Bishop William R. Houck became bishop in the Catholic Diocese of Jackson in 1979 when he was ordained by Pope – now Saint – John Paul II on May 27, at the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. He served as Auxiliary Bishop to Bishop Joseph B. Brunini from 1979-1984. He was installed as the ninth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson on June 5, 1984.
Bishop Houck was born on June 26, 1926 in Mobile, Alabama. He died on March 9, 2016 at the age of 89. He was the son of William R. and Mildred Blanchard Houck. He earned his S.T.L. from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland and his Master’s Degree from The Catholic University of America in Washington. He was ordained a priest on May 19, 1951 at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile, by Bishop Thomas J. Toolen.
Bishop Houck was an educator. He held teaching and school administrative positions in Pensacola, Florida (1951-57) and in Birmingham, Alabama (1957-79) with the exception of 1969-70, when he was Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham. He was high school principal, Superintendent of Schools and Secretary for Education for the Diocese of Birmingham during the years of 1957-79. He served as Pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Birmingham from 1974-79.
Bishop Houck was presently a member of the Board of Governors of the Catholic Church Extension Society, the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, and the Board of Hospice Ministries, Inc.
Bishop Houck was a past board member of the International Liaison: U.S. Catholic Coordinating Committee for Lay Volunteer Ministry, the American Board of Catholic Missions Committee of the NCCB, and the Mississippi Governor’s Task Force on Infant Mortality. He was also a member of the Southern Ecumenical Coalition on Maternal and Infant Health, and President of Ecumenical Health Care Organization for Whispering Pines.
He was a past president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. He was also active in the National Catholic Education Association, Southern Association of Independent Schools and Accreditation of American Schools in Latin America.
Bishop Houck also served as Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization, and was a member of the Committee on Laity, the Domestic Policy Committee on Peace and Justice, and Conference Nominations Committee.
Under his chairmanship, the Committee on Evangelization developed Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States. This document was issued in 1992 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops.
In May 2001 Bishop Houck celebrated his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. In September of that year, at the request of Cardinal Francis George, Pope John Paul appointed him president of the Catholic Church Extension Society in Chicago.
On January 3, 2003, Pope John Paul accepted Bishop Houck’s resignation as Bishop of Jackson and appointed Msgr. Joseph Latino as the 10th Bishop of Jackson. Bishop Houck continued to serve as president of Catholic Extension until 2007, when he retired and moved back to Jackson from Chicago.
Bishop Houck marked 25 years as a bishop in 2004, and 60 years as a priest in 2011. He remained active in church ministry up to his last days.
Coat of Arms
The arms of Bishop Houck appear on the right side of the shield, joined with those of the Diocese of Jackson and surrounded by the Bishop’s motto and the symbols of his office.
The arms of the Diocese consist of a red cross, of a design known as “potent,” or crutch-like, because of the resemblance of the arms of the cross to that
implement of the infirm; the cross appears against a field of gold above a pattern of blue and silver wavy stripes or bars.
The cross potent is a symbol of the power latent in the Cross of Christ, bespeaking the triumph of the Gospel. This symbolism is enhanced by the gold field, which bespeaks divinity, thus referring to the Son of God, the object of the Catholic Faith.
The pattern of blue and silver in the lower half of the shield is first of all a reference to the Mississippi River, which has given its name to the State which is served by the Diocese, but it is also a proclamation of Catholicism’s insistence on the necessity of Baptism, wherein we die and rise with Christ, so as to enter into His glory.
The arms of Bishop Houck consist of a silver field with a blue diagonal stripe, called a bend, which bears a wolf’s head between two silver fleurs-de-lis, and in the upper compartment an open book with the symbols which proclaim the Lord as the Beginning and the End of all things.
The primary colors, blue and silver, are customarily used in heraldry to depict water, as indeed they are used in the diocesan arms. On Bishop Houck’s personal arms, they refer to the Mississippi River Basin, wherein the Bishop has spent the greater part of his ministry, first in Alabama and later, as Bishop, in Mississippi.
The wolf’s head, which appears in gold, is a reference to Saint William of Vercelli, patron saint of both the Bishop and of his father. Saint William was a hermit who dwelled in the mountain wilderness of Monte Vergine in Italy. His legend attests that he befriended the wolves of that region and was trusted by them. Saint William of Vercelli died in 1142. His feast day is June 25.
The fleurs-de-lis, which are a prominent feature of the royal arms of France, recall the Bishop’s ancestry on his mother’s side; their silver color is a punning reference to her family name, Blanchard.
The open book bearing the initials Alpha and Omega is a symbol of the Bishop’s years spent as an educator. It may also be seen as referring to the role of any bishop as the chief teacher of his diocese.
Bishop Houck’s motto –“Proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord”– taken from Philippians 2:11, likewise bespeaks the teaching and preaching office of the Bishop among his people.
The processional cross and the green broad-brimmed hat with its tasseled hat strings are traditional heraldic symbols for the office of bishop. Clerics display the hat in place of the layman’s military helmet to show their devotion to the works of peace.
Rev. James D. White, Diocese of Tulsa, Used by Permission