BY NAXIELY LOPEZ-PUENTE AND FRANCISCO E. JIMENEZ | STAFF WRITERS
The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville announced that Bishop Emeritus Raymundo J. Peña died Friday at the age of 87.
“Bishop Peña passed away about 4:20 p.m. at San Juan Nursing Home on the grounds of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine,” the Brownsville Diocese said in a news release Friday evening. “He had been hospitalized recently for several days at Rio Grande Regional until Thursday evening.”
Peña became the fourth Hispanic in the United States to be appointed a bishop in 1976. He was 42 at the time, making him one of the youngest bishops in the country.
He held a number of posts throughout his career, including as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of El Paso for 15 years, until his installation as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville in August 1995.
Peña served as head of the Brownsville Diocese for 14 years until his retirement in December 2009.
“During his time as shepherd of the people of the Rio Grande Valley he lived his motto, Haz todo con amor, taken from 1 Corinthians 16:14,” Brownville Bishop Daniel E. Flores said in a news release Friday. “Even in retirement he continued to celebrate Mass almost daily at the St. Joseph Chapel of Perpetual Adoration in Alamo and organized weekly Holy Hours for vocations there.”
Peña, who was born in Robstown in 1934 and was ordained as a priest in 1957, was especially proud of being able to serve South Texas, where his roots were.
“I was the first native of the United States to serve as bishop in the Valley,” Peña told the Brownsville Herald in June 2009, noting that his four predecessors had come from outside the United States. “That’s been very exciting to be serving the people with whom I grew up. In a sense, there was also kind of a coming home to where I had served as a priest.”
Peña was also proud of his work with the First Diocesan Synod, which brought together 387 delegates — religious sisters and lay men and women — who attended six general assemblies from 2000 to 2004.
“It entailed a gathering of the members of the church in the (Rio Grande) Valley in each parish so that we could discern what their priorities and needs were,” Peña told the Herald in 2009.
As a result of those efforts, the San Juan Diego Ministry Institute for training deacons and lay ministers was established. And in its first year in 2005, the institute graduated 165 people and another 257 the following year.
But it wasn’t the synod’s only accomplishment. The dioceses’ first newspaper was also created as a result.
“We’ve been the only diocese in Texas that did not have a newspaper,” Peña told the Herald shortly after the Valley Catholic newspaper was launched in 2009.
Flores, the current bishop, said Peña was an example to him of tireless service to the Church and a trusted advisor.
“Until recent years, he heard confession and celebrated Mass on Sundays at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg and visited the Evins Juvenile Detention Center in Edinburg once a month,” he said. “We will all miss him very much.”
The Brownsville Diocese had previously called for prayers for Peña on Facebook as recently as Thursday, noting his condition had changed rapidly during the night and that he was now under palliative care.
“We give thanks to God for his service to the Diocese and pray for the repose of his soul,” Flores said Friday. “May God reward him for his labors.”