25 years of service
After 25 years of service to the Catholic Church and more than 12 years as bishop of Beaumont, the diocese celebrated the anniversary of the Episcopal ordination of Bishop Curtis Guillory on Sunday, Feb. 10, at the 4 p.m. mass at St. Anthony Cathedral and also held a reception that evening at the Beaumont Civic Center. Priests and bishops from throughout the country as well as many of Guillory’s friends and family were in attendance.
“It was an occasion for our Catholic community to publically recognize and celebrate that the bishop of a diocese represents the teaching, sanctifying and governing authority of Christ,” said Msgr. Michael Jamail, vicar general, Diocese of Beaumont. “The ministry of the bishop as chief shepherd of a local church (diocese) is foundational for Catholic faith. All Catholics – laity, religious and clergy – are aware of this, but it is important on special occasions that it is celebrated publically. For me, it was a joy to see so many bishops come to our diocese and concelebrate the Eucharist with Bishop Guillory and his priests.”
“There were a lot of visiting bishops from not only Texas but also Oklahoma and Louisiana,” said Joe Domino, former president and CEO of Entergy Texas and current chief integration officer, who along with his wife Linda attends Mass at St. Anthony. “And that says a lot about Bishop Guillory, that they made time to come to Beaumont on a Sunday afternoon. It was a fantastic event, and very fitting for someone celebrating 25 years of serving God.”
In his 12 years as bishop of The Roman Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, Guillory has made many friends in Southeast Texas.
“He’s very approachable — a tremendous people person,” said Domino. “I would say we are very fortunate to have him as our spiritual leader.”
Though he has been recognized as an extraordinary leader, Guillory said his legacy wouldn’t be what it is today without the hard work and generosity of parishioners, priests and other members of the Diocese of Beaumont.
“I take pride in the support of the people,” Guillory said.
The multi-million-dollar renovation, restoration and repair of St. Anthony Cathedral in downtown Beaumont is an example of the generosity of both parishioners and non-parishioners alike, Guillory said.
“The basilica is for the whole community,” he said. “It serves as a focal point for worship not just for Catholics, but also for others. It’s done a lot to not only uplift downtown, but I think everybody — Catholic and non-Catholic— takes pride in it.” Guillory oversaw the two-year renovation of St. Anthony Cathedral in 2006 and said that it had been one of his main priorities since becoming bishop.
“He has been a transformational bishop,” said Greg Thompson, president of the diocesan school board. “He has run a capital campaign that was able to reinvigorate both the laity and the priests.”
This renovation of St. Anthony did not go as smoothly as planned, however, and was impeded by Hurricane Rita in 2005. The hurricane devastated the Southeast Texas area, destroying more than 12,000 homes and damaging almost every parish and school in some way. Guillory not only worked to support the Catholic community but also stepped up in the larger secular community as well.
“It was tough,” Guillory said. “The Port Arthur area, especially, was really hit hard. I went to visit with the pastor and went to view personally the situation of the parish. As soon as people came back (from evacuation), I made a point to celebrate Mass with them. This encouraged them to rebuild their homes as well as their local church. One of the things I find in Southeast Texas is that tragedies really bring people together. You see the faith in action — whether that is in terms of their generosity, or in terms of helping neighbors — that really comes through. We’ve had our share of tragedies and people always come through.”
The next year, following Rita, the renovations were completed, and the Vatican recognized St. Anthony as a minor basilica. In celebration, Guillory initiated a Centenary Jubilee on Sept. 10, 2006, which celebrated the naming, the 40th anniversary of the Diocese of Beaumont and the 100th anniversary of the dedication of St. Anthony. “There are very few basilicas in the country. The celebration was a sense of pride, and also gave people a chance to come in and see what the renovations looked like,” Guillory said. “It was a wonderful gathering to thank the Holy Father for recognizing us.”
Guillory said that he got a chance to meet Pope Benedict XVI while he was in Rome last March for ad limina, the obligation incumbent on certain members of the hierarchy to visit the “thresholds of the Apostles” and to present themselves to the pope to give an account of the state of their dioceses.
“Pope Benedict has always been a humble man who cares deeply for the Catholic Church,” he said. “His ministry was not driven by self-interest but by a love of God.”
Guillory said he could tell during his visit that the pope was ailing. Pope Benedict XVI made the stunning announcement this week that he intends to step down effective Feb. 28.
“When I met with Pope Benedict in the morning, he seemed strong, but in the afternoon meeting you could see he was frail,” he said.
Everyday tasks such as church ceremonies, meeting with world leaders and just trying to run the Vatican had to be very taxing for the pope, Guillory said.
“Both mentally and physically he just didn’t have the stamina anymore,” he said.
Were he in Pope Benedict’s situation, Guillory said he would have made the same decision to step down.
“I think it was a very wise decision,” he said. “I think all of us were surprised, but a number of times he’s mentioned that if he ever got to a point where he felt he could not handle the job because of sickness or old age that he would resign. So I admire him for doing that. It’s been about 500 years since a pope has resigned, so he’s breaking tradition. I admire his humility, courage and leadership.”
The Church must move on, Guillory said. Looking forward, there are several issues for the next pope to address, including sexual abuse within the Church.
“It’s a horrible, sinful thing,” Guillory said. “We are addressing it through training employees and making kids sensitive and aware. We have done a lot not only in the diocese but also throughout the country. The Catholic Church has the best programs and guidelines to address these issues. We certainly have worked very hard to make sure that not even one child gets abused — not by a priest, not by anybody.”
Guillory believes that thanks to Pope Benedict, it will now be easier for future popes to make the same decision to resign for the betterment of the Church.
With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, new doors have been opened for African candidates — perhaps Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson of Ghana or Francis Arinze of Nigeria— who wish to be his successor. As the first African-American bishop of Beaumont, Guillory said that he could relate.
“Anyone can be called to leadership, no matter the ethnic or racial background that one may have,” he said. “If the person is qualified, then it doesn’t depend on the racial background. This is a sign of the universality of the Church — it embraces everyone. It also shows unity and diversity. Our Catholic faith unites us.”
Guillory said that his appointment as the first African-American bishop of Beaumont is an illustration of the Catholic Church’s commitment to cultural diversity, and the Diocese of Beaumont is a testament of this diversity.
“He crosses all boundaries in terms of race and religion and really is the face of the Catholic Church for the Diocese of Beaumont,” Thompson said.
“We have African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Indians, people of Italian descent, European descent, Cajun descent,” Guillory said. “All of that is what makes up the body of Christ. My responsibility as an African-American and as a bishop is to serve everybody. The way I like to illustrate that is if I gave a Vietnamese, an African-American, someone of European descent, a Cajun from Southwest Louisiana and a Hispanic meat, potatoes and vegetables … and I said, ‘Now you go cook that.’ When they bring it back it smells differently; it tastes differently because every culture had a chance to give it their own flavor. That’s the diversity part, but the unity is that it is the same meat, same potatoes and same vegetables. We see this diversity not as a problem to be solved but as a gift to the church.”
Although Guillory said unifying races is important to the Catholic Church and is a distinguishing characteristic of the Diocese of Beaumont, he also said he has experienced racism, especially in his youth.
“During the ’60s, there was a lot of racial tension. We were all segregated; that was the way it was throughout the country,” Guillory said. “When I was growing up there were more barriers (for African-Americans entering the priesthood)— race was one. Not too many seminaries were accepting African-Americans at that time. I had to really study harder in many ways because Mallet (High School, La.) did not have the latest books or materials. I had to do a lot of catching up. I didn’t have the background at home, so when I got to college, they were a lot more advanced than where I was.”
Guillory recounted his first experience of racism.
“I was probably about 14 or 15. I was going to New Orleans, and I got on the bus and sat in the front seat. I was told to move to the back. I couldn’t quite understand it. I remember asking my parents, and they said, ‘Well, that’s the way it is.’ As I grew older and went to school, I could understand what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and what people of good faith and good will were trying to do. And I think that we’ve made a lot of progress for sure.”
Guillory said King believed that society needed to do two things to truly become colorblind.
“The first was to change the segregation laws, but that was not enough,” Guillory said. “The second was to change hearts. King said, ‘The law alone is not going to change hearts.’ The first part was up to the courts and politicians. Changing hearts I think puts a bigger responsibility on the leadership of churches. We are in that second phase now, I think.
“There were a lot of African-American men and women as well as whites who worked quietly day in and day out to try to change things,” Guillory continued. “They didn’t get the notoriety, but to me that’s where the movement took place. The change took place neighbor to neighbor with people being much more open to try to understand what was taking place and what needed to take place.”
A need for tolerance, not only between ethnic groups but also between religious affiliations, was especially important following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Guillory was on the forefront of unifying Christians, Muslims and Jews alike. Following the attack, Guillory, Rabbi Barbara Metzinger of Temple Emanuel and Imam Fahmi Al-Uqdah of the Islamic Society of the Triplex came together in January 2002 in issuing a joint statement and commitment to peace, saying, “Lord make us instruments of your peace.”
“It was tremendously important because not every Muslim is a terrorist, and we wanted to give support to those who may have been profiled in the area,” he said. “We wanted to communicate to the people of the area that this was the time for unity, and I think seeing religious leaders from different faiths and different denominations come together made an impact.”
The culture and diversity of Southeast Texas is similar to that of Mallet, St. Landry Parish, La, where Guillory was born in 1943, the bishop said. Guillory is the oldest of 16 children and has five brothers and 10 sisters. His father owned a small farm and worked another one. The children helped in picking cotton, shucking corn and feeding the animals. During the school year, Guillory would get up early to work the farm before school and came home right after to work until dark.
“My best friends were really my cousins,” he said. “Going fishing, hunting and the movies, and the cowboy movies every Saturday at the local church, along with the family gatherings, were some of my fondest memories. The rest of it was just hard work.”
Guillory said that he feels at home in Southeast Texas.
“I love the people (of Southeast Texas), I love the culture and I like the friendliness,” he said. “I like the family orientation and the openness.”
Guillory said he also likes the food.
“I like gumbo, etouffee, and po-boys,” he said. “Po-boys are a little harder to find over here.”
The food isn’t the only thing that Guillory has in mind when he has dinner with others.
“I like to just sit down with friends and have a conversation, just to relax,” he said.
Guillory also enjoys reading when he isn’t busy with his religious duties.
“Most of my reading has to do with work, but right now I’m reading a book about Abraham Lincoln and a book about Immaculée, a woman from Rwanda. She is coming to St. Anthony on Feb. 20. She’s got an interesting story.”
In addition to reading heroic stories such as Immaculée’s, Guillory also enjoys watching movies and follows the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans football teams.
Guillory said he plans to retire in five years, but said that he feels satisfied with what he has been able to achieve in his career.
“I think I’ve accomplished what God wanted me to accomplish and what needed to be accomplished,” he said. “Given my gifts and talents, I tried to meet that.”
Guillory said he would set his focus now on the year of faith, decreed by Pope Benedict XVI to be observed between Oct. 11, 2012 and Nov. 24, 2013, when the Catholic Church would rediscover, and share with others, the precious gift of faith.
Bishop Guillory says his motto, Romans 8:28, will continue to drive his service: “For those who love God, all things work together for good.”