United States – How “Cristo Rey Tampa” got started

(ANS – Tampa) – Cristo Rey Tampa High School at Mary Help of Christians Center, now in its fifth year of existence (with Grades 9-11 thus far), came about through the hand of Divine Providence and the initial financial backing of the Mary Help of Christians Foundation. The hard work of many people – the Salesians; Bill Palmisano, director of the foundation; Jim Madden, the first principal; and the school’s founding president and CEO, Charles Imbergamo – have brought the school where it is today. Here is an interview with Fr Steve Ryan, SDB, one of the founders of this Salesian work helping poor youth.

What was your inspiration for bringing Cristo Rey to Tampa?

St John Bosco, the founder of the Salesians, was amazing at finding creative ways to educate and evangelize young people who desperately needed help to make it in life. In starting the first “Cristo Rey school” 23 years ago, Fr John Foley brought the same passion and ingenuity into a new type of high school in Chicago. It developed into a model that could be replicated across the United States. Bringing Cristo Rey Tampa to Mary Help of Christians made perfect sense. It matched completely with the Salesian mission, and we had an extraordinarily beautiful campus to host it.

What was your favorite part of launching “Cristo Rey Tampa”?

At every turn, moving from an idea to a reality, God opened the right doors for Cristo Rey in Tampa. I enjoyed experiencing the hand of Divine Providence as the Lord brought us the gifts of people, funding, students, jobs, administrators, and teachers. Looking back, I can truly say that every obstacle was overcome by the Lord’s guidance and the hard work of the founding team, including Mr Jim Madden, the Mary Help Foundation, the initial board of directors, the staff and volunteers of Mary Help Center, and the hard effort of Mr Charles Imbergamo and the launch team.

What is important to sustain Cristo Rey Tampa?

From my perspective, a strong faith culture in our school and the practice of Don Bosco’s style, method, and spirituality are essential. Yet just as important on a practical level will be the following: a strong board of trustees to assist the president; corporate work partners who are passionate about our students and this program; educators who will motivate our students to strive for excellence; benefactors who are willing to make ongoing financial contributions; and finally, the recruitment of students who truly want to receive a high-caliber Catholic education and sacrifice to get it.

What do you want the Tampa community to know about Cristo Rey Tampa?

CRT is a game-changer in the lives of Tampa’s underserved families. Our students and their families are being elevated toward a brighter future because of this school. Come by the campus and see what’s going on (the joy, the family spirit, the excellent academics) and watch what happens after our first graduating class (the class of 2020) goes on to four-year universities. Oh, and yes – we want everyone in the community to know that they are welcome to be a part of this phenomenal school.

What one word describes Cristo Rey Tampa?

It’s a miracle.

The Cristo Rey Network is a not-for-profit organization founded in 2000 to increase the number of schools modelled after Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, which was founded in 1996 to prepare youth from low-income families for post-secondary educational opportunities. Schools within the Network integrate four years of college preparatory academics with continuous professional work experience that pays most of the cost of a student's education. Cristo Rey schools admit students of all faiths and cultures, and on average 46% of Cristo Rey students are not Catholic.


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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