Founder of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory of Houston dies from cancer

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Local Catholics are mourning the death of Father T.J. Martinez.

Martinez founded Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory of Houston back in 2009 with just 80 students, but has grown the school to nearly 500 this year.

The charismatic, cowboy-boot wearing priest was known in the community for inspiring young people to look to the future. Former student, Julia Noriega, showed Eyewitness News what Martinez wrote in her senior year yearbook.

"Remember me when you're a billionaire," she read aloud.

The comment always makes her laugh but she says it also inspires her. Noriega was a student in Cristo Rey's first graduating class in 2013 and knew under Martinez's guidance, she could do anything.

"A lot of us came to this school not having much hope in our future and he made us believe that there was something we were meant to do, great things, all of us," explained Noriega who now attends San Jacinto Community College.

Every student in the school's two graduating classes so far has been accepted into college.

"What a gift he has given to the kids and to the city. He had that charisma of being able to connect with young people immediately," described Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston.

Martinez died from Stage Four stomach cancer. He was 44.

A web site has been set up for people to offer condolences and share their memories. Click or tap here for that as well as information on funeral services.

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