A bishop's goodbye: Tributes pour in for Archbishop Fiorenza

October 11, 2022

Bishops are photographed with Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza (seated) at the 12th annual St. Dominic Village Evening with the Bishops at the Junior League of Houston, May 5. Photographed with Archbishop (standing, left to right): Bishop Brendan Cahill of Victoria; Bishop Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi; retired Bishop Curtis Guillory of Beaumont; Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo; Daniel Cardinal DiNardo; Bishop David Toups of Beaumont. (Photo courtesy of St. Dominic Village)

HOUSTON — Upon the news of the death of Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza, tributes and condolences poured in from both near and far.

Several came from local bishops and religious leaders, like Rev. William A. “Bill” Lawson, who is pastor emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and a long-time friend of Archbishop Fiorenza.

“My friendship with Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza was a genuine one,” Rev. Lawson said. “I respect his title, but to me, he was always ‘Joe.’ He shared my values to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and that we should love our neighbor as ourselves’ (Luke 10:27).”

Archbishop Fiorenza, with Rev. Lawson and the late Rabbi Samuel Karff, comprised Houston’s legendary “Three Amigos,” whom each spoke out on civil rights and ecumenical issues.

“In service to our faiths and shared values, Joe and I, along with the late Rabbi Samuel Karff, did our best to humbly answer the call in Isaiah (1:17) to do good, seek justice and defend the oppressed,” Rev. Lawson said. “We worked to de-segregate Houston’s schools and businesses, created alliances to provide solutions for Houston’s homeless, committed to increase Harris County’s responsiveness to the legal needs of the indigent and even labored to create a vision for age-friendly care which supports seniors who need geriatric services.”

Rev. Lawson continued, “Joe spoke in a quiet voice, but he was a strong presence wherever he went. My prayers are with the Fiorenza family and the many persons who, like me, loved him. I will always miss him.”

Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, served as vice-president for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) while Archbishop Fiorenza served as president. Cardinal Gregory, who also preached the homily at Archbishop Fiorenza’s funeral Mass, said he “lost a cherished friend” and mentor.

“I was lucky to work with him as his vice president of the USCCB,” he said. “His love for everyone in the Church was legendary. His Texas-sized heart, his home state, brimmed over with love.”

Bishop Michael J. Sis of San Angelo, where Archbishop Fiorenza had once served as bishop for five years, said Archbishop Fiorenza “made a tremendous positive impact in the lives of the people of our diocese.”

Bishop Sis said Archbishop Fiorenza looked back on his service in San Angelo and said “that the most important thing he sought to do here was to help the people in West Texas feel that they were a part of the larger Church, a diocesan family. We are most grateful for his legacy here in our local Church.”

In 1986, Archbishop Fiorenza invited then-Father Michael Mulvey to serve on the faculty at St. Mary’s Seminary. Bishop Mulvey now leads the Corpus Christi Diocese.

“While serving at the seminary, I witnessed a committed servant of the Church,” said Bishop Mulvey. “Archbishop Fiorenza manifested a keen interest in the formation of future priests. But it was his ‘personable touch’ — spending individual time with both seminarians and faculty — that differentiated his love and devotion for the priesthood. I will always remember the generosity of Archbishop Fiorenza and his capacity to build friendships with all.”

For Bishop Emeritus Curtis J. Guillory of Beaumont, Archbishop Fiorenza was a mentor and friend.

“I was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Galveston-Houston in 1988,” he said. “For 12 years … he mentored me and the other auxiliaries, priests and laity on what it means to continue the mission of Jesus. He mentored us not by imposing but exposing the teachings of Jesus and the Church.”

Bishop Guillory hoped Archbishop Fiorenza’s example would “continue to inform and inspire us to make the Gospel values of social justice and unity a reality in a world so divided.”

Two men, who were ordained as priests by Archbishop Fiorenza and would later lead dioceses in Texas, both shared similar accounts of Archbishop Fiorenza’s life.

Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of Victoria recalled how Archbishop Fiorenza was also deeply devoted to his family, even making a trip to the Sicilian’s hometown of Palermo.

Archbishop Fiorenza “never forgot the people of Sicily.”

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin said he mourned “the passing of a friend and remain grateful for the time we shared and the lessons learned.”

“I was pleased to serve as auxiliary with Archbishop Fiorenza for four years and learned much from him, particularly his compassionate pastoral care and service to the people,” he said. “He had the heart of a good shepherd, and following the example of Christ, expended himself for the Church.”

Like Bishop Vasquez, Bishop James A. Tamayo of Laredo also once served as one of Archbishop Fiorenza’s auxiliary bishops.

During that time, Bishop Tamayo said he “observed his shepherd’s care for the people and his fraternal commitment to the priests.”
“When I was named the first bishop of the Diocese of Laredo, I felt well prepared for I had learned from one of the best,” he said.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, current president of the USCCB, a position once held Archbishop Fiorenza himself, said “those who worked with him have expressed that his leadership embodied his love, dedication and tireless service to the Church.”

Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati served as general secretary of the U.S. bishops’ conference and worked closely with Archbishop Fiorenza during his tenure.

“The passing of Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza fills me with great sadness but also great joy for having had the opportunity to know and collaborate with such a good and holy man,” he said. “Archbishop Fiorenza took his responsibilities to the conference very seriously and worked diligently to fulfill them, but he always did so with such a warm and engaging sense of humor. He was consistently considerate, a reflection of his deep care for every person made in the image and likeness of God.”

Archbishop Schnurr said, “Archbishop Fiorenza was highly respected not only by his brother bishops here in the U.S. but by the heads of the various Vatican offices in Rome.”

When Archbishop Schnurr was made Bishop of Duluth, Minnesota, in 2001, before his time in Ohio, he asked Archbishop Fiorenza to be the homilist for episcopal ordination Mass.

“He made a positive and lasting impression on me, as he did on so many others,” he said. “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.”

Father Michael Carmody, a retired priest living at the Archbishop Fiorenza Priest Retirement Residence, said Archbishop Fiorenza always acted in a respectful manner and “demonstrated solidarity, concern and fraternal love. After his retirement, I came to know my former pastor simply as Joe, one of the retired priests.”

John Descant, ministry administrator of Clergy Pastoral Outreach, whom Cardinal DiNardo pointed out as a caregiver who spent many hours with Archbishop at the end, said Archbishop Fiorenza was a “truly exceptional individual.”

“He demonstrated this in his faithful leadership of the Church,” he said. “He spent many hours in our chapel, devoted to the Liturgy of the Hours and the Holy Rosary. He was a model of prayer. I also saw the depth of his care for all of God’s children, especially the marginalized.”
He continued, “I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to get to know him and to have counted him as my friend. I think that the world is a better place because of the choices he made.”