Harris, Vincent Madeley (1913–1988)

By: Michael E. Zilligen

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Updated: February 23, 2017

Vincent Madeley Harris, first bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont and second bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Austin, son of George Malcolm and Margaret (Madeley) Harris, Sr., was born in Conroe, Texas, on October 14, 1913. He attended school in the Houston area, graduated from Sam Houston High School in 1931, and attended St. Mary's Seminary in La Porte from 1931 to 1934. Through the influence of Msgr. Louis J. Reicher, who was then chancellor of the Diocese of Galveston, Bishop Christopher Edward Byrne sent Harris to the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he earned baccalaureate degrees in both sacred theology and canon law, the latter magna cum laude. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Ralph L. Hayes at the chapel of the North American College in Rome on March 19, 1938. The next year he was sent for further studies to the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., where he became a licentiate in canon law in 1940. Upon Harris's return in 1940 to the Diocese of Galveston he was appointed to the faculty of St. Mary's Seminary at La Porte, where he remained until his appointment as chancellor of the diocese in 1948. He was named a diocesan consultor in 1950 and honored by Pope Pius XII as a domestic prelate in 1956.

Pope Paul VI established Beaumont as the tenth Catholic diocese in Texas on September 29, 1966, and made Harris its first bishop. He was consecrated at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Houston on September 28, 1966, by Bishop John L. Morkovsky. Harris was the first native Houstonian to attain the episcopacy. In laying the foundations of a new diocese and implementing the decrees of the recently completed Second Vatican Council, Bishop Harris showed himself to be a capable administrator and pastor. On April 27, 1971, he was named coadjutor bishop with the right of succession to the Diocese of Austin. Upon the retirement of Bishop Reicher on November 16, 1971, Harris succeeded to the administration of the Austin diocese. Conflicts over ownership of trust funds established by his predecessor forced him to take the former bishop and the trustees of the funds both to the ecclesiastical and state courts. The issue was decided in Harris's favor by the church courts, and an out-of-court settlement was reached in the state courts. Harris continued his administration in Austin much as he had in Beaumont, with the addition of a strong commitment to the Hispanic population of Central Texas. Though the Catholic population grew substantially during his fourteen-year administration, the diocese was plagued with recurrent financial difficulties, which Harris overcame with a sense of balance and moderation. In 1982 he received an honorary doctorate from St. Edwards University, where a scholarship fund was afterward established in his name by anonymous donors. Harris had a slight stroke in 1984 and retired from his bishopric on December 24, 1985. He moved to Houston, where he spent his retirement pursuing genealogy, photography, and computer systems. He died at St. Anthony Nursing Home in Houston on March 31, 1988, and was buried in the churchyard at St. Anthony Cathedral, Beaumont.

Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin. Catholic Spirit, April 1988. East Texas Catholic, April 22, 1988. Texas Catholic Herald, July 15, 1966, Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Religion
  • Catholic
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Michael E. Zilligen, “Harris, Vincent Madeley,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 06, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/harris-vincent-madeley.

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January 1, 1995
February 23, 2017

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