By Michele Zurich, Catholic News Service

A Cristo Rey high school will open in the Diocese of Oakland in fall 2018, Bishop Michael C. Barber told a gathering at the event center at the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

“Today I want to announce the intention of the Diocese of Oakland to establish a Cristo Rey high school here in our diocese,” Bishop Barber said July 31. The bishop acknowledged that “there is a significant amount of work to make this dream a reality.”

The school, whose working name is East Bay Cristo Rey High School, is expected to enroll a freshman class of 125 young men and women in fall 2018, and add a grade a year through fall 2021. A site has not yet been disclosed.

The Cristo Rey Network, established by the Jesuits 20 years ago in Chicago, combines academics with work experience. Each student works one day a week, with four students sharing one full-time, entry-level clerical or administrative position. The salary is paid to the school and put toward off-setting tuition. All parents contribute, however modestly, to tuition.

The 30 Cristo Rey high schools nationally serve about 10,000 students; 97 percent are students of color and the average family income is $35,000.

Three years ago, when he became bishop of Oakland, Bishop Barber said, “I could see our Catholic schools in our most prosperous neighborhoods were doing fine,” he said, noting the vitality of De La Salle and Carondelet high schools in the city of Concord, northeast of Oakland.

“When I looked over on this side of the mountain, especially in inner-city Oakland,” he said, he found schools to be struggling.

“Kids who live in those neighborhoods can’t afford tuition to attend Catholic school,” said the bishop, who is a Jesuit.

Bishop Barber said he began teaching at Loyola High School in Los Angeles in 1978.

“There were 30 Jesuits teaching in the school and our stipend for teaching there was $25 a month, then you got your room and board,” he said.

“Now that so many schools are staffed by laypeople, we have to pay a good, living wage,” he said. “Tuition now is around $17,000 a year at a Catholic high school.

“If you’re making $35,000 a year you can’t afford to spend $17,000 to send your kid to a Catholic high school, even though it could be your dream.

“That is what I looked at when I looked at Oakland: We need a Cristo Rey school,” he said. “We need that for our kids in Oakland.”

The East Bay Cristo Rey High School would be the third in the Bay Area: The Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose operate Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco, which in August 2009 became the first all-girls school in the Cristo Rey Network; and Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School is entering its third year.

To establish a Cristo Rey school, the Oakland Diocese needs to partner with a religious order. Bishop Barber said he is in talks with the Brothers of the Christian Schools, who have a “long and distinguished presence in the diocese” including St. Mary’s College, St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley, De La Salle High School and De La Salle Academy in Concord.

“It is my hope they will be able to sponsor the Cristo Rey school,” the bishop said.

He called upon donors to help make the dream of the school a reality. The application to the Cristo Rey Network is due May 1, 2017. With the application, the diocese will need to show $2.5 million in pledges, which can be paid over five years, and letters of intent for 35 jobs, which will pay $32,000 a year each.

“It’s something the Catholic Church does very well,” the bishop said. “In our history, especially in the United States, education is one of the gifts that the Catholic Church can give, and not just to people of our faith but to people who are poor, who need to have a future.

“A Catholic school provides a place where, besides learning the lessons, you also grow up learning about the love and mercy of God for you,” the bishop said. “With God’s help, you can be anything you want to be in life.”

The plan for the Cristo Rey High School received an endorsement from California Gov. Jerry Brown, himself the founder of two charter schools, Oakland Military Academy and the Oakland School for the Arts.

Not long after Bishop Barber’s installation in 2013, he shared his dream for a Cristo Rey school with the governor.

“He gave me the first donation, he and his wife, Anne,” Bishop Barber said. “I was greatly encouraged by that.”

“I’m all for it,” the governor told the gathering at the cathedral event center, calling it a “creative way to provide an education for kids.”

Its success, the governor said later, will depend on funding.

The mayor of Oakland also was in attendance.

“I’m very excited about no- or low-tuition for Oakland children,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “Oakland families are struggling,” she said, noting the fast-rising cost of living in the city, and the “need for help and resources to achieve their dreams.”

“Cristo Rey is a blessing for the city of Oakland,” she added.

(The Diocese of Richmond is in the process of establishing a Cristo Rey High School in Richmond with its task force members hoping to open the school in the fall of 2018.)