- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington plans to open next year its first new high school in 55 years as part of an effort to serve low-income families and an influx of immigrants in the metropolitan area.

“This is who we’re targeting the school for,” said Patricia Weitzel-O’Neill, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese. “These are the very same people who very much want their children to have a Catholic education at the high school level.”

Cristo Rey High School is slated to open in fall 2007 at the renovated site of Our Lady of Sorrows School, a parish elementary school in Takoma Park.

The new school is part of a nationwide program that provides low-income students with a college-preparatory education through a work-study program.

Many of its students will come from immigrant and minority families, who make up an ever-increasing segment of Montgomery County’s population.

“We have a population of immigrants from many, many different countries,” Mrs. Weitzel-O’Neill said.

“You have Haitians, Africans, the Latino population … we found, even in the elementary school where this will be located, the students speak about 10 different languages because of the different countries where they’re coming from.”

Foreign-born people accounted for 26.7 percent of the county’s population in the 2000 census, and Hispanics were the county’s fastest-growing ethnic group.

In 1990, the 55,684 Hispanics living in Montgomery County made up 7.4 percent of the county’s population. That number grew to 100,604 — or 11.5 percent of the county’s population, in 2000.

The number of Catholics in the county also increased by 8.9 percent during the same 10-year period, according to the American Religion Data Archive.

Cristo Rey will provide many families with a chance to maintain an affordable, faith-based education.

“Once you get into middle school, there’s not a lot of options [for affordable private schools],” said Dario Muralles, an executive assistant for CASA of Maryland Inc., an immigrant advocacy group. “I visited [Our Lady of Sorrows], and there are a lot of Latinos, who are probably recent immigrants, that do want to give their kids a chance to continue with a Christian education.”

There are 17 Catholic high schools in the archdiocese, which includes the District and Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties in Maryland. Cristo Rey will be the first that the archdiocese has owned since 1951.

Current students at Our Lady of Sorrows, which officials said has lost 44 percent of its enrollment since 2001, will be transferred to nearby Catholic schools in Silver Spring and Hyattsville next fall.

Cristo Rey will be co-sponsored by the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Jesuit community. It will be part of the national Cristo Rey Network, which operates 11 schools for low-income students across the country and has a 98 percent graduation rate.

Another Cristo Rey school is also slated to open in Baltimore next year.

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