At Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, members of its class of 2015 and the school’s founding president, Salesian Father Steve Shafran, will move on to new challenges. On July 1, he will become provincial superior of the Eastern U.S. Province of the Salesians, headquartered in New Rochelle, N.Y.
“It’s tough. It’s bittersweet. For lack of better words, this (school) is my baby,” said Father Shafran. He was appointed to a six-year term as provincial by Father Angel Fernandez Artime, rector major of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
Cardinal Wuerl announced last month that Salesian Father Michael Conway, who has most recently served as president of St. Petersburg Catholic High School in Florida, will become the new president of Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, effective July 1. The coeducational Catholic high school in Takoma Park is cosponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Salesians of Don Bosco.
Reflecting on his experience at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, Father Shafran said, “This is a mission that has changed my life, and that has changed my priesthood.”
The school, part of a nationwide Cristo Rey network of 28 schools, offers a challenging academic program and an innovative work study program, in which students from low-income families gain professional work experience at nearly 100 leading Washington-area businesses and earn money to pay for a significant portion of their Catholic education.
“…This mission of Cristo Rey makes such an impact on the lives of young people,” the priest said, noting that the school serves families “who want a Catholic education and who could never afford it. This model makes it possible.”
Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School has a 100 percent college acceptance rate, and more than 80 percent of its students are the first members of their families to attend college. Many are from immigrant or minority families. Father Shafran, the son of Ukrainian immigrants, has said that his parents taught him “to work hard and never forget God.”
As he began organizing the formation of the high school in 2006, Father Shafran first purchased a chalice, which he had blessed by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. “I wanted the school to be built on the great foundation – Jesus Christ. What better way to symbolize that?” the priest asked.
Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School opened in 2007 at the site of the former Our Lady of Sorrows School in Takoma Park. One year after its opening, the school had to weather the impact of the nationwide economic
collapse, but the priest noted how the archdiocese, the school’s board of directors, its faculty and staff, members of the community, and the school’s corporate partners have supported its mission of providing a brighter future for its students.
“We have a wonderful Church and community here in the Archdiocese of Washington,” he said. “They have embraced the mission of helping the most vulnerable in our community get a Catholic education, as if these kids were their own, and launch them to success.”
In 2011, Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School graduated its first class of students. One year earlier, the school opened a new wing that included a library and administrative and student support offices. This past fall, Cardinal Wuerl blessed the new academic and science wing at Cristo Rey, which includes chemistry, biology and physics labs, a computer lab equipped with 30 laptops, and five additional classrooms.
About 120 corporate partners participate in the school’s Corporate Work Study Program, with some serving on the school’s board and as mentors to the participating students. The work study experience changes the lives of students, the priest said. “A young person blossoms, and it makes their dreams possible. They leave here with a resumé second to none, and they go on to college with great skills,” Father Shafran said. “They walk away from here believing in themselves… They’ve succeeded in the workplace and corporate world, and they’ve succeeded in the classroom.”
Don Bosco’s name graces the school’s entranceway, the saint’s statue is in its foyer, and Father Shafran said the patron saint’s spirit of caring for youth is embodied in Cristo Rey’s faculty and staff, who “day in and day out are on the front lines, engaging our young men and women, discovering whatever it takes (for them) to succeed.”
That spirit inspired his own priestly vocation. Father Shafran, a New Jersey native, graduated from Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., and then entered the Salesians’ formation program at Don Bosco College Seminary in Newton, N.J. He was ordained as a Salesian of Don Bosco priest in 1985, and he has served at Catholic high schools across the counry, including as director and president of his alma mater, Don Bosco Prep. For his doctorate in education, the priest wrote a dissertation on how St. John Bosco’s educational methods continue to shape Salesian schools in the United States.
Before taking his new post, Father Shafran will make a pilgrimage to Turin, Italy, and pray at the tomb of St. John Bosco, his order’s founder and the inspiration for his service as a priest, and his work in Catholic education.
The priest, who organized Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School from scratch, noted that the saint who also started educational and vocational programs for poor children once said, “Education is a matter of the heart.’”