October 4, 2016
Organizers of the annual Judicial Red Mass surprised retiring Bishop Plácido Rodriguez, CMF, by presenting the Madison Sowder Saint Thomas More Justice in Action Award to him immediately following tonight’s event at Christ the King Cathedral. The presentation was made by the Honorable Gary Bellair, Red Mass chair, who said “The bishop is being recognized for his contributions to improving the quality of life and upholding moral standards by personal involvement in and dedication to the advancement and fulfillment of justice and peace in our society and human endeavors.”
Just last Tuesday, Pope Francis retired Bishop Rodríguez, naming him Bishop Emeritus of Lubbock and appointing him as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Lubbock until his successor, Bishop-elect Robert M. Coerver, is installed on Nov. 21.
Even prior to his installation as Bishop of Lubbock in 1994, Bishop Rodríguez was a champion for the cause of justice for all. As a young bishop in Chicago, he learned the impact of community organizing in empowering the immigrant community of that city. He worked alongside Saul Alinsky, godfather of broad-based community organizing, and Monsignor Jack Egan to increase the self-worth of those in the Hispanic neighborhoods as they sought their rights and became active participants in American society.
Rodriguez always had a love for the law, having studied Constitutional Law at Loyola University in Chicago. He says, “I consider it a most noble vocation and for that reason, we need to recommit ourselves to the cause of justice by praying together for God’s providence and blessings during the coming legal year.” While in Chicago, Rodriguez saw how much the Red Mass meant to the legal community in that city. He strongly desired to bring the tradition to Lubbock. “The Red Mass is one aspect that shows our commitment to the common good – something that is not well known and well accepted by American society,” Rodriguez said. “When we work ecumenically, reaching out to one another and supporting one another, the mutual cooperation helps us overcome our differences.”
The Madison Sowder Saint Thomas More Justice in Action Award was established in 2007 and presented posthumously in memory of Judge Madison Sowder to honor a member of the legal profession that best exemplifies the ethics of Thomas More, patron saint of attorneys, civil servants, court clerks, lawyers, politicians and public servants.
Sowder served as the long-time attorney for the Diocese of Lubbock. His law career spanned more than a half-century and included service as a State District Court judge. He was a former Lubbock County Chairman of the Democrat party and generously donated his time and talents to many worthy organizations in the community. Sowder’s widow, Frances, and their son, Judge Bill Sowder, were in attendance at tonight’s event.
Never intended to be an annual award, the Madison Sowder Saint Thomas More Award is bestowed at the Judicial Red Mass only when organizers believe there is a member of the legal community who merits the honor. In addition to Sowder and Rodriguez, it was presented to Elroy D. Simnacher in 2008, to the Honorable Gary M. Bellair in 2011, to the Honorable Mark Hocker in 2013 and to the Honorable J.Q. Warnick in 2015.
The first recorded Red Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of Paris in 1245. It received its name from the fact that the celebrants wore red vestments, and the Lord High Justices were robed in brilliant scarlet. The Red Mass was first celebrated in the United States in 1928 has been held annually in Lubbock since 2000. The Mass promotes the unity of the judiciary and the legal profession.