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RIP, Father TJ Martinez

Some sad local news.

Father TJ Martinez

Father TJ Martinez seemed comfortable anywhere and with anyone. Raised in Brownsville and educated at some of America’s finest universities, he could charm princes of industry and encourage children born to paupers to study hard to make something of themselves and their community.

To greet first lady Laura Bush, he donned his familiar black jacket and Jesuit collar – but also a Texas-sized belt buckle.

Martinez, the charismatic founding president of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory High School in Houston, died Friday following an eight-month struggle with stomach cancer. He was 44.

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Cristo Rey, the only school of its kind in Texas, opened its doors in August 2009 to children whose families lived at or below the poverty level.

In 2013, every member of the school’s first graduating class was accepted to college, a feat the 2014 class also achieved. Supporters tied the success to Martinez’s exuberance and effectiveness.

“In everything he touched, he was dedicated, passionate and, above all, inspirational,” said Richard Kinder, a friend of Martinez who with his wife, Nancy, has supported the school.

Kinder’s company, Kinder Morgan, is one of many corporations around Houston that has hired students to give them real-world skills as they prepare for college.

Students pay no tuition to attend Cristo Rey, but they work one or two days a week for one of 150 companies around Houston, with their salary going to the school to offset expenses.

Four students fill one entry-level job at the company, each working one day a week and rotating the fifth work day every four weeks.

According to the school, the work finances 70 percent of each student’s education.

Martinez, who preferred that the periods be omitted from his initials, championed these partnerships and struck up friendships with Houston’s elite.

I did not have the opportunity to meet Father Martinez, though I was familiar with Cristo Ray – I frequently see their students in the downtown tunnels during the lunch hour, and they have my email address on their press list; here’s the press release they sent out on Friday to announce the news of Fr. Martinez’s death. I respect the work he did and I admire the success his school has achieved. I wish our society as a whole would show that level of commitment to our schools, our children, and our families that are living in poverty. The world would be a much better place if Father Martinez and Cristo Rey were less the exception and more the rule. Rest in peace, Father Martinez.

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