An Unexpected Call

Loyola graduate returns to Jesuit education as president of Cristo Rey

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos by Howard Korn

When Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore contacted William Heiser, ’95, M.Ed. ’97, about an opening for the presidency of the school, Heiser wasn’t seeking a new opportunity.

“I really felt I was doing Jesuit work in public education, putting my heart and soul into helping kids and families and communities and trying to improve high schools,” said Heiser, who was principal of Catonsville High School in Catonsville, Md., at the time.

The more he learned about the position at Cristo Rey, however, the more interested he was.

“What I quickly realized—and the search committee realized—was that it was a wonderful fit on a number of levels with my passion for Jesuit education and serving people in the city, and my belief that education can be transformational.”

Since beginning in the role in July, Heiser has been helping shape the future of a Jesuit high school with a distinctive purpose and mission. He is also reflecting back on his own education at Loyola, where he earned a B.A. in Sociology and a Master’s in School Counseling before continuing on for an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration from Morgan State University.

“I think God calls on you in different ways often when you’re not expecting it,” he said.

Even Heiser’s decision to attend Loyola was unexpected. An All-American soccer player in high school, he had received several scholarship offers from universities around the country—and had committed to attend one. When his mother died suddenly on the day before his 18th birthday, he started rethinking his college choices.

“While it’s hard to explain, I remember an overwhelming feeling that I should trust in Loyola,” Heiser said.

So he did. At Loyola Heiser found a warm and welcoming community. He studied, captained the soccer team, met his future wife, Tracy, and returned later as an administrator. Along the way, he learned the importance of service, as well as the idea of doing and becoming more.

“Loyola taught me the importance of doing more for Christ and, therefore, doing more for others,” said Heiser.

As president of Cristo Rey, today Heiser strives to live out that Jesuit sense of the magis, working to transform the lives of his students there, one student at a time, always keeping in mind the Jesuit values and tradition that are integral to Cristo Rey.

Students at the co-ed college preparatory school come from low-income families. They study and work in corporate internships to support the cost of their education. Although Cristo Rey, which opened in 2007, is a young school, it has experienced 100 percent college acceptance of its seniors.

“It’s our teachers and our students and our families, and all the people who are involved who make Cristo Rey a great school,” Heiser said.

During the city’s unrest in April, the Cristo Rey faculty and staff tried to ensure the students had the space to have conversations about what they were experiencing.

“Our teachers did a wonderful job allowing students to process those feelings, those experiences. But the students also took it upon themselves to meet with each other and to make signs promoting peace and a peaceful Baltimore,” Heiser said.

“Our students are remarkable in so many ways. They’re smart, they’re community-centered, and they’re very loving. They care a great deal about our city and about our community. They have a belief and motivation to make Baltimore City a great city. They aspire not only to get to college but to go through college and finish college. And then what’s inspiring is that many of them aspire to return to the neighborhoods they grew up in, to make Baltimore a better place.”

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