BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Bishop Joseph Lawson Howze has passed away . He died Wednesday morning at the age of 95.
“I am the first African American Bishop to head a diocese in this century. There have been a few others since then. I was the first. It was interesting,” Howze previously told WLOX News Now.
Howze was born Aug. 30, 1923, in Daphne, Alabama. He was born Lawson Howze and took the name Joseph when he converted to Catholicism in 1948.
He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Alabama State University in 1948. After religious training at Christ the King Seminary, St. Bonaventure University in New York, Howze was ordained a priest for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina in 1959.
Howze was ordained as a bishop in 1973 and was named Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson that same year.
In 1977, the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson was divided to become the Diocese of Jackson, comprised of the northern 65 counties of the state, and the Diocese of Biloxi, made up of the southeastern most 17 counties of Mississippi.
He accepted the position after careful and thoughtful deliberation.
“The bishop in Jackson, MS was asking Rome for a black bishop, and they sent me here. If you asked did I want to come? No. No I didn’t. I was afraid, but my bishop at that time said, ‘Father, go. You are called to that.’ I’ve been here ever since,” Howze previously said.
Howze served for 24 years and retired in 2001.
Howze was known for working with religious leaders of other faiths and was active in improving Catholic schools in the Diocese.
He met many times with Pope John Paul II and has fond and vivid memories of those encounters.
“I met with John Paul seven times. This cross I’m wearing was given to me by the Pope John Paul II, so it’s almost like a relic,” said Howze.
Biloxi Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III released a statement remembering Bishop Howze shortly after his death was announced Wednesday.
“While we are saddened by the death of Bishop Joseph Lawson Howze, we rejoice in his life. His was a life well lived in faithful service to Almighty God and to the people of Mississippi, both as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson and later as first bishop of Biloxi from 1977 to 2001,” said Bishop Kihneman.
“Establishing a new diocese was hard work, but Bishop Howze was very proud of what he, with the help of devoted clergy, religious and laity, accomplished during his tenure as bishop of Biloxi and was forever grateful to the people of the diocese for their unfailing generosity of time, talent and treasure.
“I was honored by Bishop Howze’s presence at my ordination and installation as Biloxi’s fourth bishop in April 2017 and, subsequently, had multiple occasions to visit him, anoint him with the Sacrament of the Sick and pray with him. Without fail, every time I visited him, even as his health began to deteriorate, his first concern was always with what was happening in the Diocese of Biloxi.
“He loved the Diocese of Biloxi and prayed unceasingly for its continued success. He had a genuine concern for the salvation of souls. Now, we pray that God, who called Bishop Howze to priesthood and the episcopate, will now welcome him to his heavenly home where he will continue to intercede for us. May he rest in peace.”
Bradford O’Keefe will handle the funeral arrangements for Bishop Joseph Howze. Because of family travel, arrangements are tentative and may change.
The visitation will be Jan. 15 from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., and the Vigil for the Deceased will be celebrated at 7 p.m. Visitation is also scheduled for Jan. 16 from 8:30 a.m. until the funeral at 10:30 a.m. All arrangements will be held at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral in Biloxi.