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A faithful shepherd

Former Archbishop Francis Bible Schulte, who served as the 12th archbishop of New Orleans from 1988 to 2002, died Jan. 17 after several weeks in hospice care at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb.

Archbishop Schulte, 89, died peacefully about 9 p.m., said Archbishop Gregory Aymond.

Following a Memorial Mass in Philadelphia on Jan. 25, Archbishop Schulte’s body was flown to New Orleans, where it lay in state at Notre Dame Seminary for a wake service on Jan. 27. The Funeral Mass was celebrated  Jan. 28 in St. Louis Cathedral, where he was interred in a crypt near the main altar of the cathedral.

“I think he brought a real fidelity to church teaching,” Archbishop Aymond said of Archbishop Schulte, who was leading the New Orleans archdiocese when Pope John Paul II named then-Msgr. Aymond as auxiliary bishop of New Orleans in 1996.

“He also brought a sense of pastoral care,” Archbishop Aymond added. “He was very committed to Catholic education since he had been a superintendent in Philadelphia and knew a lot about it. He also helped to stabilize the finances in our archdiocese. He redid the structure of our administrative offices. That was something that was needed, and I thought he did it very well.”

Archbishop Schulte was born Dec. 23, 1926, in Philadelphia. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 10, 1952, and served from 1960-70 as assistant superintendent of Catholic schools in Philadelphia and then as superintendent from 1970-80.

Philadelphia bishop in 1981

He was ordained auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia in 1981 and was appointed bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, in 1985. He was named to succeed New Orleans Archbishop Philip M. Hannan as the 12th archbishop of New Orleans on Dec. 13, 1988, and was installed on Feb. 14, 1989.

A year after Archbishop Alfred Hughes was appointed coadjutor archbishop of New Orleans in 2001, Archbishop Schulte officially retired on Jan. 3, 2002.

“I don’t think there was a time in my life before ordination that I was not thinking of the priesthood,” Archbishop Schulte said in a 2002 interview with the Clarion Herald upon his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood and retirement as archbishop. “From a young age, it was always there.”

Archbishop Schulte grew up in Philadelphia as an only child. His father, who ran the family pharmacy, died when Frank was only 11. His mother, Katharine Bible Schulte (named for Philadelphia heiress St. Katharine Drexel, who founded Xavier University of Louisiana), imbued in him a love for the church.

His great uncle and uncle, both named Augustine, were diocesan priests in Philadelphia.

 “They used to call them Old Gus and Young Gus,” Archbishop Schulte said. “My great uncle was rector of the North American College in Rome for two years and then came back to teach at St. Charles Seminary, my alma mater, for 53 years.

“My Uncle, Young Gus, was a great parish priest and an avid hunter. In the 1920s when the KKK was strong in that area, they burned a cross on church property. As the story goes, he took out his gun and shot it out the window of the rectory. That was the end of the cross burning.”

The ‘four pillars’

Archbishop Schulte often used a construction analogy of “the four pillars” to describe the influence of the New Orleans Catholic Church on the wider community. The pillars he cited were Catholic schools, Catholic Charities, the Social Apostolate and Christopher Homes, the archdiocesan affordable housing program.

“I wanted to make all of us aware of the great contribution the church has made through these four pillars of social infrastructure,” Archbishop Schulte said. “The greatest contribution of the archdiocese is to the religious and moral fiber of our community. These efforts of the church go all the way back to 1727 (when the Ursuline Sisters arrived from France to open the first Catholic school in the United States), and each one has developed over the years.”

Archbishop Schulte said one of the highlights of his tenure was proclaiming to Pope John Paul II the virtues of Redemptorist Father Francis Xavier Seelos, a Civil War-era preacher and confessor who was beatified in St. Peter’s Square in 2000. Blessed Seelos died of yellow fever in New Orleans in 1867 while ministering to the German Catholic immigrants.

Archbishop Hughes said Archbishop Schulte’s biggest contribution to the Archdiocese of New Orleans was “to bring an organizational structure to the archdiocese. He was very consultative, and he introduced consultative bodies as genuine consultative bodies. He developed the cabinet structure. That basic structure I inherited and did very little tweaking of it.

“Archbishop Schulte also was truly committed to Catholic education, especially Catholic school education. That was a significant investment of his priestly life and ministry when he was in Philadelphia, and he brought an appreciation for that to New Orleans and did everything that he could to strengthen the schools.”  

In his retirement, Archbishop Schulte remained in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and doctors encouraged him to return to Philadelphia for successful radiation treatment.

However, in 2006, Archbishop Schulte grew increasingly frail and had three falls within a short time frame. Doctors insisted that he be sent to an assisted living facility, Villa St. Joseph, which was home to retired priests.

His last visit to New Orleans was for the 2009 installation of Archbishop Aymond, at which time a historic photo was taken of the four living archbishops of New Orleans: Archbishops Hannan, Schulte, Hughes and Aymond. Church historians could not recall another archdiocese in the U.S. having four living archbishops.

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