Stephen Holte said has benefitted greatly from a lifelong immersion in Catholic schools, both as a student and educator.
Holte, the founding president of the soon-to-open Cristo Rey Orange County High School in Santa Ana, attended Catholic schools, taught in Catholic schools and has spent the past 15 years as an administrator in Catholic schools.
But Holte is also aware that a private school education is not in the financial reach of many families.
The Cristo Rey Network of High Schools has changed that.
By incorporating a unique work-study model in all its schools, Cristo Rey’s mission is to ensure that a Catholic school education is available to students with limited financial resources.
That will be the model of the Cristo Rey Orange County High School, the 39th Cristo Rey school, when it takes on its first freshmen class in fall, 2023.
The Orange County Cristo Rey High School is leasing space at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish on McFadden Avenue and Center Street in Santa Ana.
The surrounding community is predominantly Hispanic, with a significant Vietnamese population.
Immaculate Heart of Mary holds nine Masses every weekend, including seven in Spanish, one in Vietnamese and one in English.
“When they hear a new Catholic high school is opening, they immediately think they can’t afford it,” said Holte, who spent nearly a decade as an administrator at Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School in Chicago, the 20th school in the Cristo Rey Network. “We do not cost any less than a Mater Dei and a JSerra. We are just funded differently. We provide this opportunity that (bridges) the gap in a really compelling and direct way.”
BISHOP KEVIN VANN IS PICTURED WITH STEPHEN HOLTE, PRESIDENT OF THE SOON TO OPEN CRISTO REY ORANGE COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL. COURTESY PHOTO
Half of the tuition is covered through Cristo Rey’s Corporate Work Student Program, a separately incorporated entity. The rest is covered by philanthropy.
The program is similar to a temporary employment agency, employing every student five full days a month in an entry-level, professional job all four years of high school.
Dozens of county businesses, nonprofits and government agencies have committed to hiring Cristo Rey students. Those include the Diocese of Orange, the County of Orange, the Orange County Sheriff ’s Department and Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
Holte has been in his new position since January 2022, after being selected by an 11-member search committee from a field of more than 50 applicants.
A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Holte spent 13 years at Loyola University in Chicago, and at Christ the King Cristo Rey High School in Chicago, where he held senior advancement positions.
Conor Heaton, Cristo Rey’s vice president of growth and associate general counsel, was a member of the search committee that selected Holte.
STEPHEN HOLTE IS PICTURED WITH THE STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS OF CRISTO REY ORANGE COUNTY DURING A RECENT ADMISSIONS EVENT. COURTESY PHOTO
“Having worked with Stephen at Christ the King, I was thrilled when I learned he was interested in the role because of the talent and experience he would bring,” Heaton said.
Previously, Holte taught in an elementary school level in San Antonio, Texas. He holds a degree in Finance & Business Economics and M.Ed. from Notre Dame.
“Steve was hired because his skills and experience best fit the demands of a founding president,” said Tim Psomas, Cristo Rey Orange County board chair. “His role is quite entrepreneurial, beginning with selection of the initial leadership team, overseeing and building relationships with employers and benefactors, developing budgets and business plans, overseeing the recruitment of the initial students and overseeing the facilities preparation for opening day.”
Nearly 100% of the 12,000 students in the Cristo Rey network are accepted into college, Holte said, with at least 85% of those attending college.
Cristo Rey Orange County is the first in the county and seventh high school in the network in California.
“In selecting a site for any Cristo Rey school, we want to be close to the families we exist to serve, while also being proximate to the work sites and business districts in which we must transport our students every weekday for work, Heaton said.
The new school will educate a class of about 120 freshman its first year and add a class each year, maxing out at about 400 students, Holte said.
Officials hope to have a permanent location before the incoming freshmen class become seniors, he said.
Cristo Rey is not under the governance of the Diocese of Orange Catholic Schools but operates with Bishop Kevin Vann’s blessing.
“I think it’s one of the most exciting things going on in Catholic education across the country,” Holte said.
For information, visit cristoreyorangecounty.org