Bishop Curtis John Guillory, S.V.D., a man of firsts
By Reverend Monsignor James Vanderholt
Curtis John Guillory became the fifth bishop of the 34-year-old Beaumont Diocese on July 28, 2000.
He is the first non-canon lawyer to hold this position. He has done advanced work in Christian Spirituality and Jungian psychology.
He is the first African-American to be bishop of Beaumont — or ordinary of any diocese in Texas, for that matter.
His father’s side of the family has been traced back to France. His mother’s side of the family has been traced to the Isle Dominica in the West Indies.
He is the first Beaumont bishop to be a member of a religious community. He is a member of the Society of the Divine Word. While an active bishop, he remains a member of that community but is not under its jurisdiction.
He is the second bishop of Beaumont to have Louisiana roots. Bishop Warren Boudreaux was the first. Both were born and reared in the Diocese of Lafayette. Six of the 13 African-American bishops are from that diocese.
He is the third of our five bishops who came by way of the Galveston-Houston Diocese. Bishops Vincent M. Harris and Bernard J. Ganter were natives of that diocese. Bishop Guillory served as auxiliary there for 12 years.
Curtis John Guillory was born to Wilfred and Theresa Guillory on September 1, 1943, in Mallet, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. He is the oldest of 16 children (six sons, ten daughters); all but one are still living.
His family goes back to the early years of Mobile, Ala. Pointe Guillory and Guillory Pass are named for his ancestors.
His father owned a small farm and worked another one. The children, including Curtis, helped in picking cotton, shucking corn, and feeding the animals. During the school year, Curtis would get up early to work the farm before school, and came home right after to work until dark.
One of his early pastors was Josephite Father George Strype, who also served in the Beaumont Diocese.
Young Curtis entered the Society of Divine Word’s St. Augustine Seminary in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, where in addition to his studies, he played on the seminary baseball team.
The Society of Divine Word, founded as a missionary community in Holland, was one of the first to accept African-Americans as seminarians.
He earned a bachelor of arts degree from the Divine Word College at Epworth, Iowa, in 1968, and later earned a master’s of divinity degree at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
His ordination was at his home parish of St. Ann in Mallet on December 16, 1972, by Bishop Carlos Lewis, a member of the Divine Word Community, of Panama.
Father Guillory later earned a master’s degree in Christian spirituality from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., in 1986. He did one summer workshop in Jungian psychology in Switzerland.
His first assignment was to St. Augustine Parish in New Orleans. Established in 1841, this was the home parish of Mr. Plessy of the Plessy vs. Ferguson court case. That was the case that decided “separate but equal” was constitutional. It has, of course, since been reversed. Father Guillory served three years as an associate and six years as pastor.
He was the founding director of the Tolton House of Studies in New Orleans – the seminarian residence of the Divine Word students.
In addition, he served during these years as a member of the executive committee of National Black Catholic Administrators, the Louisiana One Church/One Family adoption program, national chaplain to the Knights of Peter Claver, archdiocesan presbyteral council, and board member of the Spirituality Center.
The highlight of his New Orleans years was being the coordinator of the visit of Pope John Paul II in New Orleans.
Father Guillory was announced as auxiliary bishop of the Galveston-Houston Diocese on December 29, 1987, and ordained on February 19, 1988.
The bishop, whose French name means “Little William,” chose for his episcopal motto Romans 8:28: “For those who love God, all things work together for good.”
He is known for his frequent visitations of parishes and schools.
He has also held many church and civic responsibilities. Bishop Guillory was selected chair of the Committee of African American Catholics.
He also served on the national committee on Hispanic Affairs and Priestly Life and Ministry, and the boards of Sacred Heart Seminary and Xavier University. His civic services include the board of the YMCA, the Mental Health Association, and the Harris County Hospital District.
His hobbies are reading, exercising, and traveling. He was probably the only bishop to carry the Olympic torch in 1996 when it traveled across the country.