An Ordinary’s Not So Ordinary Life, an autobiography of The Most Reverend Bishop René Henry Gracida, was published in the fall of 2014. Bishop Gracida is a 1955 graduate of Saint Vincent College and a 1959 alumnus of Saint Vincent Seminary.
Gracida’s family lived in New Orleans, then moved through various states in the Midwest before settling in Texas. While studying architectural engineering at Rice University, he realized he would be drafted into the infantry, so he chose to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserves, and in 1943 he was called to active duty. He served with the Eighth Air Force during World War II. Flying on a B-17 bomber, he recounts numerous stories of near misses in 32 combat missions over Germany.
His last mission was the shelling of Dresden, where he noted, “it seems ironic to me that my first and last combat missions should have been to Dresden, Germany. Given the guilt and shame I later felt over having participated in the Dresden Holocaust of 14 February 1945, perhaps the Lord was impressing on me the horror of war.”
He wrote that he had stopped practicing his faith as a student, but during his first year on active duty he began to feel that void in his life. When the war was over he was awaiting assignment at Kearns Air Force Base in Salt Lake City when he went into a Cathedral on Easter Sunday, 1944, beginning his process of conversion.
He eventually planned studies at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where he met and developed a friendship with Father Alphonse Meier, O.S.B., a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey. He eventually became a monk of the Archabbey, and a student at Saint Vincent Seminary. During his monastic years he oversaw the remodeling of the Archabbey Basilica, designing the freestanding altar that is still the focal point of liturgies today.
He eventually was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Miami, where his ordinary was Bishop Coleman Francis Carroll, who also studied at Saint Vincent Seminary. He served in the diocese, where he not only ministered, but put his architectural skills to use, eventually becoming auxiliary bishop to Bishop Carroll, first bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, then bishop of Corpus Christi.
Gracida’s life was by no means uncontroversial, and, as the book’s title notes, “Not So Ordinary.” The 207-page book is illustrated with photos from his life, including his altar designs at Saint Vincent. It is available from Pijart Productions Press.