During a press conference Feb. 8 announcing the Bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux as the Archdiocese of Louisville’s next leader, tears were shed in Kentucky and Louisiana.
Archbishop Shelton Joseph Fabre wept while reading his statement thanking the people of his diocese, including his staff, for the “love, support and kindness” they have shown him throughout his eight and a half year ministry there.
“I have been incredibly happy and fulfilled as bishop of Houma-Thibodaux,” he said, while also pledging to serve his new archdiocese with the “same fervor and commitment” he had in Louisiana.
The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux held its own press conference several hours after the Archdiocese of Louisville’s to announce Archbishop Fabre’s departure, during which a few of the speakers became emotional, too.
Lonnie Thibodeaux, director of communications for the diocese, said during the press conference that the diocesan staff watched the Archdiocese of Louisville press conference together.
“When he read the part about his staff, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” he said. “That will resonate with me for a long, long time. That moment will prove to you the man Bishop Fabre is. You are very lucky to have him.”
“Your bishop becomes like your father,” Father Jay Baker, Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux’s chancellor, said through tears during the press conference. “And we’ll get a new father but for now we’re kind of like orphans.”
Father Baker said Archbishop Fabre is a “very courageous bishop” who “took us to places we’ve never been and done things we’ve never done before.”
Back in Louisville, after the press conference, Bishop J. Mark Spalding of the Diocese of Nashville said he attended seminary with Bishop Fabre in Belgium. He said Archbishop Fabre’s tears are a good thing.
“That grieving in transition is a positive sign about a person investing themselves into a particular place,” Bishop Spalding said.
He described the new archbishop as laid back and affable.
“He’s one who appreciates his own moments,” the bishop said. “He’s an introvert but he knows how to be with and among people.”
The Archdiocese of Louisville has plenty of challenges, from COVID-19 to ideological divides, Bishop Spalding said, but he’s confident “you’re going to find a good priest and pastor for those times” in Archbishop Fabre.
“He’s balanced and determined, but don’t take his being quiet as not getting done what he needs to do.”
Father Mark Toups has been Archbishop Fabre’s vicar general for the eight and a half years the bishop has served the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. He accompanied him to Louisville for the events of Feb. 8 and said that “everyone in the diocese is excited” for him.
“The emphasis is on him,” Father Toups said. “We’ve come to know and love him. He’s just a good man who’s genuine and pure and we’ve been touched by who he is as a person.”
Father Toups said there are three things to know about Archbishop Fabre: He will want to get to know the people, he is a man of great prayer and the best thing people can do is pray for him.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who tendered his resignation to Pope Francis upon turning 75 last August, has known Archbishop Fabre since shortly before his successor was ordained a bishop. He described the new archbishop as “deeply human, healthy and very holy.”
“Soon he will sing with us our Old Kentucky Home, but he’ll bring some Cajun flavor to the archdiocese.”
Asked during the Louisville press conference what some of those Cajun flavors were, Archbishop Fabre said they’re “a certain joy for life — the importance of community, the importance of family, the importance of faith, the importance of resilience, whatever life throws at us. We’re stronger together than when we’re separate.”
Father Simon Peter Engurait, vicar general for administration in Houma-Thibodaux, said whoever knows Archbishop Fabre knows how diligent he is.
“One of the beauties that Bishop Fabre has left us is right from the time he got here, one of his main intentions was to establish the church in such a way that it can run in times of transition,” Father Engurait said. “He anticipated that, ‘One day I won’t be here, (and) I want the church to be able to run in the interim before a new bishop comes.’
“That’s a great gift he has left us,” he added. “While we miss him, we’re very grateful that he has left a machine that is well lubricated that is going to take us very far.”
Father Toups echoed Father Engurait’s sentiment.
“He’s leaving behind an organizational competency that can adjust to this,” Father Toups said.