Fr. Foley and his team set to find other means of financing the private school and stumbled upon the idea of a work-study program. When Cristo Rey Jesuit High School opened its doors in 1996, students attended classes four days a week and went to work one day a week at paying jobs in the local, Chicago business community. After only a year, faculty and staff observed that an unexpected benefit from the work-study program; the students themselves were earning more than just a wage to underwrite their tuition, but also valuable skills and experience for their future.
It was soon after, that Fr. Foley dreamed of others replicating his school in Pilsen. In 2001, the Cristo Rey Network was established when philanthropist B.J. Cassin established the Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation, to “blueprint” and replicate Cristo Rey-model high schools and similarly innovative grade schools.
It was through grants provided by the Cassin Foundation that the Cristo Rey Network was able to expand and build more schools across the country. During this time, feasibility studies were conducted in various U.S. cities to determine their viability of sustaining a Cristo Rey model school. Concurrently, the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus agreed to sponsor a Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in the Twin Cities. A year-long study was conducted in the Twin Cities by Fr. Eugene Donohue, SJ and in 2005 Fr. David Haschka, SJ was missioned to found the school.
During the school's development, Fr. Haschka approached the Minneapolis-based design build construction and real-estate development company, Ryan Companies, about being a potential work-study employer. However, Jim and Pat Ryan, two of the companies' executives, saw that they could contribute much more than corporate sponsorship and introduced Fr. Haschka to Art Erickson, Founder and then, CEO, of the Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation in South Minneapolis.
Erickson had long dreamed of building a youth center in the Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis. It was through the partnership of Urban Ventures and Cristo Rey Jesuit H.S. and significant generosity Ryan Companies and benefactors that the Colin Powell Youth Leadership Center was built. Building construction was completed in June 2007 and in August of that same year we welcomed our first freshmen class of nearly 100 students. Each year an additional class was added to our student body, until 2010 when we finally had students enrolled in grade 9 to 12.
In June 2011, we celebrated our first graduation as 61 students walked across the stage to receive their high school diplomas. 100% of our first graduating class was accepted to college or the military.
Our student success was repeated in 2012, 2013, 2104, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, when again, 100% of graduating seniors were accepted to college. We have over 760 graduates and celebrated our first college graduations in May 2015.