As Archbishop Shelton Joseph Fabre prepares to be installed as Archbishop of Louisville, he recalled that the first seeds of his vocation were sown by Josephite fathers who served his boyhood parish in New Roads, La.
Archbishop Fabre will be installed March 30 at 2 p.m. at the Kentucky International Convention Center. The Mass is open to the public and doors open at 12:45 p.m.
As a young altar server at St. Augustine Church, the Josephite Fathers had a “great influence” on his life.
Archbishop Fabre’s older cousin, Bishop John H. Ricard of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., joined the Josephites in 1962. Bishop Ricard currently serves as their superior general.
The archbishop’s first brush with seminary life came in the ninth grade when he went away to high school seminary. He became “terribly homesick,” he said, and decided it wasn’t for him at that time.
A tragic event a few years later, however, would cause him to think of seminary again.
In 1980, when Archbishop Fabre was a senior in high school, his brother Clyde died of leukemia at the age of 20.
“That raises all kinds of questions about the meaning of life and I thought I’d go back to the seminary and maybe find some answers,” he said.
Archbishop Fabre enrolled at St. Joseph Seminary College in St. Benedict, La., and in 1985 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history.
The seminary was operated by Benedictine monks and Archbishop Fabre recalled, with laughter, that he thought about becoming a Benedictine himself. A spiritual director talked him out of it, however.
“My spiritual director told me, after I had laid out the fact that I was joyfully joining the abbey, ‘God is not calling you to be a Benedictine because you would join the abbey just to hide. Your personality is very quiet. You are a strong introvert and you would join the abbey just to hide,’ ” he said.
Instead, Archbishop Fabre was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Baton Rouge on Aug. 5, 1989, following studies at the Catholic University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium. In Leuven he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in religious studies.
Though he didn’t join the abbey, his time there along with his formation in Belgium well prepared him for life as a priest, he said.
“I like to say that my time at St. Ben taught me how to pray. My time at Louvain formed me theologically and academically for priesthood,” he said.
Before his formal education began, his late parents, Luke and Theresa Fabre, were already playing a role in his vocation.
In 2013, when he was ordained Bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Archbishop Fabre described his parents’ commitment to each other and how their faith influenced him.
“They were models of what it means to make a commitment and to be committed to the Lord,” Archbishop Fabre told the Bayou Catholic Magazine, which serves the people of that diocese. “They also, in a very loving way, let me go after I was ordained a priest. They always said, ‘Come home when you can.’ They realized I had many responsibilities.”
In that magazine story, Archbishop Fabre also shared his mother’s reaction when he first told her he wanted to go to the seminary. “She was doing housework and I told her, ‘Mom, I think I want to go to the seminary.’ She stopped and said, ‘Well if that’s what you want to do, we need to find out what we need to do … to help you,’ ” he said. Years later, he asked her why she hadn’t been more excited. His mother, he said, replied that she deliberately concealed her excitement out of fear he’d feel pressured. She also revealed that after he’d told her, she went back to her room and said, ‘Hooray.’
His parents had a similar low-key reaction when he told them in 2007 that he’d been appointed Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans, he said.
“They were sitting there and they turned and looked at each other. My mother made the sign of the cross and she said, ‘Well, are you happy?’ ”
His father later told him that he asked God to allow him to live to see his son ordained. His father turned 80 years old in January 2007. Archbishop Fabre was ordained in February and his father died in September.
In that 2013 interview with the Bayou Catholic, his mother said she was not surprised he was named Bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux and spoke prophetically about his future.
“I always thought he would become a bishop and I think he’ll go even further — I don’t know if I’ll be here for it — but he’s going further. I’m very proud of him,” said Theresa Fabre in 2013.
She died May 15, 2021, at the age of 92. Less than a year later, her son was announced as the 10th bishop and fifth Archbishop of Louisville.
The public is invited to attend the March 30 installation, which begins at 2 p.m. Doors open at 12:45 p.m. at the Kentucky International Convention Center, 221 S 4th St, Louisville, Ky., 40202.