Women religious fondly remember Archbishop Fiorenza’s collaborative spirit, heart for social justice

October 11, 2022

HOUSTON — In his service to the Church, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza chose and lived by his motto, “Thy Kingdom Come.” His dedication to this mission enabled Archbishop to invite many religious women to minister in partnership with him regardless of charism or ministry, said Sister Francesca Kearns, CCVI.

“He inspired us to see the vision that God has for the world and encouraged us to work in harmony that the needy might experience God’s love and assume the dignity that God has bestowed on all of us,” said Sister Kearns, the vicar for religious in the Archdiocese. “He conveyed a sense that all our charisms blend together in promoting the Kingdom of God.”

There was never any doubt about Archbishop Fiorenza’s commitment to the vulnerable among us, said Sister Maureen O’Connell, O.P., secretariat director for Justice and Social Concerns. Sister O’Connell founded Angela House in Houston in 2002, a ministry to formerly incarcerated women.

“(Archbishop’s) support for the establishment of Angela House as a ministry never wavered,” she said. “Even after his retirement, much to the delight and amazement of the women, he frequently attended events at the house. He always took the time to engage with each woman and staff person. Women who often feel judged or diminished by society experienced the love and compassion of this man of God.”

Sister Donna Pollard, OP, said Archbishop Fiorenza’s life reflected his Dominican education — he fully embraced Veritas (“Truth,” the Dominican motto).

“We remember him as one who taught truth and preached justice. He was a champion of Catholic education and, in particular, inner-city Catholic education,” said Sister Pollard, interim head of school at St. Pius X High School and a local congregation leader. “No matter how busy he was, he always took time to listen to and be attentive to others, particularly young people.”

To Sister Kevina Keating, CCVI, the three elements of Micah 6:8 (act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly) best described the essence of Archbishop Fiorenza.

“His return to God is a big moment in my life and indeed the life of the Church and Archdiocese, and I extend sympathy to all who knew and treasured his presence among us,” Sister Keating said. “It is difficult not to be sad, but we thank God for his life and service.”

Sister Keating, a former superintendent of Catholic schools in Galveston-Houston, commended Archbishop’s ability with the written word to “make us all sit up and think in new ways” and his lived spirituality in daily life — “the latter I feel bound him irrevocably to me as a Sister of Charity of the Incarnate Word, being incarnational at its best,” she said. “Physically, he wore big shoes and leaves ‘big shoes’ to fill in a myriad of ordinary ways. We are all left with many fond memories and stories of him.”

Sister O’Connell said Archbishop Fiorenza never lost sight of his role as pastor and shepherd to all.

“Archbishop did not suffer fools lightly and was quick to remind us that we are all responsible for our brothers and sisters,” Sister O’Connell said. “He was a driving force, often behind the scenes but just as often on the front line when it came to worker’s rights, affordable housing, police reform and the myriad of issues that surrounded this community he loved. His passing certainly marks the end of an era. He will be missed but let us pray that we not forget his consistent call to justice for all.”

While many mourn the loss of Archbishop Fiorenza’s physical presence among us, “we know that his pastoral vision of laboring for the kingdom of God lives on in us,” Sister Kearns said. “The light of his vision will continue to inspire us to bear fruit needed in our dynamic intercultural community. Sirach teaches us that the good deeds of the just person will influence generations. How much more will the life of a godly bishop live forever and bear fruit in those who have been inspired by his life so that his legacy continues to be a blessing for all.”
Sister Gina Iadanza, MSC, said there are no words that fully reflect the gift of Archbishop Fiorenza to the world.

“He saw everyone as a brother and sister and remembered people in their struggles and joys,” said Sister Iadanza, Clergy Formation and Chaplaincy Services associate director. “I think the best way to remember him is to never forget how he impacted your life and give to others what he gave to you. Was it spiritual courage, hope, a voice for injustice? Or did he open a closed door by believing in a person and a mission more than you believed in it yourself, and with one grasp of the arm, you said ‘yes’ and found life and mission took on new meaning? He was a spiritual giant for many and the Heart of Christ for each of us.”