By Jerry Duggan
As president of Arrupe Jesuit High School in Denver, Michael O’Hagan is grateful for and continually transformed by the school community he leads.
Arrupe Jesuit is a member of the Cristo Rey Network of schools. Like all Cristo Rey schools, it is committed to serving students from socio-economically disadvantaged households. In order to pay their tuition, Cristo Rey students commit to a work study arrangement.
In its 18 years of existence, Arrupe Jesuit has developed a reputation for developing leaders in the Denver and greater Colorado communities – accepting students in great financial need and, by graduation, securing college acceptances for 100 percent of them.
“Our students here at Arrupe are grateful for all they have been given – for a Jesuit, college preparatory education, for a loving school community and for the opportunities that await them upon graduation,” O’Hagan said.
The school’s founding principal 18 years ago, O’Hagan became president in 2018. While still invested in the lives of students, he now spends his days working with the outside community, including benefactors, Corporate Work Study partners and alumni, to reengage them in the power of Arrupe Jesuit.
For O’Hagan, leading a school that has such a clear sense of its identity is key. He knew the power of education but did not always have a clear sense of what he was called to do.
A graduate of Regis High School in New York City, O’Hagan thoroughly enjoyed his time spent in Jesuit education.
“The small, tight-knit community at Regis provided me with remarkable opportunities for learning,” he recounted. “I was also taught how to be a critical thinker, to see things from different perspectives and care for others – all foundational lessons that I still use today.”
He attended the University of Notre Dame, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature. Upon graduation, he was still unsure of his career path and began his journey to finding his true passion.
After meeting with a Jesuit who had become a mentor to O’Hagan, he was given the opportunity to work at a Nativity Mission Center in New York during a time that he calls the most formative period of his life.
“While working there, I began to have this sense that, if I immersed myself in my work, leaned into it and did it well, I might have a shot at effecting some real change in the world,” he said. “It became clear to me during these four years that working with those who are traditionally underserved was where I found the most fulfillment and the opportunity to make the greatest impact.”
O’Hagan continued his work with Nativity schools, starting the program in Boston and eventually made his way to Denver, teaching at a diocesan high school in the city. Here, he maintained his commitment to marginalized youth, always with the aim of passing on the lessons instilled in him by his own Jesuit education.
“Anytime you work with youth, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, you have to approach your work from a place of compassion and understanding,” he said. “There will be challenges, sure, but the potential for growth for everyone involved is tremendous.”
He has found that to be true in his work leading Arrupe Jesuit.
“There are long days and challenging days, but to see the way our students are transformed by their Jesuit education makes it all worth it,” he said.
He takes particular pride in the sense of community Arrupe Jesuit students develop during their time there – taking collective ownership of each other’s successes.
“At graduation, our speakers usually talk in the ‘we’ – saying things like ‘we did it,’ ‘we will go to college,’ and ‘we will be successful,’” he said. “To hear that they are so grateful for each other and for the opportunities Arrupe has provided them is heartwarming, but the truth is that I am just as grateful for all the opportunities they have given me, too.”
He frequently recalls Ignatius’ words about gratitude when reflecting on his job.
“Ignatius once said that perhaps the greatest sin was a lack of gratitude,” he reflected. “I am most grateful that the Society of Jesus has opened its doors to me as a layman and invited me to join in advancing its mission.”