This Mother’s Day, Rosie Castro will receive perhaps the most fitting tribute for someone with her particular résumé. Our Lady of the Lake University will award Castro an honorary doctorate, an exclamation point to a life devoted to advancing opportunities for the Latino community.

The key to that progress, Castro says, is education.

“To me, as I look back on things, education has really been what enabled me to provide for the family, to guide my sons, and hopefully to help expand opportunities for others,” she said.

Approximately 500 graduates, OLLU’s largest graduating class, will receive their diplomas on Sunday as Castro is honored. Each is contributing to her vision of a more just and thriving city.

“Every time we can add some more [college] degrees, we’re making this city a better place to live,” Castro said.

Her son, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, will speak at the commencement ceremony.

“This is especially meaningful for me because it’s Mother’s Day and my mother’s time at Our Lady of the Lake meant so much to her,” Julián Castro said. “It was the beginning of her activism. She started as a Young Democrat being mentored by professor Margaret Kramer and got totally involved in politics and community activism. It’s even more special to see all the new graduates and to think of the wonderful opportunities they have to make a difference in the world.”

His twin brother, Congressman Joaquín Castro, is expected to be in the audience. Their presence highlights what Rosie Castro considers to be her proudest achievement: a successful and civic-minded family.

“As parents, you are always extremely happy when your children do well,” she said. “Not only for themselves but when they try to do well for others as well.”

HUD Secretary Julián Castro, left, and his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-San Antonio) attend a Day of Action on Oct. 29, 2016, at the Travis County Democratic Party headquarters in Austin. Credit: Marjorie Kamys Cotera / Texas Tribune

Now she has even more to be proud of. Both of her sons are married to women Castro deeply respects, and she has a small brood of grandchildren ready to absorb their grandmother’s passion for public service.

OLLU President Diane Melby sees Castro as the very embodiment of the university’s values – community, service, integrity, and trust. When Melby announced to the faculty that Castro would be honored at the commencement ceremony, “the whole room just lit up,” she said.

“From a very young age, Rosie has been a voice for San Antonio and the Westside,” Melby said. “She expanded her focus and she’s been instrumental in how San Antonio itself has evolved.”

In this way, Castro’s political life and educational pursuits have gone hand in hand with motherhood. She does not see them as separate, but as two elements of a cohesive life’s work. Her sons are, in many ways, the amplification of her own political activism.

“They have the community in their hearts,” Castro said.

Representation for the Latino community was her goal as she helped found La Raza Unida as a Latino political party. While some have characterized the party as radical, for Castro and others it was simply about creating a presence in government. Castro told the Texas Observer that La Raza Unida did not think it was ever going to win the governor’s race; its goal was simply to forge a path. It’s a path that her sons are walking as rising stars of the Democratic Party.

For Castro, forging a path was not easy as a single mom in the 1970s with twin boys to care for. She is grateful that her mother could live with her while the boys were little. Still, her sons had a front-row seat as Castro earned her master’s degree from UTSA so that she could get a better job to care for them. Her connection to OLLU is more than just that of an alumna.

“For many of us members of minority groups, if it hadn’t been for the Catholic colleges we wouldn’t have gotten an education,” Castro said.

Family sitting on the banks of Elmendorf Lake with Our Lady of the Lake University in the background.
A family sits on the banks of Elmendorf Lake with Our Lady of the Lake University in the background. Credit: Courtesy / Ramon Hernandez

The university played a key role in launching her into activism. Not coming from a political background, Castro was unfamiliar with that world until a psychology professor, Margaret Kramer, spotted the fire in her and pushed her toward Latino political leaders and activity. 

“She opened up that whole world of block-walking, bumper stickers, and all that stuff,” Castro said.

Her twin boys would grow up with plenty of exposure to “all that stuff.”

“They didn’t always like going to farmworkers rallies or political rallies, but they learned how to entertain themselves,” Castro said.

Her sons’ connection to the community provided ample opportunity to engage in political discourse. Castro sometimes misses her debating partners as the men chart their courses in Washington and around the country. The debate is always energetic, but respectful, Castro said.

The ability to carry on thoughtful conversation helped Julián and Joaquín Castro respect the ideas of others. Neither of them are judgmental people, their mother said. She modeled that in her home by keeping lines of communication open, listening to their perspective, and being honest with them about what she was thinking.

Others in the community stepped in to support the Castros as well. Friends and neighbors were a constant presence, helping Castro and investing in the boys. The lesson stuck: “You’re nothing without your community,” Castro said. “You have to learn to reach out for the help you need and offer help to others as well.”

She raised her sons with a sense of indebtedness to their community. That debt is paid off by opening doors. When Julián Castro was San Antonio’s mayor, his campaign to launch Pre-K 4 SA, a city-run public pre-K program, demonstrated his own belief in the power of education.

Another value she passed on, which she sees most recently in Joaquín, is focus. She’s proud of her son for resisting the temptation to run for the U.S. Senate and instead continue to pursue seniority in the House of Representatives.

In the political and academic world, you have to keep goals in mind, Castro said. “If you don’t set any, then it’s very easy to go awry.”

Rosie Castro stands for a photograph at Barrio Barrista. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

 Castro’s focus on Latino civil rights was formidable from the start. Before they were borns she founded the Young Democrats on the OLLU campus. Regulations said that in order to have the Young Democrats, the school needed to have a Young Republicans organization as well. So Castro, with her sons often in tow, organized the Young Republicans as well.

After the twins were born, she didn’t seem to slow down. “You can be tired, but you still have to be sharp,” she said.

Castro won’t be the only leading lady of San Antonio to receive recognition during local graduation exercises this weekend: Both former Mayor Lila Cockrell and businesswoman Rosemary Kowalski will receive honorary doctorates from St. Mary’s University.

“In so doing, we present to our graduates two women whose lives are worthy of emulation. This is a teaching moment for St. Mary’s University and our graduates,” said St. Mary’s President Thomas Mengler. 

Likewise, Melby said, Castro’s honor will be a particular inspiration to OLLU’s students and an object lesson in the importance of family. 

“Almost to a one of them, our students wouldn’t be walking across that stage without the support of their parents,” Melby said.

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.