New Roads native served many years in BR diocese
A native of New Roads, who served as a much loved parish priest in Baton Rouge before becoming a top church administrator in the New Orleans, soon will take over as bishop for the Catholic Diocese in Houma-Thibodaux.
Pope Francis is promoting Shelton Joseph Fabre, who for the past six years has served as auxiliary bishop in New Orleans.
Fabre, who is 49, will be installed as bishop at a Mass on Oct. 30 at St. Francis de Sales Co-Cathedral in Houma.
“I pledge to serve the needs of the church here in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux,” Fabre said at a news conference in Schriever. “In all that we do, it is the Lord Jesus Christ whom we praise and serve, and I am confident that together we will grow in faith.”
Fabre, then just 43, was the youngest bishop in the country when was named bishop auxiliary in New Orleans in 2007, taking on the job during a period of much turmoil in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
He had many administrative duties there, including serving as vicar general.
From 1989, the year he was ordained, to 2007, he served in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. During his time here, he made an impression upon many people, serving as pastor or associate pastor at several Catholic churches in the area.
“He was just someone, I think the word genuine is the word I’d use, you just felt that when you were with him. He was just a true man of God,” said Louis Benedetto, director of music at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, Fabre’s last ministry in Baton Rouge.
In a statement issued Monday, Baton Rouge Bishop Robert Muench thanked Fabre for his “significant contributions to the Diocese of Baton Rouge and we extend to him our support, affirmation, affection and prayers.”
“We are delighted he will continue to serve in the same ecclesiastical province to which we belong,” Muench wrote.
Fabre replaces Bishop Sam Jacobs, who has reached the Catholic Church’s mandatory retirement age of 75.
As bishop, Fabre will serve a diocese of about 125,000 Catholics in the civil parishes of Terrebonne and Lafourche and parts of St. Mary, Jefferson, St. Martin and Assumption.
“By next spring, they’re going to all be in love with him, he is that impressive an individual,” predicted Father Paul Counce, pastor of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Baton Rouge.
Counce said he first met him in 1984 while Fabre was still in college and Fabre came to work at the church Counce was pastoring. Counce was immediately struck by the young man’s shyness.
“He’s always been a very quiet, soft-spoken person,” Counce said. “He has learned to get up in front of a group of people and say what needs to be said. But he will never be the life of the party.”
Soon after he was ordained, Counce said, the young Fabre made a name for himself when he capably took over as acting pastor of St. George Catholic Church, a large congregation in Baton Rouge.
Fabre will serve as the fourth bishop of the Houma-Thibodaux diocese and will be first bishop who is black.
“(Then) Bishop (Alfred) Hughes realized the Sheldon would be an exceptionally good black Catholic bishop,” said Counce, noting that while small in number, black Catholics are very loyal to the church.
Benedetto said Fabre stayed at Sacred Heart for less then three years, but people still talk about him.
When he arrived to take over the racially diverse congregation, Fabre was replacing a popular outgoing priest, but Fabre quickly gained his own following.
“They just took to him right way, it was incredible,” Benedetto said. “I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it.”
Counce said it’s a common reaction to Fabre.
“He’s a one in a million I’ll tell you that,” he said. “He’s got an effect on you and it stays with you for a very long time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.