Archdiocese celebrates Archbishop Fiorenza’s 90th birthday

February 9, 2021

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza, at left, waves to greet a friendly face during a surprise drive-thru parade celebrating his 90th birthday at the Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza Priest Retirement Residence in Houston Jan. 25. Dozens of cars joined the parade, which concluded a series of events to mark Archbishop Fiorenza’s birthday. (Photos by James Ramos/Herald staff)

HOUSTON — Surrounded by balloons, cakes of all sizes, streamers and signs, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza ushered in his 90th birthday on Jan. 25.

Longtime friends, family and staff of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston held several celebrations to mark Archbishop Fiorenza’s landmark birthday with a drive-thru parade, small gatherings and baked goods galore.

Two large cakes fashioned in the numerals 90, baked in Archbishop Fiorenza’s favorite flavor — Italian Cream, of course — marked the occasion. Staff distributed individually packaged cupcakes, also in Italian Cream, to parade attendees.

Earlier in the day at the Downtown Chancery, Archbishop Fiorenza viewed a special video compilation of birthday greetings from close friends and family, community members, women religious and clergy, as well as other bishops from around the country. Wilton Cardinal Gregory of Washington D.C. and Archbishop Tommaso Caputo of the Archdiocese of Pompeii, Italy, were among the friends who surprised Archbishop Fiorenza with a birthday message.

During the parade, cars of all sizes were decked out with balloons, streamers and a variety of decorations celebrating Archbishop Fiorenza. Passengers honked horns, cheered, waved signs, balloons and shouted friendly greetings as they passed Archbishop Fiorenza and Daniel Cardinal DiNardo.

Local TV stations also shared birthday announcements on the news.

Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions, a larger celebration to honor Archbishop Fiorenza’s birthday will be planned at a later date, according to Archdiocesan officials.

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Anthony Fiorenza was born Jan. 25, 1931, in Beaumont, Texas. The son of Italian immigrant parents, he was the second of four children born to Anthony and Grace Fiorenza. Archbishop Fiorenza’s cousin, Sister Benignus Galiano, O.P., 98, said when he was young, he would pretend to be a priest.

PHOTOS: Archbishop Fiorenza's 90th birthday celebrations

“He was meant to be a priest. His mother told us when he was a little boy, he pretended to be a priest. From an earlier age, he knew exactly what he wanted to do,” she said. “It just seems like his vocation was with him from an early age.”

Sister Galiano, whose father was the brother of Archbishop Fiorenza’s mother, said he was always family-oriented.

“When there were big days or holidays, he would have us over for dinner wherever he lived at the time,” she said. “And he still is very family-oriented.”

She recalled Archbishop Fiorenza played football while attending St. Anthony High School in Beaumont.

“Because of his size, and I guess because his feet were so big, they called him ‘Foots,’” she said.

Sister Galiano, who lives nearby at the St. Dominic Villa, said Archbishop Fiorenza, who lives at the Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza Retirement Residence, said they stay in touch a lot more now, although visits aren’t allowed because of the pandemic.

“He calls me,” she said. “When we had our lunches here, the sisters here always enjoy seeing him. A couple of them remarked they miss that.”

Archbishop Fiorenza graduated from St. Anthony High School on May 29, 1947. He began studies for the priesthood the same year and was ordained a priest for the then-Diocese of Galveston-Houston on May 29, 1954.

Ever committed to serving the people of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Fiorenza has remained an advocate for social justice issues and a supporter of interfaith collaboration for positive social change across all social and economic borders.

“Archbishop Fiorenza is a pastoral bishop who, through his example, mentored many to work towards justice,” said Karen Clifton, founding executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network and currently the executive coordinator of Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition (CPMC). “He leads with a prayerful, courageous stance for the least among us without fear of opposition.”

Even in retirement, Clifton noted that Archbishop Fiorenza never fatigues in his passion for justice, “which continuously gives us courage to follow in his shadow and join him in pushing forward one of the many issues he champions,” she said. “I can still hear his voice in my ears, as he on numerous occasions, firmly grasped my arm and said, “Someone is going to have to do something about this (the death penalty)!”

Clifton said Archbishop Fiorenza not only calls others to action but also pastorally empowers and supports the work being done — Catholic Mobilizing Network is one of the many examples, she said.

“Archbishop Fiorenza continues to be a great leader by his example of never compromising his beliefs to gain status or power, and through humble leadership, knowing his own weaknesses and tolerating the weaknesses of others,” Clifton said.

During the tumultuous summer of 2020, one marked with nationwide civil unrest following the death of George Floyd, Archbishop Fiorenza said his longtime efforts for justice were just a “stepping stone” to achieving Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” at a Juneteenth discussion about justice, equality and respect.

Archbishop Fiorenza joined fellow Houston faith and civil rights leaders Reverend William Lawson, Pastor Emeritus of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, and the late Rabbi Emeritus Samuel Karff of Congregation Beth Israel.

“We haven’t completed the walk yet. The journey is still going on, but we’ve made significant progress in the last 20, 30 years or more, but there’s still a lot of social injustice,” he said. “We can’t stop now. We have to keep going.”

He also encouraged the Church to be an active voice against racism.

“For the religious community to remain silent at this pivotal moment is a violation of their belief,” Archbishop Fiorenza said. “If religious people are true to their own beliefs, then this pivotal moment will truly be a moment of great, great progress.”

At 92, Rev. Lawson shared some words of wisdom and encouragement to the new nonagenarian.

“You’ve had a great life, but evidently, God is not through with you yet,” Lawson said in a video message to Archbishop Fiorenza. “Keep living, keep helping, keep laughing [and] keep loving.”