Jean Claude Neraz, second bishop of the Catholic Diocese of San Antonio, son of Jean and Marie Anne (Bottet) Neraz, was born at Anse, Rhône, France, on January 12, 1828. He studied at the Petit Seminary of St. Jodard, Anse, at Alix, and at the Grande Seminary of St. Irenée, Lyons. In 1852 he responded to the appeal of Bishop Jean Marie Odin of Galveston, who needed missionaries to work in Texas. On March 23 Neraz sailed for the United States on the Belle Assise as one of about twelve seminarians who became the first to study for the priesthood in the newly established Diocese of Texas. Neraz was ordained on February 19, 1853, in Galveston, and was assigned a position in Nacogdoches, with charge of missions in the vicinity. He worked there until 1864, when he was sent to Liberty County. Two years later he went to San Antonio to assist Father Claude M. Dubuis, but was again transferred in 1868, this time to Laredo, where he and Father Martin Souchon built St. Augustine's Church.
Neraz returned to San Antonio in 1873 to become pastor of San Fernando Church, a position he continued to hold even after he had been appointed vicar-general to Anthony Dominic Pellicer, the first bishop of the Diocese of San Antonio, in 1874. When Pellicer died in April 1880, Neraz was made administrator, and he was appointed bishop on February 18, 1881. He was consecrated in San Fernando Cathedral on May 8, 1881, by Bishop Edward Fitzgerald of Little Rock, Arkansas. The experience Neraz had gained as vicar-general and administrator of the vacant see proved to be invaluable to him as bishop, though the records suggest that much of his administrative ability was innate. He also became something of a diplomat when he and a companion, Father Henry Pfefferkorn of St. Joseph's Orphanage, traveled to Rome in the summer of 1884 to meet with Pope Leo XIII. This was the first recorded ad limina visit from the Diocese of San Antonio. That same year Neraz attended the meeting of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, where he was active in discussions on the evangelization of the black community.
During Neraz's thirteen-year episcopate, the infant Diocese of San Antonio grew to young adulthood. St. Edward's Academy was established by the Congregation of Holy Cross in Austin in 1881, and by 1885 it had been chartered as St. Edward's College. Also in 1885 the Sisters of Divine Providence began their first school in San Antonio, the first parochial school in the diocese, and Neraz completed a new chancery building, the money for which he obtained by selling the Alamo to the state of Texas in 1883. On September 16, 1888, Neraz blessed St. Peter Claver Church, which he had had built for the black Catholics of San Antonio. He appointed Father Richard Maloney, O.M.I., pastor, and in 1893 he approved a new congregation of Sisters of the Holy Ghost who had been working at St. Peter Claver parish.
During the years 1884–90, Neraz had the additional burden of the administration of the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville because of the resignation and subsequent death of its bishop, Dominic Manucy. This did not seem to deter him from the work at hand, however, for by 1893 the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word had established St. John's Orphanage (named for Neraz) and Incarnate Word Academy, later known as St. Patrick's. The Society of Mary had also completed construction of St. Louis College, now known as St. Mary's University. And in October of that year L. William Menger became the editor of the Southern Messenger, which had begun publication three years earlier as St. Mary's Monthly Review and had been through several name changes since. Neraz died after a brief illness on November 15, 1894, leaving to his successor a healthy, promising young diocese. A pontifical Mass was said on November 17 by Nicholas A. Gallagher, Bishop of Galveston, and sermons were preached by Archbishop Francis Janssens of New Orleans (in English) and Bishop Peter Verdaguer of Brownsville (in Spanish). Neraz was buried in San Fernando Cemetery. See also AUSTIN, CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF, and CATHOLIC CHURCH.