By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published May 17, 2022
CHARLESTON, S.C.—About 2,500 people gathered on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima to celebrate the episcopal ordination of the first Haitian American bishop to lead a diocese in the United States.
Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS, was ordained as the 14th bishop of the Diocese of Charleston on May 13 at the Charleston Area Convention Center.
As guests arrived for the historic celebration of a new bishop, they enjoyed spiritual songs and dance along the convention center’s surrounding sidewalks.
Bishop Fabre, 66, is a native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti and one of six children. He immigrated to New York City while in high school and completed his secondary school education. In 1982, he joined the Missionaries of St. Charles, a religious order known as the Scalabrinian Fathers. His previous assignment was in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, where he served as administrator of San Felipe de Jesús Mission in Forest Park for 13 years.
Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington ordained the Haitian American priest to the episcopate in North Charleston. Concelebrants of the Mass included Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., and Raleigh Bishop Luis R. Zarama. They were joined by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States; Father Leonir Chiarello, CS, superior general of the Scalabrinian Fathers and nine other visiting bishops.
The Charleston Diocese “has been blessed to begin a new chapter with a priest from a religious community whose charism is missionary at heart,” said Cardinal Gregory. “He will add to the glorious history of this venerable and early American diocese.”
The Holy Spirit will abide and guide Bishop Fabre in his new role, just as it has in his successful ministry as a priest, said the cardinal, who has known the new bishop for nearly four decades.
Then-Father Jacques was ordained a priest in October 1986 by the cardinal when he was auxiliary bishop of Chicago. Both also served in the Archdiocese of Atlanta as priest and archbishop, respectively.
“I enjoy a special grace today in ordaining as a bishop one that I ordained as a priest,” said Cardinal Gregory during the homily. “I do so for the pastoral service of this local church, whose own eminent son, Joseph Louis Bernardin, ordained me as a bishop. Our lives are thus linked through the sacrament of holy orders that spans both time and location.”
Bishops are to teach, govern and sanctify the people entrusted to their care, said Cardinal Gregory. “You must stand in the midst of your people. Pray with them and for them as you together with each one of them seek the face of Christ.”
“Pastoral governance necessarily comes with the episcopal cleric,” said the cardinal. “But it is always properly and successfully exercised in a collaborative and consultative method in order to be fruitful.”
The cardinal also encouraged the new bishop to lean into his religious order’s charism of serving migrants, refugees and those in need.
“You should invite all of the people of this local church also to strengthen their tender hearts in concern for the poor,” said Cardinal Gregory. “Not just those who may lack financial security, but also those whose spirits are heavy with sorrow, anxiety and fear—the poor in spirit, as the Beatitude calls them.”
“You must become a visual image of the unity and reconciliation that Christ offers the people of every social class, race, religion and culture,” said the cardinal.
“May the Mother of God herself, whose feast day we observe under her title of Our Lady of Fatima, guide you and all that you do and will do to enrich and strengthen God’s people in South Carolina.”
An asset to the church
“You have already lived your priesthood in Cuba, Colombia, Rome, Dominican Republic and here in the United States in a distinguished way as a Scalabrinian father,” said Archbishop Pierre to Bishop-designate Fabre prior to reading the apostolic mandate.
“Your gifts, not only with languages, but of sensitivity to diverse groups of people and cultures have not gone unnoticed and will be a great asset to the church.”
On behalf of Pope Francis, Archbishop Pierre encouraged the new prelate to become close with the people of Charleston.
“Do not sit idly, but go and set this diocese on fire with the love of Jesus Christ and his Gospel,” said the archbishop.
After the reading of the apostolic mandate, Bishop-designate Fabre then held up the papal letter for all to see and was met with applause. He then promised to faithfully carry out his new role.
As the congregation prayed the litany of the saints, he prostrated himself before the altar. After the laying on of hands by the bishops, Bishop Fabre knelt before Cardinal Gregory as sacred chrism was poured on his head in anointing. The Book of Gospels was opened and extended above his head while the cardinal prayed that the new bishop would preach the word of God with patience and sound doctrine.
During investiture, the new bishop received the signs of his office—the ring, miter and crosier. Finally, he was escorted by Cardinal Gregory and Archbishop Hartmayer to sit in his chair as leader of the Charleston Diocese. The bishops gave him congratulatory hugs as the congregation applauded.
Hilda Szwast was excited to be “in the presence of the Holy Spirit” during the ordination Mass. Her husband, Tony, helped with the ordination as a member of the Knights of Columbus. They are parishioners of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Charleston.
“He has shown his love for people,” said Hilda of the new bishop. “[I hope] he will continue to show his love and continue to say ‘yes’ to God.”
Bishop Fabre is the second Haitian American bishop in the United States and the first to lead a diocese in the states. The first was Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq of the Diocese of Brooklyn, who died in August 2021 at age of 86.
More than 50 members of the Atlanta Haitian Alliance Community traveled to Charleston to support the new bishop and celebrate the historic moment in the church and their culture.
It’s a very proud moment to see someone from our community rise to this level in the church, said Emmanuela Alse from the Haitian Alliance Community. She worships at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur.
“It looks like he is being welcomed warmly. I wish him lots of success,” she said.
A contagious joy
Bishop Fabre remembered his Haitian roots in his personal coat of arms, incorporating a palm tree and the colors of the Haitian flag.
Atlanta’s Chorale Harmonie Divine, a Haitian choir led by Darío Clena along with Andy Desty, combined efforts with the choir of San Felipe de Jesús Mission to provide music for the episcopal ordination.
Bishop Fabre picked the songs for his ordination. Among his favorites is “Ave Maria,” which was included in the vespers and the ordination Mass. The choirs also sang “One Day at a Time” in Spanish and Creole, “Magnifikat” in Creole and a popular Creole hymn, “Mon âme bénit le Seigneur.”
“To have a Haitian to be a bishop is a big thing for us,” said Clena. “I hope he brings people together.”
Desty expects the bishop will continue to receive everyone he encounters, regardless of their status in life and shared a desire that the prelate will “be able to continue to lead, to serve, no matter what.”
Bishop Fabre has touched many lives in his ministry as a priest, said Archbishop Hartmayer of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. “He is a man of prayer and his joy is contagious.”
The Diocese of Charleston is part of the Province of Atlanta, which also includes the archdiocese and the Dioceses of Savannah, Georgia, and Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina. Bishop Fabre succeeds Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, who turned in his resignation when he turned 75 as required by canon law.
“The clergy, consecrated religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Charleston will see you as a loving shepherd who breaks down cultural and language barriers by your humility and sincerity,” said Archbishop Hartmayer.
Bishop Fabre plans to take the lessons and guidance from his previous bishops in Atlanta and incorporate the joy of the parishes he served into his new role in Charleston.
Nearly 1,500 parishioners of San Felipe de Jesús Mission, where he served as administrator, came to the ordination to support their former priest. Some of those who traveled from the mission provided the song and dance outside of the convention center.
“We’re just really proud of him,” said Irelly Ibarra, parishioner of the Forest Park mission. “We’re happy that he’s able to share everything he shared with us in South Carolina.”
Bishop Fabre is now shepherd of a diocese more than 200 years old that serves nearly 200,000 Catholics across 46 counties in South Carolina. He plans to listen to the local Catholic community and build relationships with priests as he begins his new role.
“You are going to be the bees of Christ together with me,” said Bishop Fabre to the Charleston community. “Not to sting, but to work hand in hand to build the kingdom of God—where everyone can find sweetness and life.”
Ashley Amatangelo, parishioner at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Charleston’s West Ashley district, hopes Bishop Fabre will “bring continued growth of the Catholics in the south.”