Bishop Shelton J. Fabre, auxiliary bishop and vicar general of the Archdiocese of New Orleans since December 2006, was named Sept. 23 by Pope Francis as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, succeeding Bishop Sam G. Jacobs.
Bishop Fabre, who will turn 50 on Oct. 25, will be officially installed as Houma-Thibodaux bishop by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond at a Mass Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral in Houma.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, will attend the Mass and offer greetings from Pope Francis. Bishop Jacobs, who had served as the bishop of Houma-Thibodaux since 2003, turned 75 this year, the normal retirement age for bishops.
"This truly comes as a surprise, and, of course, it is very humbling," Bishop Fabre said. "I have always just wanted to serve the needs of the church. I would like to express my gratitude and personal support to Pope Francis, our Holy Father, for naming me the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. I am both humbled and excited."
Archbishop Aymond said he will "sincerely miss" Bishop Fabre's presence and their ministry together.
"Bishop Fabre for me has been a true brother in ministry," he said. "He has been a great coworker in the ministry of this archdiocese, and I have a great deal of respect for him and for the way in which he lives out his ministry as a bishop. I will sincerely miss him and our ministry together. At the same time, the people of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux are very blessed to receive a loving and gentle shepherd who will walk with them and lead them in the ways of Christ."
Served for 17 years in Baton Rouge
A native of New Roads, La., Bishop Fabre had served as a priest of the Diocese of Baton Rouge for 17 years and was the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Baton Rouge when he was named on Dec. 13, 2006, as auxiliary bishop of New Orleans.
On Feb. 28, 2007, he was ordained to the episcopacy at St. Louis Cathedral by Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes, the former bishop of Baton Rouge, under whom Bishop Fabre had served for many years as a priest and pastor.
Bishop Fabre said he cherished the opportunity to serve under both Archbishop Hughes (2006-09) and Archbishop Aymond (2009-13) during his years in New Orleans.
"I was able to work with and learn from them, to drink from their wisdom and their pastoral experience," Bishop Fabre said. "From them I've learned a lot of the skills and sensitivities that a bishop needs. I have great admiration for both Archbishop Aymond and Archbishop Hughes and for the unique gifts and qualities each has brought as archbishop of New Orleans. Both have been very supportive of me, and I deeply appreciate our ministry together."
Bishop Fabre said he learned many things from each archbishop.
"The thing I appreciate most about Archbishop Hughes is that he is a very, very prayerful man," Bishop Fabre said. "He reinforced for me that every decision you make must be taken to prayer. The Lord will strengthen you as you implement those decisions. That doesn't mean it will be easy.
"I also learned from Archbishop Hughes that, regardless of the circumstances, we must always place our trust in God. He woke up one day to an archdiocese that was devastated (by Hurricane Katrina), and because of his own holiness of life and prayer he was able to piece the archdiocese back together again. He relied on his spirituality."
Archbishop Aymond also "prayerfully reflects on every decision he has to make," Bishop Fabre said.
"From him I've learned the importance of collaboration," Bishop Fabre said. "One of the things he likes to emphasize is that we are better when we as an archdiocese collaborate with one another. I've learned from him that the church must seek to respond constructively to some of the challenges we face where we live. His initiative regarding the 'New Battle of New Orleans' has prompted the church to respond to social problems through prayer, mentoring and family counseling. The church can't do it all, but the church can be vital in responding to some of the social challenges that we face.
"I also learned from Archbishop Aymond – and this is not to say other bishops didn't do this – the importance of giving direct attention to fostering priestly and religious vocations."
Bishop Fabre was pastor at Sacred Heart in Baton Rouge when Katrina hit, and his parish welcomed many New Orleans Catholics who were temporarily exiled. Among those was chef Leah Chase.
"The thing that stands out in my mind was the people's deep, deep concern for their city and for their church and their priests," Bishop Fabre said. "Even in the midst of their own struggles and incredible loss, they were deeply concerned about their fellow parishioners, their priests and their church parishes."
Bishop Fabre said he also appreciated the way in which retired Auxiliary Bishop Dominic Carmon had made himself available to people even in his retirement. "I am struck by his availability to be of assistance to people in the archdiocese," he said.
Bishop Fabre said in the coming weeks he will meet with Bishop Jacobs and other diocesan officials in Houma-Thibodaux to learn more about his new diocese. He said he will miss the clergy, religious and laity of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
"I am grateful for the love, support and kindness they have shown me during my service here," Bishop Fabre said. "I will always remember my service in New Orleans and the many ways they have been a blessing to me by the way they lived their faith and their prayerful support. I pray that our providential God will continue to bless the Church in New Orleans."
Bishop Fabre was the fifth of six children born to Luke and Theresa Fabre. His father died in 2007. He is a 1981 graduate of Catholic High School of Pointe Coupee in New Roads and entered St. Joseph Seminary College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1985.
He did his theological studies at Katholiek Universiteit te Leuven in Louvain, Belgium, earning an MA in religious studies in 1989.
After his ordination to the priesthood on Aug. 5, 1989, by Baton Rouge Bishop Stanley Ott, he served as parochial vicar at four different parishes in Baton Rouge before being named in 1996 as pastor of St. Joseph Church in Grosse Tete and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Maringouin, where he served until 2004. He was pastor of Sacred Heart Parish from 2004-06.
Bishop Fabre also served as director of the Office of Black Catholics in Baton Rouge from 1990-2005 and as a member of the Marriage Tribunal from 1994-2006.