dedicating two years of service to the school after college graduation. This fall, for the first time ever, Cristo Rey will welcome two alumni to the Administration Team: Maria Luevano '02, a longtime Spanish teacher, now serving as Director of School Mission, and Karen Laureano '11, former Counselor and new Director of School Culture. Guillermo Cruz '03 and Tiffany Luna '06 joining the Board of Directors last year also demonstrates a growing commitment from alumni.

In many ways, alumni presence at Cristo Rey flourishes more every year. I am now old enough to see my former students come back and serve in our Jesuit Volunteer Program, including three new JVs starting next month, Ailyn Cortez '17, Patrick Reyes '18, and Rachel Romero '18 . While the past two years of the pandemic may have introduced uncertainty into all our lives, I have only become more certain that the mission of Cristo Rey is “working” through the hands of our students and is “at work” in their hearts. In other words, over a quarter of a century into this experiment here in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, we can say that this school undoubtedly works.

This mission is working because we continue to propel students through college. For the past year and a half, as part of my PhD program, I taught English at University of Illinois at Chicago. It was one of my greatest joys to know that every time I walked onto campus I was going to be greeted by graduates studying and working on campus.

My colleague Maria Luevano says that she acquired the tenacity to finish college here at Cristo Rey and that’s what inspires her to work here, “I think my high school self was very brave, I went to college only 5 years after I arrived from Mexico. I knew very little English then. I am very proud of that, and Cristo Rey helped me become that brave girl that I was/am.”

It is this “return” of our alumni that represents the mission “at work.” Joanna Mena '16, former JV and newly hired College Counselor, echoed this sentiment, “I truly believe that this mission and values are what brought me back home to CR. I wanted to be able to give back to a community that helped raise me.” As the longest serving alumni employee of Cristo Rey, I can say Joanna’s wisdom speaks for my experience and for my alumni colleagues: we feel called to steward this home of ours.

At this point, we alumni working at Cristo Rey find ourselves in the same place as Juan Diego when he was before the bishop in the story of La Virgen de Guadalupe. Our holy mother had asked him to fill his tilma up with roses as a sign that she was his messenger. Here at Cristo Rey, our tilmas have never been fuller of the floral fragrance that represents the promise of this mission.

“ It’s important for me to help all our students find their place in this community and I wanted to see myself represented in the adults that work here. I realized I was going to have to do that myself.”
- Karen Laureano '11, Director of School Culture

“ I think about the times that were most challenging in my education here and it was because I was being pushed to be a leader. I get to do that for the next generation of students.”
- Rocio Juarez '10, Service Coordinator

“I worked at other schools, and after that experience, I knew I wanted to work at a place with a strong identity and community. We celebrate our students here. There’s nothing like día doce here. Other schools don’t do that.”
- Reina Garcia '07, Director of College Counseling

“ As soon as I walked in the doors for my interview, it felt like home. I knew that I was making the right decision. I personally believe in the Cristo Rey mission, and my return is a great way to give back to the community that opened the doors to so many opportunities.”
- Jessica Cervantes '07, Training and Admissions Specialist

Top photo: President Antonio Ortiz (right) presents Rex Ovalle '08 with Cristo Rey's 10 Year Employee Recognition on June 7, 2022.

Above: Lizbeth Delgado '16, Joanna Mena '16, Rex Ovalle '08, Jessica Cervantes '07, Karen Laureano '11, Belen Dominguez '17, Maria Garcia '99, Reina Garcia '07, Maria Luevano-Salazar '02 (not pictured: Rocio Juarez '10)