Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park kicked off its year-long 10th anniversary celebration with a “Coming Home” reunion at the school.

“Welcome home,” said Salesian Father Michael Conway, Cristo Rey’s president, as he welcomed graduates, current students, parents, faculty and staff members, benefactors, corporate sponsors and community members to the Oct. 7 gathering. “Every time you come back, we want you to know, this will always be your home.”

The priest said that members of its first graduating class in 2011 through its current students demonstrate “what Don Bosco Cristo Rey has come to be – a bright star and a beacon of hope for many underserved youth in the Washington area.”

The school’s choir then sang an original composition, “Coming Home.”

Cristo Rey, which opened its doors in 2007, is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Salesians of Don Bosco and features an innovative Corporate Work Study Program – the only one of its kind in the Washington area – in which students from low-income families are able to work one day a week at leading businesses and institutions to gain professional experience and help pay the cost for their Catholic, college preparatory education.

“We needed an oasis for life and joy for young people” whose families otherwise could not have afforded to attend a Catholic high school, said Salesian Father Steve Shafran, Cristo Rey’s founding president who now serves as the provincial superior of the Eastern U.S. Province of the Salesians.

He noted that Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School began just as a severe economic downturn hit the United States, but the school endured and prospered, like many of its immigrant families have done.

“I was lucky, because we had people who believed that anything worthwhile in life comes through sacrifice and struggle,” he said, noting that the school still seeks community help and support for its jobs program and scholarships.

Before the event began, the priest told the Catholic Standard that he is honored to have Cristo Rey’s Father Steve Shafran Wolfpack Scholarship Program named for him. In March, the school’s benefit dinner raised $570,680 in pledges for the scholarships in the program’s first year.

“It’s a great honor, but more importantly, it really signifies the essence of what we want to do here – provide an education for the poorest kids,” he said.

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout attended the kickoff event, representing Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who blessed and dedicated the school when it opened and has visited the school many times in the past decade and celebrated Masses for its graduating seniors.

“This is such a unique model for Catholic education,” Bishop Knestout said. “…It’s a beautiful place, and it certainly needs all our help and support.”

Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School has 402 students, and 110 partners support its Corporate Work Study Program. One hundred percent of the students in its six graduating classes were accepted into college, and 80 percent of its students are the first members of their families to attend college. This past year, Cristo Rey’s student body was 68 percent Hispanic and 18 percent African American.

Jane Genster, the president of the Cristo Rey Network, spoke at the event, noting that there are now 32 Cristo Rey schools in 21 states across the country, serving nearly 11,000 students. The Cristo Rey schools form the largest network of schools in the United States that exclusively serve low-income students. So far, 2,500 of the graduates of Cristo Rey network schools have gone on to earn college degrees.

She noted that students at the Cristo Rey schools earn a Catholic faith-based education in a rigorous college preparatory curriculum, while also gaining professional experience in the 21st century workplace that “demystifies the world” for them.

Before student ambassadors offered guests a tour of their school to the guests who had “come home” to Cristo Rey that evening, one of the members of its first graduating class spoke about the impact the school has had on her life.

Pamela Cabrera Bahay of Cristo Rey’s pioneer class of 2011, who now works at the school as an admissions associate after graduating from The Catholic University of America in 2015, said, “Don Bosco Cristo Rey is my home. From the very beginning, Don Bosco Cristo Rey understood the importance of empowering the dreams of its students.”

She said that Cristo Rey’s Catholic and Salesian identity, its academic program and her corporate work experience helped prepare her for success in college and in life. As a Cristo Rey student, she worked at Georgetown University Hospital, and she said the people who supervised her there remain her friends, mentors and supporters.

The school’s teachers and staff members continue to offer her love and support, she said.

“I am a proud Catholic Latina immigrant,” Bahay said. “…I immigrated to this country along with my mother, determined to succeed in my life.”

Now in working at Cristo Rey, she can give back to the school, she said. “I am happy to give witness to these students. I am honored to return here.”

Cristo Rey’s 10th anniversary year will also include the establishment of a President’s Council to build on its network of community support, and a Founders Dinner and Scholarship Celebration is planned for April 2017.