CHICAGO, IL (Marketwired) – Catholic Extension, the national Catholic organization supporting the American Church in under-resourced regions, announced that its president emeritus, Bishop William R. Houck, died in the early hours of March 9 in Jackson, Mississippi.
Appointed by Pope John Paul II as president of Catholic Extension, he served from 2001 until 2007. During his tenure, Catholic Extension sent more than $84 million in total funding to more than 4,000 communities. He dedicated about $5 million of the organization’s resources to helping rebuild the Catholic Church’s infrastructure throughout the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.
Father Jack Wall, who succeeded Bishop Houck as president, said Catholic Extension had received the news of his death “with great sadness and, at the same time, a deep and heartfelt gratitude for the wonderful and continuing gift he was to Catholic Extension.”
“What he brought to this leadership position,” Father Wall said, “was a wisdom grounded in his lifelong experience of serving in the missions of the deep South and a passion for helping the poor. He really had a pastor’s heart.”
Bishop Houck’s deep connection with Catholic Extension went back seven decades because, as a young seminarian, he was the recipient of the support of Catholic Extension donors, who helped pay for his seminary education.
Having served both as a priest and a bishop in Alabama and Mississippi, “he was a great champion for helping the Church in under-resourced areas,” Father Wall said.
“If anybody embodied the joy of the gospel,” Father Wall said, “it was Bishop Houck. He had a deep spiritual joy about him. At the same time, he also had a keen insight into what the needs and concerns of mission dioceses were.”
It was a testament to his boundless energy and profound dedication that he agreed to serve as president at age 75, after he had turned in his resignation notice as bishop of Jackson. When he was appointed president in 2001, Bishop Houck had already been serving on Catholic Extension’s board of governors for 12 years, and he continued to contribute to and advocate for Catholic Extension’s work as an honorary board member after his tenure as president.
As president emeritus, he also continued to share his spiritual insights with Catholic Extension donors through his popular weekly meditations.
In a recent message to Catholic Extension donors, Bishop Houck applauded them for “answering Jesus Christ’s call to discipleship,” and for making “a truly extraordinary and lasting difference” by “sharing the gift of our Catholic faith with others in need.” Those words also sum up his own commitment to Catholic Extension’s mission of building faith at the margins, in America’s underresourced mission dioceses.
“Bishop Houck is in our fondest prayers,” said Father Wall, “and together with our chancellor, Archbishop Blase Cupich, our board of governors, the bishops of the 94 mission dioceses we serve and the thousands of Catholic Extension donors, we express our deep sympathy to the Diocese of Jackson and pray with profound gratitude for the gift of the life and ministry of Bishop Houck.”