You might say Homecoming came early at Cristo Rey New York High School in East Harlem.
Father Steven Gonzalez—a 2010 alumnus who has the distinction of being the first priest ordained from the school—returned to campus for a visit Sept. 17 after concelebrating the 8 a.m Mass of the Holy Spirit next door at St. Cecilia and Holy Agony Church.
Cardinal Dolan served as principal celebrant and homilist, and Father Peter Mushi, the pastor, also concelebrated.
The liturgy marked the first time the student body was assembled together in person since the global coronavirus pandemic caused classes to go remote 18 months ago.
“We believe with all our heart and soul,” Cardinal Dolan said in his homily, “that everything that is good and true and beautiful, and noble, enlightening, inspirational, uplifting—everything that enhances the dignity of the human person and fosters the sacredness of all human life—all of that comes from God.”
And one of the best ways those aspirations are accomplished, he said, is through Catholic schools.
Father Gonzalez, 28, who was ordained at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in May, is renowned at Cristo Rey for his acting chops as the lead in the school musical about Buddy Holly. That was evident as Cardinal Dolan and Father Gonzalez toured the school after the liturgy. A highlight was their visit with English department chair Sister Jude Biank, S.C.C., who directs the school plays; she taught Steven Gonzalez in English class and directed him when he played Buddy Holly his senior year.
An audio recording of Father Gonzalez singing from his performance as Buddy Holly over a decade ago was playing as the cardinal and Father Gonzalez greeted Sister Jude.
“It’s so surreal to be back,” Father Gonzalez told CNY after the tour. Cristo Rey, he said, “was my first introduction to Catholic school.”
He appreciated Sister Jude’s “beautiful” gesture of playing a recording of his performance. “I’m very close to Sister,” he said and “was always very close to Sister as a student.”
His experience on stage as a student actor at Cristo Rey helps him today in the church sanctuary as a priest. He is a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Angels parish, the Bronx, and part-time chaplain at Cardinal Hayes High School, the Bronx.
“Certainly, that was one of the things they taught us in the drama club, how to have a stage presence, how to feel comfortable speaking in front of people,” he said. “It was introduced here.”
“I rarely get any stage fright,” he added with a laugh. “Being able to convey the message of God, being an instrument of God’s mercy, and that they have a real encounter with the Lord, that’s my hope and my prayer,” he said of the homilies he preaches to the congregation.
Adriana Duran, a senior, was among the student ambassadors who guided the cardinal on the tour. “The Mass was lovely,” she told CNY. “I just felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. It set us off to a good start.”
“It’s always a pleasure to represent Cristo Rey,” Adriana added of her role as an ambassador. “This is my home. I love Cristo Rey and I’m down to assist Cristo Rey in any way possible.”
Cristo Rey, located at 112 E. 106 St. in Manhattan, opened in 2004, supported by three congregations: Jesuits, De La Salle Christian Brothers and the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. The president is Daniel Dougherty. Rose Batista is the principal.