Archbishop Emeritus Fiorenza laid to rest

October 11, 2022

Blanca M. Arriaga Flores, longtime executive administrative assistant to Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza, visits with his body during a visitation service at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston on Sept. 27. (Photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — Over the course of three days, thousands honored the memory and legacy of Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza, who died Sept. 19 at 91.

On Sept. 27, family and friends met with the Fiorenza family during a solemn reception of Archbishop Fiorenza’s body at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, which hosted all of the funeral events, followed by a Rosary led by Father Jeffrey Bame, rector and pastor of the Co-Cathedral.

The next day, funeral services continued Sept. 28 as clergy, men and women religious, teachers, students, families and other community members paid their respects to the late Archbishop at the Co-Cathedral while he lay in state since 9 a.m. that morning. Auxiliary Bishop Italo Dell’Oro, CRS, presided over that evening’s Vigil for the Deceased, which was livestreamed online.

Calling Archbishop Fiorenza “an icon of the Good Shepherd,” Bishop Dell’Oro, a native of Italy, recounted in his homily how then-Bishop Fiorenza invited him to dinner for his first Christmas in Houston after arriving in 1992. “He not only cooked the dinner, but he served us as well.”

Bishop Dell’Oro also shared about his visit with Archbishop Fiorenza before he died.

“First, as I was leaving, he asked me for a blessing,” Bishop Dell’Oro said. “Then, as I thought that there was the possibility to not see him again, since I was going to go to Rome for the new bishops’ school, I asked him to bless me, which he did. (I’m) probably the last one to receive his blessing.”

The service concluded the 10-hour public lying-in-state that included an honor guard from different orders and groups, such as the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Peter Claver, Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
On Sept. 29, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo celebrated the funeral Mass for Archbishop Fiorenza, with Wilton Cardinal Gregory of Washington delivering the homily. Cardinal Gregory served as leadership of the U.S. bishops’ conference alongside Archbishop Fiorenza in the early 2000s.

“He loved every race, every culture, every background and stood proudly with those for civil rights,” Cardinal Gregory said in his homily. “Even in his 90s, Joe was fully in charge of his life. His infirmities did not diminish his spirit.”

At the conclusion of the Mass, Cardinal DiNardo recalled several moments with Archbishop Fiorenza.

“His memories will continue to echo on. Archbishop was a great man, an excellent example of priesthood, he had a wonderful sense of humor and great Italian appetite. You can’t go wrong with that combination,” Cardinal DiNardo said and chuckled since he shares many of those characteristics.

John Descant, ministry administrator of Clergy Pastoral Outreach, whom Cardinal DiNardo pointed out as a caregiver who spent many hours with Archbishop Fiorenza at the end: “Archbishop Fiorenza was truly an exceptional individual. He demonstrated this in his faithful leadership of the Church. 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. His outreach with Reverend Lawson and Rabbi Karff was truly inspirational.

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.”

Archbishop Fiorenza’s executive administrative assistant of 15 years, Blanca M. Arriaga Flores, attended the funeral Mass in Houston after traveling from Mexico City where she recently retired.

“He was a man who inspired me with his humbleness and patience, with his sense of justice for the most disadvantaged,” she said. “I know that he suffered very much when he knew that he had to be gone from his office for good. That place was where he felt at home. One could only see him at his desk reading his newspaper to realize how comfortable he felt there.”