Caleen Kennedy poses with her class in Nepal.

Send a note to Caleen Kennedy
at the Chicago Jesuit Academy

I felt challenged to be open to where God was and is calling me ... Having followed a path from Marquette to JVI in Nepal to JVC Magis at Loyola to CJA, I know this is where I’m supposed to be.
Chicago Jesuit Academy - Living the Jesuit Mission

In 2005, the year Chicago Jesuit Academy was enrolling its first class, Caleen Kennedy was studying advertising and studio art at Marquette University. Little did she know that she would one day take part in the meaningful work of this ministry, and it would, in turn, make a significant impact on her life.

Chicago Jesuit Academy (CJA), a middle school on the city’s West Side, provides young men who have limited educational and economic resources with access to a Catholic, college preparatory education – as well as advocacy and long-term support for success. It does so in a rigorous academic environment, during an 11-month school year, which incorporates a 9.5-hour school day that includes three meals, a mandatory evening study hall, and required co-curricular activities. Class sizes are small, to address the learning needs of each student.

Caleen’s path to CJA – where she is engaged in her first year as a full-time professional social worker – began at home. “My parents were active in our parish, and they raised my sisters (both of whom also attended Marquette) and me to be women for others, even though they didn’t use that Jesuit-associated phrase,” she recalls. “In fact, I didn’t know much about the Jesuits until I got to college.”

Nonetheless, the values-centered Jesuit education Caleen encountered at Marquette continued to shape her outlook. “I felt challenged to be open to where God was and is calling me,” she explains. “As a result, I was involved in several service organizations, and participated in a service trip to Kenya the summer before my senior year. That experience helped move me to seek a place with Jesuit Volunteers International (JVI) following graduation.”

The challenge to remain open to unexpected possibilities continued to characterize Caleen’s life when she received news of her JVI placement. Although she thought she would return to Africa and work in a health ministry, she was assigned to teach first- and third-graders in Nepal. 

“When I got the call, I didn’t even know where Nepal was,” she says with a laugh. “And I hadn’t considered working in education. But the assignment ended up changing the course of my life.”

After two years with JVI, Caleen returned to the United States and worked first as a pastoral assistant, then as a legal assistant. Drawn to family law and its counseling and child advocacy aspects, she came to the realization that social work was her calling. Caleen decided Loyola University Chicago's JVC Magis program would be the perfect match to continue her education.

JVC Magis is a two- to three-year scholarship program for non-married, former Jesuit volunteers. Its mission is to prepare leaders to advance the work of the Jesuits and the Catholic Church while serving apostolates in the Chicago area. Participants live simply in faith-centered communities; serve 30 hours a week as employees in ministries; and earn a master’s degree in social work, pastoral studies, divinity, social justice, or spirituality.

While she feels grateful for many aspects of her JVC Magis experience, one experience stands out. 

“I was truly blessed to have been placed at CJA,” she says. “As an intern, I was fortunate to train here. And now, being able to continue to be part of this unique place  and to work every day with these wonderful kids and their families, and the faculty and staff who take joy in this work – is a gift.” 

For CJA students, the resources provided through social workers like Caleen are crucial to success. According to research by the University of Chicago, more than half the children in CJA’s neighborhood will not complete high school. To ensure individualized attention to students’ needs, respect for unique circumstances and concerns, and an appreciation for their gifts, CJA provides a suite of services that are unavailable in traditional middle schools. With a median annual family contribution of $180, scholarships fund the balance of the roughly $20,000 it costs CJA to educate a student each year.

Support, however, does not end there. CJA students benefit from a special relationship with Loyola Academy and Saint Ignatius College Prep – which host CJA student visits to their campuses and include CJA students in their camps and summer programs. Loyola and Saint Ignatius have also made commitments to meet the financial needs of CJA graduates who earn admission. In order to best serve their alumni, the CJA College-Persistence Team has also built relationships with a number of boarding, selective-enrollment, and private high schools, in addition to an ongoing partnership with the Noble Network of Charter Schools.

“It is extremely satisfying to be part of an institution that takes so seriously the concept of cura personalis (“care of the whole person”),” says Caleen. “Having followed a path from Marquette, to JVI in Nepal, to JVC Magis at Loyola, to CJA, I know this is where I’m supposed to be.”

If you'd like to read about others who are Living the Jesuit Mission, please click here.

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