Back in Stride: Steps for Students makes a spirited return

February 22, 2022

Steps for Students started off with a blast of confetti and a rush of adrenaline to run the 5K race and run. (Photo by Sean O'Driscoll)

HOUSTON — More than 5,000 runners, walkers and volunteers showed up in downtown Houston excited to support Catholic schools in person rather than virtually at the Steps for Students 5K on Feb. 12.

Despite cloudy skies, spirits remained high as Daniel Cardinal DiNardo blessed the runners while a brief shower rained down, coinciding with the 8 a.m. blasts of air horn, church bells chiming and bursts of confetti loudly popping at the starting line.

“Let’s go, get out of the house, run and have a good time!” said Ricky Martinez, father of two students at St. Christopher Catholic School in southeast Houston. He was shepherding his family, including wife Ginny, 9-year-old son Dominic and 13-year-old Cassandra into the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart to attend the event’s 6:30 a.m. Mass.

Ginny, a parent member of the Home & School Association, said the kids were thrilled to learn their school won the 5K’s David Guite Spirit Award, the highest honor given by the Steps for Students race committee.

Named in memory of Guite, a strong advocate for Catholic education and a founding member 17 years ago of the Steps for Students event, the award goes to the school raising the most funds and school spirit in innovative ways in percentage to their student enrollment.

Fellow St. Christopher parent Victoria Smith let her eighth-grade son Jake and sixth-grade daughter Phini do the talking. “We had a $100 Club where every student who raised at least $100 gets to go on a field trip, and the top fundraiser gets to be principal for the day,” Phini rapidly fired off. Then Jake quickly added, “And we had a Valentine’s Dance at the school this past Friday.”

While St. Christopher raised $20,399, the overall fundraising of the event brought in $486,023 as of press time. Donations will be taken until Feb. 25. Larger schools like St. Laurence of Sugar Land brought in funds by recruiting more than 600 runners and raising $19,168, while Christ the Redeemer in the Cypress area brought in about 575 runners and raised $18,735, said CTR pastor Father Sean Horrigan. Each school keeps the funds that their students raised and decides how the money will best be used.

The highest individual and team fundraisers were Father Albert Zanatta, raising $33,271, and his Assumption Catholic School raising $52,021. The event has raised funds for computers, tuition assistance and multimedia equipment in 56 Catholic schools in 10 counties in the region.

But Father Jeff Bame, rector at the Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, in his homily reminded those attending the early-morning Mass dressed in T-shirts, shorts and other running gear about the true purpose of the event.

“It’s important to remember the mission that our Catholic schools have. Yes, they provide a wonderful education, with STEM and writing skills and other academics for future success,” Father Bame said. “But the schools also help the students know our Lord and God who created all things and invites us in union with Him for our eternal salvation.”

“This event is not just about money, but to focus on our mission and community,” he said.

After Mass, School Superintendent Debra Haney, cheering from the grandstand stage, told the crowd gathering to run, “We are so excited to be back with you all in person!”

She said, “Having our students share delightful stories about their schools with others as they promote Catholic education through this event is something that we look forward to each year. Their role as ambassadors for Catholic schools is invaluable!”

Cardinal DiNardo told the crowd, “Yes, it’s so good to be back together in person. As you walk, cheer and run, you leave a footprint, an imprint for Catholic education.”

Among some of the most enthusiastic runners besides the students were the ever-effervescent Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province, recently nicknamed the “Rally Nuns.” Years before any national fame from cheering on the Astros in the 2021 World Series and throwing out opening pitches, the sisters have participated for over a decade in the Archdiocese’s Steps for Students 5K in support of Catholic education. Many times they are accompanied in the run by Father Christian Bui, pastor at St. Edwards Catholic Church in Spring.

But the event is also exciting for first-timers. Amy Shields, chief executive officer of St. Dominic Village residential nursing care, brought her family, including young triplets who attend St. Rose of Lima Catholic School. St. Dominic Village, St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities and San José Clinic collaborated for their inaugural appearance together in the Catholic School Village, where schools set up their tailgating-style tents for the race.

“This was our first year to participate in Steps for Students, and it was great to see so many from across the Archdiocese supporting Catholic Schools!” Shields said. “I loved that the race allowed people to contribute to the cause whether you were actively racing or supporting someone who was.”

“I was truly amazed to see the number of participants with competition and camaraderie among the schools, while at the same time all having the common goal of raising money for Catholic schools. There were also so many spectators cheering everyone on, which showed great community,” she said.

Among that competition, Incarnate Word Academy won the President’s Cup back from St. Thomas High School by having 44% of their student enrollment registered for the race. The large trophy was created three years ago to spur more participation in Steps for Students among high schools.

But St. Thomas can claim the overall win with its cross-country student athlete Benjamin Lauzon being the top male finisher of the race with a time of 18:06 or a pace of 5:50 per mile. Steps for Students is a USA Track and Field-certified and sanctioned event, chip-timed, and features a single-loop.

The top female finisher was Casey Timme, a St. Martha Catholic School track coach, with a time of 21:37. She participated with her daughter Carly, a second-grader at St. Martha. More than 5,000 attended the event in person, but a total of 8,224 registered online at to support the event.

ome of those decided to get the T-shirt but hit the Snooze for Students button without having to run.
Father Richard “Luke” Millette, vicar for the Archdiocese’s Tribunal and member of the Steps committee, won the Masters category for those 40-plus years old with a time of 20:04.

St. Mary’s Seminary student Philip Gaynor held up his trophy for the winning time for male runners between 20 to 29 years old with 22:51 in the sanctioned 5K.

“Running is a good stress-reliever, especially with all the studying and writing that we have to do in seminary,” Gaynor said. “Being part of this event helps to challenge me and gives me the motivation to keep pushing.”

Claudia de Guia, Archdiocese development coordinator who organized the event, said, “Steps for Students was one of the largest and last in-person events for the Archdiocese before the pandemic started in Houston, so it was beautiful to have the event return in-person and see all the families come together again.”

Save the date for next year with Steps for Students scheduled for Feb. 11, 2023.