HIGHLAND BEACH | The pews at St. Lucy Church were filled with priests, seminarians, deacons, religious and laypeople, and two bishops — Bishop Gerald Barbarito, and Bishop John Noonan of Orlando — who stood at the altar concelebrating the funeral Mass of Father Gerald Grace, a priest both bishops admired, loved and praised.
“We all knew and loved Father Grace in many ways,” said Bishop Barbarito, main celebrant for the funeral Mass Aug. 14 in honor of Father Grace, pastor emeritus of St. Lucy, who died Aug. 10. He would have turned 79 on Sept. 19.
“He was a very special priest,” Bishop Barbarito said. “He gave himself totally to the priesthood. He loved the priesthood. He loved priests, each and every one. He knew us. He knew our faults. He was a man of grace. He loved to teach. It was something that came from his heart. He was a great example to priests, to seminarians. We know he is still with us. He is a priest forever.”
Bishop Noonan, a friend of Father Grace, was the homilist and shared his personal reflections. Father Grace was born in County Limerick, Ireland. He had an older brother, Edmond, who is still living, and twin, Michael, who died a couple of years ago.
Father Grace was ordained June 13, 1965, at St. Patrick’s College, Thurles, County Tipperary. He studied at Manhattan College in New York and Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, receiving degrees with distinctions. He also received a doctorate in sacred theology from Pontifical University in 1975.
As a young priest, his ministry began in South Florida, and he continued to minster here all of his life. He was incardinated into the then-Diocese of Miami in 1965 and later became a priest of the newly established Diocese of Palm Beach (formed in 1984).
He started his ministry at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Fort Lauderdale, serving two years before coming to serve as associate pastor and assistant director of religious education at St. Coleman Parish and School in Pompano Beach. He served St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in Delray Beach as assistant pastor from 1969 to 1972. In July 1976, he was appointed to the teaching staff of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach where he continued to serve until 1993.
When the Diocese of Palm Beach was formed, Father Grace was tapped for several diocesan positions, even as he continued to serve at the seminary, where he taught, mentored and touched the hearts and souls of hundreds of young men discerning God’s call to the priesthood. Many of the seminarians he ministered to and helped are now priests in the diocese, Florida and around the world.
In the newly created Diocese of Palm Beach, he served as diocesan director of ecumenical ministry, vicar for continuing education of clergy and assessor of the diocesan Tribunal from 1985 to 1993. He served as vicar for priests’ clergy personnel from 1986 to 1993. Over the years, he was on numerous boards and various committees and councils, playing a vital role in the life and continued growth of the diocese.
He was appointed parochial vicar of St. Vincent Ferrer in 1994 until his appointment as pastor of St. Lucy Parish in September 1996. He retired in April 2017.
“Born in Ireland in 1939, he answered the call of St. Patrick to go and evangelize God’s holy people,” said Father D. Brian Horgan, pastor of St. Lucy Parish. “His commitment to teaching never ended, and (he) was perhaps one of the most emerging theologians of his time, influencing the many priests, throughout the state of Florida, while he taught at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary. Having worked with him since 2013, I witnessed a man who remained faithful to his calling as a priest of Jesus Christ: a man who could laugh at himself, one who could make others laugh and, perhaps most importantly, he was a man of principle and loyalty. What has struck me the most about him, as I have reflected since his death, was the fact that he was quick to forgive, generous to so many people (some of whom took advantage of his kindness), and was always ready to go, day or night, to help people. He will be missed from the Church of South Florida, but will always be remembered as an architect of its success.”
In 2015, St. Lucy Parish held a golden anniversary celebration for Father Grace, and the parish presented him with a plaque in thanksgiving for his “guidance, leadership and pastoral care” over the years. The plaque remains at St. Lucy on a building wall, a small presence of the man who touched the hearts of many at the parish he served over two decades.
“He was a man who brought others to Christ, and now he is with Christ,” said Father Horgan.
Father Grace is survived by his brother Edmond Grace, sister-in-law Anne, and two nephews, Phil and Mícheál and their families. At the time of this writing, burial was planned to take place in Limerick. All are asked to continue to pray for Father Grace and his family.