In 2013, Pope Francis called priests to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”
Those who know him best say Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre has lived and led that way throughout his religious life — from his priesthood ordination in 1989 to his ordination as a bishop in 2007.
Dr. Ansel Augustine, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said Archbishop Fabre serves his people at ground level and certainly has the smell of his sheep.
“There’s a picture of him carrying a big bag of ice and that’s the bishop I know,” Augustine said, referring to the days following Hurricane Ida, which struck the region last August.
The new Archbishop of Louisville wore a baseball cap and his clerical collar while bringing food and drinks to his people.
“The way he operates in those spaces, just being in places with people — he’s always that calm, steady, prayerful presence,” Augustine said.
That even-keeled manner is familiar to Deacon Jesse Watley, too. He ministers at Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Church in New Orleans and has known Archbishop Fabre since he was ordained auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans in early 2007. He called the archbishop a great boss who is approachable and easy to talk to.
“He’s very helpful when you need his help,” Deacon Watley said. “He listens well and guides you in the right direction. He’s very soft spoken. … He’s a very religious man, very true to his faith. That bleeds through into everything he does.”
Augustine said he appreciated the way Archbishop Fabre puts his people first in whatever role he steps into.
“His first priority is to listen and learn from the people of God. He’s here to learn and learn how best to serve,” said Augustine, who reported to the archbishop during his time in the Office of Black Catholic Ministries in New Orleans.
The archbishop’s consultative nature was apparent in his work with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Deacon Watley. The deacon served as a consultant on the bishops’ Subcommittee for African-American Affairs, chaired by Archbishop Fabre. The subcommittee oversaw the drafting of the pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, A Pastoral Letter Against Racism.”
“He’s intense — when he takes something on he owns it,” Deacon Watley said. “He’s a consensus builder. He would be sure that all the consultants and bishops had a say. If we were at this committee meeting and you hadn’t said anything all day, he would call on you and say, ‘Well you haven’t said anything all day.’ He’s very collaborative.”
Over the years, Augustine said he watched Archbishop Fabre deal with trials and tribulations, but “as the knocks come, you can get knocked down but you don’t stay down. We have to allow God to order our steps. I’ve seen a man who lets God use him and order his steps. Even when it’s hurtful and doesn’t make sense.”
The archbishop is a man who chooses his words carefully, according to Deacon Watley.
“Listen to what he says because he chooses his words wisely,” he said. “I don’t know of any occasion where he’s said something he didn’t mean. He’s not ambiguous.”