Archbishop Fiorenza embodies Spirit of Francis Award, raises funds for Harvey rebuilding

March 13, 2018

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza, of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, (center) accepts the Spirit of Francis Award from Blasé Cardinal Cupich of Chicago, chancellor of Catholic Extension, (left) and Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension. Photo courtesy of Catholic Extension.

HOUSTON — Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza, with his unwavering commitment to serving the poor and vulnerable, embodies the Spirit of Francis Award that Catholic Extension honored him with on Saturday, Feb. 24.

In presenting the award to the Archbishop Fiorenza, Blase Cardinal Cupich of Chicago, chancellor of Catholic Extension, said, “One of the hallmarks of Archbishop Fiorenza’s ministry has been his concern that nobody is left behind — whether that’s the unborn or the poor, the migrant, the elderly or those who are sick.”

More than 200 people attended the event in Houston, co-chaired by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner, State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett with his wife, Gwen Emmett. Bishop Curtis Guillory of Beaumont and Bishop Emeritus Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, also attended, as did several state and local representatives and officials.

The Spirit of Francis Award takes its inspiration from three people named Francis, all of whom are known for embracing and reaching out to the poor: St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis and Father Francis Clement Kelley, the founder of Catholic Extension in 1905.

In his remarks at the event, Catholic Extension’s president, Father Jack Wall, thanked Houstonians “for the great inspiration that you have been to all of us in the United States and in the larger world as we have witnessed the great sense of solidarity with which you have walked and struggled through everything that happened in Hurricane Harvey.”

He noted that the night’s dinner was another expression of that solidarity because, at Archbishop Fiorenza’s request, the proceeds of the event will benefit the post-Hurricane Harvey rebuilding efforts in the neighboring Diocese of Beaumont, where Archbishop Fiorenza grew up.

In his acceptance remarks, Archbishop Fiorenza, said, “I’m deeply honored to receive this award and thank Catholic Extension, Cardinal Cupich, Cardinal DiNardo and all of you for being here.”

He recalled his service from 1979 to 1985 as bishop of San Angelo, Texas, one of the 90 mission dioceses served by Catholic Extension.

“In the small towns of the diocese,” the Archbishop said, “I witnessed how, without the help of Catholic Extension, those small faith communities would not have been able to continue as vibrant communities who were making a contribution to the welfare of the people in that area.”

Catholic Extension, he added, has been the “lifeblood” and “kept alive” many poor communities in the San Angelo diocese, throughout the South and beyond.

The Diocese of Beaumont, that includes Port Arthur, Beaumont and Orange, experienced catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey. Many people, especially in the poorer areas, lost their homes and still live in FEMA trailers.
Of the 50 parishes and missions in that diocese, 23 suffered damage. Four are still not able to hold Mass in their churches. Three of the five Catholic schools in the diocese were seriously damaged.

With a herculean clean-up effort from many volunteers, Catholic schools were re-opened faster than their neighboring public schools, but major repairs are still pending. The Beaumont diocese’s most costly damage occurred at its Holy Family Retreat Center, where the flood water reached all the way up to the eaves of the roof.

Beaumont’s Bishop Guillory, who also serves on Catholic Extension’s board of governors, said that when he was growing up, he always looked for a rainbow after a storm.

“After Harvey,” he said, “I did not see a rainbow. But strangers coming together to help one another, families helping each other, you helping us in Beaumont and helping the people of Houston, that is the rainbow.”

He added that people responded wonderfully after Harvey, “but the attention of the media is only short-lived. The tendency is for people to respond to the immediate needs, but then we move on to the next big story. With these kinds of tragedies, it is the long-term that you really have to work and struggle through.” He commended Catholic Extension for its good response both in the short and the long term.

For more than 112 years, Catholic Extension built up and strengthened vibrant Catholic faith communities in the poorest areas of the United States. The organization supports the construction and repair of churches, invests in the education, training and support of seminarians, priests, sisters, deacons and lay leaders and supports vital ministries in 90 mission dioceses across the United States.