Catholic schools saddle up to explore Texas history, heritage

March 12, 2019

St. Mary of the Purification Catholic Montessori School students walk through the carnival grounds at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on Black Heritage Day March 1. Photo by James Ramos/Herald.

HOUSTON — When a goat, or was it a sheep, bleated nearby, Lois Goudeau kept a watchful eye on her students milling about a petting zoo.

She was in NRG Center, a sprawling example of the diverse, booming agriculture business in Texas, where the St. Mary of the Purification Catholic School principal had led her students to the 87th annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on Black Heritage Day, March 1.

Those students trekked through the massive exhibition space, eyes peering curiously into a baby chicken egg hatchery or tiny hands petting on giant soft rabbits. Goudeau’s students were among the more than 60,000 tickets given to young students across the region that help bring them closer to the animals of Texas and the processes that bring agriculture to students like themselves.

With parent chaperones, faculty and staff, Goudeau said she saw great value in bringing her students to the weekslong rodeo celebration, especially on a Black Heritage Day.

“It keeps them in contact with their heritage,” she said. “The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a huge part of Houston and our school. Being the first African-American Montessori in [Texas], we’re a huge part of the Houston community. We’re an inner-city school so it’s a good thing for us to be out here experiencing part of our heritage.”

Goudeau was thrilled to see her students enjoy interacting with the animals. For many students visiting the Rodeo, the day’s activities would be their only experiences with animals that entire year, until the next rodeo.

“The kids really got a kick out of the rabbits,” she said. “They were surprised to see such really big rabbits.”

Outside the exhibition hall, the students gathered to watch area schools performing arts programs at the Stars Over Texas stage. Goudeau said the students enjoyed the show, which included marching bands, drill teams, student choirs and other activities.

The students were able to see young people, including several who were St. Mary’s students who have moved on to do “remarkable things,” she said. “It’s a good experience for them. We’re always glad to be able to take them out and show them new experiences. Some have never been to the rodeo and some of them are used to it, so it’s a good thing to get them all out here as a group and share as a school of faith. We’re out here enjoying and experiencing together as a family.”

Several other Catholic Schools sent students to the Rodeo on field trips to see the animal life first hand. Many also participated in art contests the Rodeo hosts annually.

A week earlier, on Go Texan Day Feb. 22, Charlene Guerra had donned her cowboy hat and was ready to see some horses. Her copper-colored, Texas-shaped earrings, both bearing images of longhorns, danced every time she turned her head. The St. Jerome Catholic School science teacher stood on the sidewalk with her students who waited for the Salt Grass Trail Riders to ride by the Kempwood-area parochial school.

Further up the Kempwood Drive, Dominican Sister Marie Martha Le, O.P. — wearing her own distinctive clothing: a sister’s habit — sported a blue cowboy hat over her black veil. Within minutes as sounds of horse hooves drew near, Sister Le joined St. Jerome Principal P.J. Jackson and the rest of the school staff in cheering with her students when the horses came into view.

Their presence signaled the opening of the rodeo festivities, and to the students’ excitement, some time out of the classroom. Cowboy hats of every color waved in the students’ hand — some handmade with crayon decorations — when the trail riders cheered back.

The riders had been on a 103-mile trail for nearly a week, heading to downtown Houston to kick off the rodeo with a parade. Many of the riders are familiar with the long journey; one marked this year by surprising cold weather snaps and rain.

Since 1952, the Salt Grass Trail Ride has participated in the rodeo, but has been passing by the school “forever,” joked Jackson.