Shelton Fabre of Louisville, the fourth African-American Catholic archbishop in US history, will be invested on Tuesday, September 20 with his pallium, the ceremonial vestment granted by the pope to all newly installed metropolitans.
The Louisiana native and former Bishop of Houma-Thibodaux, elevated in February as Kentucky’s first-ever Black Catholic prelate, will receive the honor from US apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre during a Mass at 6pm ET in the Cathedral of the Assumption downtown.
“The pallium reminds me that, as the one who serves you as archbishop, I am meant to imitate Christ for you,” Fabre wrote in a column for The Record on August 23.
The tradition of the pallium traces back to the early Church, in which Eastern Christians used a similar vestment to symbolize certain bishops’ authority and mission, that of a shepherd.
Though its exact origins are uncertain, the modern pallium—containing various symbolic references to sheep, specifically lambs—has been a canonically required vestment for metropolitan Catholic bishops for over a century.
Each year in Rome, pallia are constructed from the wool of special lambs for all such prelates named by the pope in the preceding year. This year’s vestments were blessed by Pope Francis during a Mass for the feast of Sts Peter and Paul on June 29 at St Peter’s Basilica.
“[Archbishops] are called to ‘get up quickly’ in order to serve as vigilant sentinels over the flock, and to ‘fight the good fight’, never alone, but together with the holy and faithful people of God,” the Holy Father said during his homily.
The Mass next week in Louisville will involve a special rite at the beginning for the Imposition of the Sacred Pallium, in which Pierre will place the garment over the shoulders of a kneeling Fabre, according to the archdiocese’s liturgy chief Dr. Karen Shadle.
“When we see it on Archbishop Shelton… we see his humility as a shepherd who cares for us as a shepherd cares for his sheep,” she told The Record.
“We have one common mission—to save souls.”
Fabre will also be the second African American to receive a pallium in the 21st century, following now-cardinal Wilton Gregory’s investiture after his arrivals to the Archdioceses of Atlanta and Washington, respectively.
Gregory is likely to be among several bishops present at the Mass in Kentucky, following his appearance at Fabre’s installation in late March, and Fabre has extended a personal invitation to the faithful of his own flock.
“As the one who serves you as archbishop, I will wear this pallium on very important days in the life of the church, often when we gather as the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville,” he wrote in his column last month.
“Your presence will enhance our prayer together.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).