Thank You, St. Thomas High School!

4500 Memorial Drive, Houston, Texas

“Teach Me Goodness, Discipline, and Knowledge.”

Many of us who went west along Buffalo Bayou to attend St. Thomas High in Houston back in the day had to grow into an understanding of how important those words of our school motto really were. All we knew wat that it was the only private Catholic school choice for boys in Houston when I started there in 1952 and you had to take an entrance exam to get in.

The Basilian fathers opened St. Thomas High School in Houston back in 1900 at a site on Austin Street in a residential area south of downtown. In 1940, the school moved to its present site on the north side of Buffalo Bayou at what is now the corner of Memorial and Shepherd Drives. Heading east, Memorial Drive ended at Shepherd back in 1952. The extention construction of Memorial Drive from Shepherd all the way to town only took place during and after the time I was in high school at St. Thomas (1952-56). We students used that closed completed  stretch of Memorial in front of our school in 1954-55 (for a while) as a parking lot and drag strip. That was a lot of fun while it lasted.

In the 1950s, St. Thomas was heavy on math and science – and the belief that students should take whatever courses their testing says they can handle. As a result, my course plan loaded me up with science and math courses that I would never have chosen for myself, if I had been given a choice. None of us at STHS had a choice beyond “perform or fail” at the level the school expected of us.

Was that message really so bad or so different from the one we would all soon enough see in the competitive real world that lay ahead? I don’t think so.

It also was a different era. And our world reeked with even more imperfection than we find today. The Jim Crow reach of  segregation kept us all Anglo with a smattering of Hispanics and no Blacks at dear old STHS while I was there. That separation of the races never made a lot of sense to me. Because of segregation, we were all living a life in reality that differed greatly from what we were being taught, especially in Catholic and other Christian schools, as the principles of brotherly love, tolerance, and acceptance. It wasn’t just a STHS thing. St. Thomas was simply part of the mainstream acceptance of segregation that sadly existed in Houston and throughout the Old South states back then.

What a sorry situation! What would Jesus have done? Well, I’m thinking about the “Sermon on the Mount” here. I do not remember ever reading or hearing that Jesus said anything like, “Before we get started, let’s get the colored section filled in over here on my right!”

All of segregated Houston was like that on the surface of our mainstream culture back in the 1950s. Some supported segregation because they really believed in the separation of the races. Others just went along with it because it was either all they had ever known, or because it seemed easier to go with the flow than stand up against it.

Thank God it changed.

The hypocrisy of our mainstream culture in the 1950s came very close to driving me far away from conventional religious practice for all time. Until we started the civil rights changes that are ongoing to this day, I couldn’t find any good in the idea of a heaven that developed from the concept of an afterlife version of a “colored section” admission for Blacks.

How stupid could our mainstream culture  have been back in the day? Pretty stupid. We also did an ashamedly good job of denying power access and opportunity to the large number of Hispanics and few Asians in our midst back then too. It makes me embarrassed as a Caucasian to this day to think back and admit to how things were for minorities in the times prior to Brown versus The Board of Education.

Still, STHS, and certain teachers there, helped me build a picture of a better world, one in which racial prejudice and social class preferential treatment would not prevail over equality of opportunity for all. To those special mentors, I shall be forever grateful. As for those few teachers, and one in particular, who seemed fine with segregation and the class status quo, I’ve learned to write them all off as the unfortunate products of those times. They’re all dead now, just as their prejudicial ideas need to be. The cemetery is a good place for them all.

We have come out of the dark ages of racial prejudice and grown into an important international city of vast opportunity for anyone with a dream and a willingness to work. Without “goodness, discipline, and knowledge,” none of that growth in the balance of opportunity for all could have been possible. I’m just proud to have been a product of one local institution that was willing to grow in its own right and then lead the way for its happening.

Thank you, St. Thomas High School, for all you were able to teach some of us about a world in which the products of successful living hinge upon our ability to live the three qualities of our school motto. “Good”” means we have to live with integrity. “Discipline” means we need to learn how to do what we are supposed to be doing and just do it. “Knowledge” means we have to keep on learning forever about our world, others, ourselves, and God’s Will for us in this life. Put all those things together in one basket of action and we are bound to do some things that are right and in greater service to a public goal beyond our own selfish needs, no matter how imperfect we are in the process of getting there.

Oh well, that’s all the philosphy time I have open to me this morning, anyway. Hope all of you have an enjoyable weekend.

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2 Responses to “Thank You, St. Thomas High School!”

  1. Ken Dupuy Says:

    Thanks for a tour into, and criticisn of our shared past at good old St. Thomas High!

  2. Tom Withey Says:

    Amen. A very insightful essay. Frankly, I was so busy trying to keep up with the academics and all of the other perceived challenges of an adolescent, I really didn’t pay much attention to what Bill talks about regarding equal opportunity at the time. Of course, my realizations came later as an outgrowth of the principles of “Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge” that grew from my exposure to the St. Thomas High School experience.

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