Bishop Emeritus William R. Houck, 89, died Wednesday, March 9, at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson. A Rite of Reception of the Body will be held on Tuesday, March 15, at 4 p.m. in the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle. Visitation will follow until 7 p.m. Tuesday, then continue on Wednesday, March 16, from 10 a.m. – 12noon; and 3 – 7 p.m. with a Vigil/Wake Service at 7 p.m. in the Cathedral. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated in the Cathedral on Thursday, March 17, at 12:30 p.m. with interment in the Bishop’s Cemetery next to the Cathedral.
A native of Mobile, Ala., Bishop Houck was born on June 6, 1926, to William R. and Mildred Blanchard Houck. He grew up in the Catholic school system and attended St. Bernard Prep Seminary in Cullman. Bishop Houck was then sent to St. Mary Seminary College and University in Baltimore to complete his training for the priesthood.
Bishop Thomas J. Toolen ordained Bishop Houck a priest on May 19, 1951, at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile. In addition to his parish assignments, Bishop Houck was quickly put in to the ministry of Catholic education. Eventually he received a master’s degree from Catholic University of America and became superintendent of Catholic Schools for the then Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham. He was serving as Secretary for Education, Superintendent, principal of John Carroll High School in Birmingham and pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish, when he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Jackson in early 1979.
On May 27, 1979, Pope John Paul II (now St. John Paul) ordained Bishop Houck into the sacred order of bishops. He served with Bishop Joseph B. Brunini until Bishop Brunini retired in 1984. Pope John Paul then named Bishop Houck as the ninth bishop of Jackson and he was installed on June 5, 1984.
Bishop Houck was a lifelong 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 Pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Birmingham from 1974-79. He is 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 is an emeritus member of the Board of Governors of the Catholic Church Extension Society, the Mississippi Religious Leadership Conference, and the Board of Hospice Ministries, Inc. He currently serves on the U.S. Bishops Administrative Committee.
During his tenure as bishop, he focused on many issues involving education and evangelization. Bishop Houck served as Chair of the U.S. Bishops’ committee on evangelization and helped develop and publish: “Go and Make Disciples: A National Strategy for Catholic Evangelization,” which is still in use today. He also carried on the tradition of his predecessor by being actively involved in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
Bishop Houck is a past board member of the several national Catholic boards, and the Mississippi Governor’s Task Force on Infant Mortality. He was also president of Ecumenical Health Care Organization for Whispering Pines – a hospice ministry begun for AIDS patients whose families had abandoned them.
While still serving as bishop of the diocese, Pope John Paul, at the request of Cardinal Francis George, appointed Bishop Houck as President of the Catholic Church Extension Society of America in September 2001. Catholic Extension supports mission dioceses such as our diocese in the United States. Bishop Houck continued to serve as bishop, splitting his time between the diocese and Chicago (Extension’s headquarters), until Jan. 3, 2003, when Bishop Joseph Latino was appointed Bishop of Jackson and Bishop Houck’s retirement was accepted by the pope. He remained President of Catholic Extension until retiring in 2007 and returning to Jackson.
In recent years, Bishop Houck has continued his involvement in diocesan, chancery and cathedral life. His presence at liturgies and parish events was a testament to his ongoing desire to be engaged in church life.
Bishop Houck is survived by his sister, Mildred “Millie” Houck Reilly (Warren) of Mobile, Ala.; his brother –in – law, Richard J. Hebert of Jennings, La.; many beloved nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, his sister, Elizabeth “Bettye” Houck Hebert, and his brother, Dr. Raymond L. Houck.
In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the Bishop William R. Houck Education Trust with the Catholic Foundation; Catholic Charities; or the Diocese of Jackson’s Catholic Service Appeal.