Students of the Chicago Jesuit Academy, where Matthew Lynch (C’99) serves as founder and president. The school gives low-income students in Chicago a path to college. Photo by Steve Donisch.
January 26, 2015—Most business school applicants probably aren’t working on proposals to create a full-scholarship institution for youth in some of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods—but Matthew Lynch (C’99) did just that before becoming founder and president of the Chicago Jesuit Academy (CJA).
CJA, an all-boys school, serves fifth- through eighth-grade students with educational and economic needs by providing access to a Catholic, college-preparatory education in the Jesuit tradition. The school also offers long-term resources to help students develop skills that they need to become successful in high school, college, and beyond.
“Growing up on the west side of Chicago [as many CJA students do], or in similar neighborhoods around the country is just so incredibly hard,” Lynch said. “I have tremendous respect for our students and I marvel at their courage in doing what they do.”
At the core of CJA’s mission is alleviating the obstacles its students face. Many students grow up in material poverty; some are homeless and others experience serious instability in their homes.
A typical day for a CJA student is 9.5 hours long, and in addition to in-classroom education, the boys also have access to a variety of resources, such as the College Persistence Team. The team’s four-person staff ensures that each child understands how the path to college might look. Students and their families learn about various options for high school, and in eighth grade, students receive assistance with high school and related scholarship applications. The team then stays with the school’s alumni throughout their time in high school and college, providing counseling support as well as help with summer employment, ACT prep, college applications, course selection, and loan paperwork.
“Unfortunately, for a lot of our families, parents haven’t had access to great educational opportunities and, as a result, they just don’t have access to the social capital to know what the options are,” Lynch explained. To help fill in the gaps and assist the boys both in and outside the classroom, CJA aims to become a trusted advocate for its students and their families.
Lynch credits the school’s success both to the determination of the students and to the “extremely talented and dedicated teachers and staff who could have worked anywhere, but have chosen to be teachers and to work at CJA.”
This dedication to teaching is something Lynch knows well; it began at Georgetown. As an undergraduate studying government and history, Lynch planned to be a lawyer. But thanks to “a couple of really good mentors,” Lynch participated in a prison ministry program. Through stints at the now-closed Lorton Reformatory in Virginia and Oak Hill Juvenile Detention Center in Maryland, Lynch first realized that education might be his calling.
After graduation, Lynch was recommended for a job at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy (SILA), a Nativity-model middle school run by Jesuits in Baltimore. As his career continued, Lynch grew more and more certain that a school like SILA should exist in his hometown of Chicago.
“A Jesuit friend told me, it really should happen [in Chicago], but we would need a group of people to champion that effort,” Lynch said. “At that point, I realized that if I was serious about being one of the champions for this type of work, I would need to get a business background.”
After attending business school in St. Louis, Missouri, Lynch spent a year preparing to open CJA. Nearly ten years later, the school has more than 100 alumni and 119 students, with plans to have 230 enrolled by the 2020–21 school year.
For his part, Lynch is heavily involved in fundraising; about 99 percent of the CJA’s operating budget comes from donations. In addition, he works closely with the principal on any number of different aspects of the school, and you’ll also find him troubleshooting problems that students or their families encounter. And as the years go by, his passion only grows.
“Before our students [come] to us, school hasn’t typically been a place where they’ve felt they’ve been afforded a whole lot of respect,” Lynch said. “When a child hears that the reason we take their education so seriously is because we want to help them figure out what their gifts are so they can go out into the world and put those gifts to the service of others—that gets most human beings pretty fired up.”
That service to others has stayed with Lynch since his days at Georgetown.
“I think a huge part of the mission of Georgetown, as a work within a constellation of Jesuit works, is to ask, ‘How are we going to the frontiers?’” Lynch explained. “Hopefully CJA is one example of how the Georgetown community is going to the frontiers, and I’m so very proud of what that community has done to make CJA a reality. But I also hope we have the humility to see it as a great start and realize that there’s so much more work to be done.”
Georgetown offers a Prison Outreach Program for undergraduate students. For more information, visit the program’s website. Students interested in studying education should learn more about the College’s minor in education, inquiry, and justice (EIJ). The EIJ Program is currently accepting applications from College sophomores.