Driving north on 101 just a mile past 280 and peeking to your left, two brick-red cupolas adorn a long-standing sentinel of East San Jose - Five Wounds Church. It’s been part of San Jose since 1914 - 30 years before 101 was built.
Exactly 100 years later, adjacent to the parish, Taube Humanities Center was renovated and created as the beginning of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. Two years later in 2016, Finn Hall expanded Cristo Rey - a school of new-modern, socially-aware students, leaders and citizens of the future.
As East San Jose is known for its long-standing Mexican-American communities, other cultures coexist in the area. From Vietnamese and Filipinos to Ethiopians and many others, the Cristo Rey student population is diverse.
“Our Journey is Sacred”
What more ideal representation of the richness of the area than a larger-than-life mural?
A mural that depicts the empowering of students of an underserved community. A mural that represents a past, present and future journey with the faith and love that powers life.
“Our Journey is Sacred” is not just the name of the mural led and created by San Jose artist Carlos Rodriguez, which was unveiled at a dedication ceremony on April 25, 2023, the mural is a calling at Cristo Rey that will emanate well into the students' adult lives and future generations.
Sophomore Kevin Rodriguez-Fierro shared his perspective at the unveiling offering a perspective that defied his years.
“I would say seeing not only the talent of the artists and students, but with the teachers joining in the fun too, it created strong bonds,” shared Rodriguez-Fierro about creating the mural and his faith.
“In the middle of the mural, you see a monstrance that is our faith and beliefs,” said Rodriguez-Fiero. “I personally connect with it because oftentimes I ask God to take my steering wheel because I need help sometimes. And the rose also symbolizes the students and the students of the world to find balance with everything with love.”
Seniors Brandon Cortes and Andrea Valenzuela-Cuevas, who are both pursuing art in college, also uniquely contributed their “blood, sweat and tears” to the mural.
“Adding the shades of red to the heart was my favorite part,” said Valenzuela-Cuevas. “The entire experience from not feeling my fingers in the freezing weather to climbing high up the scaffolding to getting paint on my clothes and then just seeing it come together is so satisfying. I’m just enjoying it everyday before I leave.”
Cortes painted the bracelets and breaking of chain links from two embraced hands on the lower part of the mural to symbolize LGBTQ+ challenges.
“The bracelets are very vibrant and colorful and seeing it makes me feel like I'm welcomed,” said Cortes. “It is something that I was able to paint for everyone to know that it doesn’t matter what your reality or your identity is. You're always welcome here because you're always loved.”
Cortes also shared how nervous he was to paint, because he didn’t know what to do at first, until Rodriguez said, “Don’t worry about it. Just go with what feels right to you.” It was also shared how Cortes’ emotions spilled over after completing the last piece of the mural.
An incredible community experience and journey
“When I arrived at Cristo Rey almost five years ago, I took one look at this big blank wall every day and thought to myself - ‘Carlos Rodriguez could create something beautiful here’,” said media arts teacher Michelle Longosz, who’s known Rodriguez for years as an activist and artist from San Jose.
Longosz’ classroom in Finn Hall faces the south wall of Taube Hall in a narrow corridor between the buildings, where the roughly 50’ wide by 15’ high mural now dances with all its vibrance.
“I knew Carlos would be perfect to create a piece on this wall because of his body of work and how he’s so passionate and deeply connected to his community,” added Longosz. “With his artistry, as well as his passion for mentoring young artists, I knew he was the one for this mural.”
The mural project started in the late winter months of 2023 with piercing arctic air and a few atmospheric rivers thrown in for good measure, but it didn’t stop Rodriguez and the other students and staff who assisted.
“I don't know how Carlos paints in the dark,” said Longosz of the long hours Rodriguez and others would put in. “We loved watching our students work alongside this master artist and take such care and delight in applying themselves.”
“This man is a beast. He has such a great work ethic and works so hard.”
Cristo Rey principal Andria Bengston also agreed with Longosz that Rodriguez was the one to do the mural. Bengston knew cultural beauty would transpire. Bengston also helped manage the logistics but gave equal credit to Cristo Rey president Silvia Scandar Mahan for finding the funding.
“Our identity is in that space and now it brings our community together,” shared Bengston on her feelings behind the mural. “It was a community experience and an incredible journey with all of the identities of Cristo Rey and I couldn’t be happier.”
Charmaine and Dan Warmenhoven, the generous benefactors to several Jesuit schools, funded the Our Journey is Sacred mural. Realizing full well its cultural significance and impact, the Warmenhovens were also in attendance.
Guided by conviction & spirituality
It’s fair to say Rodriguez is not just an activist and artist. He is also an inspiring healer, a natural motivator and force-of-nature. One of his simple keys to life is where and how it all should start for everyone - by being yourself.
As easy as it sounds, it can be insanely complex in today’s world.
“If you don’t have a strong connection to your creator, you don’t have a strong connection to yourself,” stated Rodriguez. “Things can become impossible without this connection.”
The mural expresses it all. To be here with love. To be thankful and to be real.
Rodriguez shared his emotions, the stress and the amount of work it took to complete the mural journey, but was equally thankful for his new friends and partners who experienced the mural journey. A journey that started the right way - by first getting wide-ranging feedback and input.
“170 to 180 people had their say and they all touched the wall in a way where each put their love, energy and prayer into it,” said Rodriguez. “For me, that’s the most important thing; that we are creating and growing a community together and giving each other a chance to be ourselves.”
Part of the cultural mural arts process is to engage, collaborate, research and discover - to bond with your audience and your “customer” and partner, and to understand the intended legacy. It was a major responsibility and Rodriguez savored it to the fullest.
“Yes, I took home over 170 papers from each of the students and read them all,” said Rodriguez. “All the information, individuality, personalities, religion, beliefs and spirituality really moved me and led to the vision of what you see.”
At the center of the mural, Rodriguez also pays deep tribute to the female energy of the world that is our humanity.
“Our mothers are everything,” said Rodriguez. “My mother is sitting here today with me and I wanted to tell her that I love her. I started by being a bad kid, but she always had so much patience and she did it all by herself.”
"The strength and inspiration of the mother allows us to be comfortable in our own skins and allows us to feel like we can be anything."
Even in just the two hours experiencing the ceremony, it's clear that the transformation of generations is underway and on-going at Cristo Rey.
Carlos Rodriguez appears in an award-winning, cultural documentary along with other Chicanx muralists from the San Francisco Bay Area: “The Muralists’ Beautiful Pain”