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Diocese of Corpus Christi bishop emeritus, second oldest in world, turns 100

Bishop Emeritus René H Gracida will celebrate his 100th birthday on Friday. He is the oldest living bishop in the United States.
Credit: Jay Sanchez

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The world's second oldest Bishop Emeritus, René H Gracida, will celebrate his 100th birthday Friday in Corpus Christi. 

Gracida was born on June 9, 1923, and his first connection with priesthood came at an early age. Independent video producer Jay Sanchez spoke with Gracida leading up to the big day. 

"The first feeling that I had came when I was about seven or eight years old. We had moved to Texas City, Texas, and our church was a mission church out of Dickinson. We didn't have a resident priest, and the priest came down from Dickinson and asked me if I would be a server for his mass," Gracida said. 

He learned how to pronounce the Latin words, even though he didn't understand them without the English translations near. He then ended up celebrating the priest's mass every weekend.

"You learn to love it," Gracida said. "It was my first experience in serving mass, especially the Latin mass, I had never experienced the Latin mass before in my life, so that was the beginning of my connection with the priesthood."

He went on to serve in the Air Force, never thinking much about being a priest. But after he completed 32 missions over Germany, he was sent to Salt Lake City to await his new orders. He attended a. Easter Sunday Mass there that changed his life. 

"I sat down in the last pew just a few minutes before Bishop Duane Hunt, the Bishop of Salt Lake City, entered in procession up the center aisle, within 10 feet of me," Gracida said. "It was a changing moment in my life, that Mass really affected me. His homily moved me to tears."

I realized that I had been vaguely familiar with the calling to be a priest, but I had never really decided that I would be a priest until that moment."

Gracida was ordained into the priesthood in 1959. On May 19, 1983, Pope John Paul II appointed Gracida as the Bishop of the Diocese of Corpus Christi. He was installed on July 11, 1983.

"That calling, to serve God's people, as a teacher, a healer, a friend in Jesus, a communicator of God's will by making his will known through his commandments and the teachings of the church, all of that has motivated me from the very beginning," Gracida said. "This was a special calling that was changing my life."

While at the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Gracida played a huge role in the creation of The Ark, whose mission is "to provide a caring intervention for abused, neglected and displaced children and youth, ages 0 through 17, by placing them in a secure environment." 

The celebration for Gracida on Friday will focus on his commitment to children in the Coastal Bend. 

The oldest bishop emeritus in the world is Bishop José de Jesús Sahagún de la Parra of Mexico, according to the Catholic Church. He celebrated his 101st birthday in January. 

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