Bishop Rizzotto’s heart thrived in ministry, service

January 26, 2021

Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza went to seminary with Bishop Vincent M. Rizzotto and would later install him as an auxiliary bishop in Galveston-Houston. As priests in 1965, Archbishop Fiorenza and Bishop Rizzotto accompanied each other to march in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I was just struck by all the barriers and the number of state police,” Bishop Rizzotto said in a 2019 interview with the Herald. “I remember all of us as priests, nuns, ministers, black and white, of all colors and persuasions on the march holding up the Gospel as the way of life. And that is still true today.” They are pictured here together in 1978 at St. Francis de Sales Church in Houston when Bishop Rizzotto served as pastor. Archbishop Fiorenza asked Bishop Rizzotto to chair the committee on liturgical design for the new Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart which was dedicated in 2008. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Archives)

HOUSTON — Retired Auxiliary Bishop Vincent M. Rizzotto, a Houston native and social justice advocate, died Jan. 17. He was 89 years old.

Funeral plans were still pending at the time this issue of the Texas Catholic Herald went to press.

“I express my deepest sympathy to Bishop Rizzotto’s family and friends, and to his brother priests in Galveston-Houston,” Daniel Cardinal DiNardo said. “Bishop Rizzotto was an exemplary priest and a holy bishop.”

Bishop Rizzotto retired as auxiliary bishop on Nov. 6, 2006, upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75. For the past several years, he lived at the Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza Priest Retirement Residence located at St. Dominic Village, the only Catholic retirement facility in the Archdiocese – and a place very dear to Bishop Rizzotto. The avid golfer hosted an annual spring golf tournament benefiting St. Dominic Village.

A family close to the Church

Born the youngest of nine children, Bishop Rizzotto grew up in a tight-knit family that was close to each other and to the Church. That spiritual closeness may very well have been the bed seed for his vocation to the priesthood.

“I grew up in a family that was very close to the Church. The Church and my family were wedded to one another. My father was a very faithful man, and my mother was a deeply devoted Catholic woman,” Bishop Rizzotto said in a 2006 interview with the Herald.

Bishop Rizzotto was raised in Houston, attending Holy Name Grammar School and graduating from St. Thomas High School in 1949, prior to entering St. Mary Seminary (when it was located in La Porte).

He was very active at his home parish of Holy Name growing up. That experience made a lasting impression on him and his future vocation.

The grace of vocation

“Something in my own formation was touched by the Church’s prayer life. The way that we, in our busy lives, in our journeys, walk upon this earth – something has to give us food for the journey,” he told the Herald.

At a retreat shortly before his ordination to the priesthood, Bishop Rizzotto remembered thinking about the significance of God reaching out into the lives of young men and asking them to serve the Church.

“I was thankful to God for the grace of vocation, and I was fearful that I didn’t have what it took to measure up to the task,” he said in a 2006 interview. “But I was enthusiastic that if God had called me to this, there must be a reason, and I can measure up to God’s grace and do some great things for His Kingdom.”

Ordained a diocesan priest on May 26, 1956, Bishop Rizzotto furthered his studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He obtained a Licentiate of Canon Law in 1963. He served as an official of the diocesan marriage Tribunal from 1967 to 1972 and was pastor of All Saints Church from 1969 to 1972.

He was pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church from 1972 to 1982 and was raised to the rank of monsignor on Sept. 14, 1978. He served as pastor of St. Cecilia Church from 1982 to 2002.

Liturgy at heart

As a priest and pastor at numerous parishes in the Archdiocese, Bishop Rizzotto was renowned for making Liturgy the center of parish life. “I have a passion for the Church’s Liturgy and its grace-filled possibilities,” he said.

“Liturgy should be the nourishment of our busy lives as human beings,” he told the Herald in 2006. “It is the way we are called to be spiritual. It is the summit and source of our spiritual life.”

In an interview with the Herald celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest, Bishop Rizzotto said that call from God continued to be present in his pastoral ministry.

“I can look back and see some times of very high level of service and responsiveness, and there are also moments of difficulty and tension,” he said. “But through it all, I learned early to rely on God, and to find that God will provide me the way to respond to the different challenges that he will place in front of me.”

Walking with others

Outside of his duties at parishes, Bishop Rizzotto served in multiple Archdiocesan roles, including Vicar General; Chair of the Priests Personnel Board; Vicar for African American Catholics; and Secretariat Director for Chaplaincy Services and Clergy Formation.

“The priesthood has been one opportunity after another for me of just being able to use some very ordinary talents that were given to me by God for the service of His people, to help them grow,” Bishop Rizzotto told the Herald in 2006. “And my deepest fulfillment of it all was simply being a pastor and helping people come together as a community; to use their God-given talents for the building up of the Kingdom, to pray for people in their journey.”

Receiving the phone call

On June 22, 2001, Bishop Rizzotto was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Galveston-Houston and Titular Bishop of Lamasba by Pope John Paul II. He received his episcopal consecration on July 31, 2001, from Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, with then-San Antonio Archbishop Patrick Flores and then-Austin Bishop John McCarthy as co-consecrators. Bishop Rizzotto selected as his episcopal motto, “Make Us One in Christ.”

When he was named an Auxiliary Bishop, he offered a vow to the people of Galveston-Houston, as reported in the Herald.

“I started the priesthood saying, ‘I want to do whatever I can for the Kingdom of Christ and for the mission of the Church’… and to all the people of this diocese, I want to pledge my support and ministry,” he said. “I’m committed to the enablement of our Catholic people to the ministry. I want to assist in every way in the spiritual work of the Church, and all I want of our people is to find their own Christian vocation. All of this is God’s work.”

Making Jesus present

Days prior to his 2001 ordination as bishop, Bishop Rizzotto read numerous articles and books on the roles and expectations of bishops. One phrase during his reading drew his attention: “In him (the bishop), the Lord Jesus is present in the midst of those who believe. And the faithful’s life in Christ, in some way, depends on him and derives from him.”

Bishop Rizzotto told the Herald that he paused on that excerpt.

“I take that pledge very seriously and will try to fulfill it to the best of my ability,” he said. “Every moment that I have the opportunity to celebrate with you… and to be present to you will always be for one purpose and one purpose only... to bring Christ into your life.”