By Rich Pollack
HIGHLAND BEACH — For almost 20 years until his retirement in 2017, the Rev. Gerald Grace presided over the congregation at St. Lucy Catholic Church in Highland Beach as its pastor.
A native of Ireland who served the Catholic community in South Florida for more than half a century — first in Miami and then in Palm Beach County — Father Grace died Aug. 10. He was 79.
“Father Grace lived up to his last name, and offered compassion, wisdom and guidance,” said Peggy Gossett-Seidman, a longtime parishioner and now a Highland Beach town commissioner. “He was soft-spoken, moved about lightly and was always willing to administer to sick and troubled residents throughout the town, even if they weren’t Catholic.”
Born in County Limerick, Ireland, Father Grace had several brothers, including a twin, according to Gossett-Seidman. After arriving in South Florida, he first served in the Archdiocese of Miami and later moved to the Archdiocese of Palm Beach soon after it was created in 1984.
Father Grace served as a teacher at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary prior to being assigned to St. Lucy Catholic Church in 1998. He remained the church’s popular pastor until his retirement last year, when he became pastor emeritus.
“Father Grace was a unique priest,” said the Rev. D. Brian Horgan, St. Lucy’s current pastor. “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 the seminary.”
Horgan first met Father Grace when he was assigned to St. Lucy in 2013.
“I witnessed a man who remained faithful to his calling as a priest of Jesus Christ,” Horgan said. “He was 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.”
Both Horgan and Gossett-Seidman remember Father Grace as a community leader who was always available to lend a gentle and helping hand.
“What has struck me the most about him was the fact that he was quick to forgive, generous to so many people and was always ready to go, day or night, to help people,” Horgan said.
Gossett-Seidman remembers one incident in particular that showed Father Grace’s kindness.
“In his finest hour, he once awakened at 4 a.m. to board an air ambulance helicopter and travel to a Miami hospital with a couple whose son was just born with a malformed heart,” she said. “That boy is now 20 and attended Father Grace’s funeral.”
The funeral Mass for Father Grace, held Aug. 14, was attended by more than 100 priests and clergy members, including Palm Beach Diocese Bishop Gerald Barbarito and Diocese of Orlando Bishop John Noonan.
“Father Grace will be missed from the church of South Florida but will always be remembered as an architect of its success,” Horgan said.
Father Grace is survived by his brother and sister-in-law Edmond and Philomena Grace; his sister-in-law Anne Grace; and two nephews, Gerry and Micheál.