Three years ago, Reicher Catholic High School celebrated the 60th anniversary of its ninth- through 12th-grade campus opening its doors.
This weekend, the school known for focusing on rigorous academic programs and developing a student’s mind, body and spirit marks 60 years since the Class of 1957 crossed the graduation stage.
But celebrations couldn’t start until a few of Reicher’s first seniors imparted some words of wisdom on this year’s group of high-schoolers. The school was established in 1954 by the Diocese of Austin as Waco Catholic High School, and the inaugural graduates were in 10th grade, the oldest students enrolled.
“It does help a lot that we can have people like this come in and speak with us,” said Haris Siddiq, a senior and student body president. “It’s crazy. It shows you how far back Reicher goes. Tradition is a really big deal here at Reicher, and it’s amazing to see these people can come back and still talk to us.”
Charles Matthews, Victor Kramer, Sister Linda Jo Taylor and classmate Sidney Sanders spoke little of what life was like at Reicher six decades ago, instead focusing on the importance of leadership and service on a daily basis they learned at the time.
Matthews is a former Texas State University System chancellor, former Texas Railroad Commissioner and was the first Catholic mayor in Garland. Kramer was Reicher’s first class president and is now a professor at Spring Hill College, and Taylor was a student who became a nun and taught first- through 12th-grade students throughout the United States.
Matthews and his peers grew up at a time when all of Reicher’s teachers were nuns, and because of Waco’s poverty rate, tuition was $10 a month, he said. He said the Bible and educators taught him that whether students end up as public figures or the next-door neighbor trying to keep a roof over his head, anybody has the power to reach out and help someone less fortunate.
“God wants us to reach out,” Matthews said. “Here in Texas, if you’ve watched the television the last two weeks, you’ve seen in Houston, Texas, Hurricane Harvey. You’ve seen Texans and people from all of the United States coming down there to help, people they don’t know.”
Florida will face similar challenges with the already-deadly Hurricane Irma, and he hopes people will respond in the same way they did for the devastation in Texas, Matthews said.
“To see somebody from the first class who has held so many high positions, state government and administration, it kind of puts you at awe because you think, ‘Oh, that could be me because they came from the same exact place I do,’ ” senior class Vice President Hannah Trippe said. “Sometimes, it’s discouraging when you’re in this small of a school or this small of a town. It’s very intimidating, especially senior year with all the college applications. How am I going to stand out? What am I going to do? It’s nice to see somebody who started exactly where you were and how they took their Reicher morals and made a life for themselves and made history.”
Kramer, whose work since graduating work has centered around literary criticism and American studies, told students holding onto his Catholic beliefs throughout his career kept him grounded and gave him perspective. He was the executive director of the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University and has written a multitude of books and articles.
“A lot of what I learned to do as a professor was really rooted in what I learned at St. Mary’s grade school and what I learned here. … You’re so fortunate to be in a Catholic atmosphere,” Kramer said to the students. “The fact of the matter is, we are in a secular situation where most people are not thinking about their relationship to God. They’re not thinking about how they could live a life which would help other people.”
He referred to a book by Thomas Merton, a Catholic writer he has written three books about, and encouraged students to follow Merton’s lessons on figuring out how to go through life as an involved Catholic.
“Your job is to make sense of the world and to dance with other people,” Kramer said. “That’s the gift of being Catholic or being a Christian in a society, which for the most part is not too much aware of that. The atmosphere we had here in this school was one that really made it possible for us to learn.”