Montessori Founded by Dominican Sisters Celebrates a Golden Anniversary
“The Holy Spirit has guided this school,” said Dione Gaspar, looking around the soaring, light-filled entrance to St. Catherine’s Montessori, “Everyone feels this spirit when they walk in through the doors.” Gaspar, a former staffer and alumni parent since 1995, marveled at the school’s longevity at a brunch reception following the school’s 50th Anniversary Mass on September 24th, 2016, “People come and go, but sticking to the mission, to actually fulfill that mission, that’s when you’ve really done something.”
The special liturgy, presided over by His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, celebrated the historic milestone achieved by Houston’s first Catholic Montessori, founded by two Dominican Sisters, Sr. Edna Ann Hebert, O.P., and Sr. Shirley Owens, O.P.+ in 1966. St. Catherine’s began as Dominican Montessori, with one classroom for 43 Primary students. “We loved what we were doing,” said Sr. Edna Ann, now 85 and in attendance with her two biological sisters, “The kids were so good and the parents were searching for places for us [when the school needed new premises]. It just kept going and going.” Did she ever think the school would last for 50 years? “NO WAY!”
Sr. Edna retired in 2011 after 45 years of service to the school. Both the history and the future of the legacy she established were in evidence throughout the Mass, from the Adolescent Community and elementary student altar servers and 90-student choir, to the gift bearers – longtime employees Maria Diaz and Alfredo Galeas. Ms. Diaz has served the school since 1976 and Mr. Galeas since 1995.
In his homily, Cardinal DiNardo spoke movingly of Maria Montessori’s work in understanding the child’s natural desire to learn and in respecting the individuality and beauty of each child. “Here was someone who was really ahead of her time,” he said. “She developed a kind of system. I like it because – and this is my reductionist interpretation of her brilliant thinking – ‘The child's natural desire to learn teaches us something, and for the child's natural desire to learn, it’s amazing what we can generate if we both are present and occasionally get out of the way.’”
His eminence went on to say, quoting Montessori, “’The beauty of the singularity of each child’ – It’s a very Christian theme by the way, the singularity of the person…I know Montessori has been around for a long, long, time and it’s international and in many ways it’s a very beautiful way [of teaching]. And it’s here in Houston because the order of teachers, wouldn’t you know, is the Dominicans!” His Eminence warmly concluded, “Through the dedicated efforts of two sisters this school began, and now look where we are, 50 years later. You’re right to be proud of what’s happened.”
Cardinal DiNardo had also presided over the Mass celebrating St. Catherine’s current building in 2006, the first LEED-certified K-12 school in the state of Texas. Noting the addition of more classes and an Infant Community since then, His Eminence remarked, to much amusement, that the school “starts at a year and a half [years old], up through 9th grade, 10th...keeps getting bigger and bigger. Pretty soon they’ll start a university here!”
Touring the school building and grounds after Mass, His Eminence visited new additions to the school since his last visit, and was especially taken with the micro-economy of the Adolescent Community. Featuring chicken coops, beehives, a fall garden, a wind turbine, and a market to sell the products of their labor, the micro-economy models real business practices to follow the adolescent’s interest in figuring out how the adult world works.
Back at the Welcome Center reception, a beaming Sr. Edna Ann cut vanilla and chocolate 50th anniversary cakes while surrounded by alumni, parents, former faculty and friends. Jordi Baizan, one of Sr. Edna Ann’s earliest students and the father of four alumni children himself, cast an eye over faces both familiar and new. The school is a testament to “The spirit of Sr. Edna Ann and Sr. Shirley,” he said, “when it comes from the right place, when what you do is good, it can bear fruit over generations.”
St. Catherine’s Montessori is located at 9821 Timberside Drive. For information on the school’s 50th Anniversary celebrations, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to view photos from our 50th Anniversary Mass.