Lucey, Robert Emmet (1891–1977)

By: Saul E. Bronder

Type: Biography

Published: March 1, 1995

Robert Emmet Lucey, second Catholic archbishop of San Antonio, son of Joseph and Marie (Nettle) Lucey, was born in Los Angeles, California, on March 16, 1891. He attended Sacred Heart School and St. Vincent's College in Los Angeles, St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, and the North American College in Rome. He was ordained a priest on May 14, 1916, in the Church of St. Apollinaris, Rome. He spent the next eighteen years working in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In addition to his pastoral duties during this period Lucey served as director of Catholic Charities for four years, as director of hospitals for ten years, as president of the California Conference of Social Work for two terms, and as a member of the executive board of the California State Department of Social Welfare.

On May 1, 1934, he was consecrated bishop of Amarillo in St. Vibiana's Cathedral, Los Angeles. His experience in California enabled him immediately to begin programs to educate the Amarillo laity in social activism and to assist them in forming working social-activist organizations. He sought to promote the apostolate of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and founded the Texas Panhandle Register, a diocesan newspaper. After the death of Archbishop Arthur J. Drossaerts in 1940, Lucey was appointed to the metropolitan see of San Antonio. His installation took place the following year in San Fernando Cathedral. Soon afterwards he organized the Catholic Welfare Bureau, the Catholic Action Office, and the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Men. He called the Vincentian Fathers to staff St. John's Seminary in San Antonio, and sponsored a summer school of social justice for the clergy of the Southwest, a program that continued for several years. He also witnessed the designation of San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission as a national historical site. In the tradition of his predecessors, he continued restoration and preservation projects throughout the archdiocese. At the end of his administration nearly 400 building and restoration projects, including churches, schools, convents, and seminaries, had been completed.

From 1942 to 1947 Lucey continued his efforts to organize the archdiocese. He established the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine on an archdiocesan basis, made the Alamo Register the official archdiocesan newspaper, and established the Archdiocesan School Office, the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women, and the Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Youth. He became the executive chairman of the Bishops' Committee for the Spanish Speaking (see BISHOPS' COMMITTEE FOR HISPANIC AFFAIRS). In 1950 his social activism became nationally known with his appointment to President Harry Truman's Commission on Migratory Labor, and he continued to champion the poor of San Antonio. In 1953, a year before the Supreme Court ruling on desegregation in the public schools, Lucey integrated all of the Catholic schools in his jurisdiction. Following the prelate's lead, officials of the San Antonio, El Paso, and Corpus Christi school districts integrated their schools soon afterwards.

Lucey was both a social liberal and an ecclesiastical conservative. The year 1965 began on a high note for him, when he gave the invocation at the presidential inauguration of Lyndon Baines Johnson. As the year progressed, however, the archbishop found himself embroiled in a controversy over his activist priests' involvement in the Rio Grande Valley farm workers' strike. Though at first he defended the priests' decision to side with labor, he later denied their request to return to the Valley to continue their protest. In response, the priests defied the archbishop by entering the Valley without his permission, and he retaliated by relieving them of their duties. When Johnson intensified the Vietnam War in 1967, Lucey backed the president. The archbishop preached increased involvement from the pulpit, with Johnson in the congregation, and was consequently invited by the president to travel to Saigon as an observer of the Vietnamese presidential elections. Lucey returned renewed in his fervor for the war, in spite of the fact that Pope Paul VI had asked Johnson to stop the bombing. The press accused the archbishop of disagreeing publicly with the pope while punishing archdiocesan priests for disagreeing with their own superior.

By 1968 the situation in San Antonio had degenerated to the point that the priests sent a letter to the pope requesting Lucey's resignation. Pope Paul did not reply immediately but finally sent a representative to investigate the matter. By the time he arrived, however, the papal delegate to the United States had sent a letter to the archbishop reminding him that the Second Vatican Council had stated that prelates should resign their offices at the age of seventy-five. Lucey was seventy-seven. After much deliberation, he submitted his resignation, with the request that it be effective several months later, so as to avoid suggesting any connection with the events of the previous two years. Mindful of the great contributions Lucey had made to the church, the Pope acceded to Lucey's request.

On June 4, 1969, Archbishop Lucey retired from the Archdiocese of San Antonio. During his tenure forty parishes were established, eight congregations of men and more than twenty congregations of women were brought to the archdiocese, four new sees were established within the archdiocese (Austin, Beaumont, Brownsville, and San Angelo), and San Antonio became nationally known for its programs for the poor. Moreover, the archdiocese grew from fewer than 200,000 to about 533,000 Catholics. About the controversy surrounding his later years Archbishop Lucey stated shortly before his death, "Fighting for the poor leaves no room for regrets." He died on August 1, 1977. See also SAN ANTONIO, CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF.

Saul E. Bronder, Social Justice and Church Authority: The Public Life of Archbishop Robert E. Lucey (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982). Alexander C. Wangler, ed., Archdiocese of San Antonio, 1874–1974 (San Antonio, 1974).


  • Journalism
  • Religion
  • Catholic

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

Saul E. Bronder, “Lucey, Robert Emmet,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 17, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995