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Fr Jacques Fabre, CS named Bishop of Charleston—a Haitian first for the United States

Skipping the line to become a bishop, a Black priest from Haiti is due to make waves come April when he is seated in April as the next head of the Diocese of Charleston.

Diocese of Charleston/YouTube

For the second time this month, a Fabre has been named a Catholic bishop in the United States by Pope Francis—with both involving Black men making historic firsts.

This week’s beneficiary is Fr Jacques Fabre, CS, who has been announced as the next Bishop of Charleston, a position that has awaited an appointment since late 2020.

Succeeding Bishop Robert Guglielmone—who submitted his mandatory resignation at the age of 75 that December—Fabre is set to become the first Haitian-American Catholic ordinary in US history.

The news of the appointment was announced this morning by the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

“I feel like I’m the prophet Amos,” Fabre said in a quadrilingual introductory press conference this morning, streamed live from South Carolina.

“I’ve been called from a mission church into the cathedral.”

Fabre, 66, will be just the second Haitian Catholic prelate of any kind in America, following the late Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq of Brooklyn, who retired in 2010 and died suddenly last August.

Born in Port-au-Prince in 1955, Fabre immigrated to the United States as a child, living in Brooklyn and later attending St John’s University in Queens. After deciding to become a priest, he also studied at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto and the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

He entered religious life with the Missionaries of St Charles Borromeo (aka the Scalabrinians) and studied at their seminary, also in Chicago, before his ordination to the priesthood in Brooklyn in 1986. The Scalabrinians, founded a century prior, are a missionary group focusing on ministry to migrants.

Like Sansaricq, Fabre served as a minister to Haitian immigrants early on in his priesthood, with refugees detained at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba following Haiti’s 1991 coup d'état. Also like Sansaricq, Fabre studied in Rome, attending the Pontifical Urban University from 2004 to 2006 for a degree in Migration Studies.

His work in diverse communities has been noted in local Catholic media as well as in a number of books published within the last two decades. Of particular interest was his ministry across language barriers, being fluent in English, Spanish (from his novitiate in Mexico), Italian, French, and Haitian Creole.

“English is my third language,” Fabre said during his press conference.

As such, his ministry assignments over the years have included stops in the Dominican Republic, and with the Hispanic community of Immokalee, Florida, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.

He arrived in Georgia in 2006.

A skilled financial manager, Fabre has been noted for assisting his current parish—San Felipe de Jesús Mission in Forest Park—with self-financing a new church building in 2011. He has also served on the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Finance Council for over a decade.

Fabre’s appointment to Charleston is somewhat unique in that he had not previously served as an auxiliary bishop, but he currently serves as the local superior of the Salabrinians in Atlanta.

His appointment makes for just the second new Black American bishop in the Catholic Church during the past 5 years, and the third since 2010.

He will be entering a diocese with an estimated 8,000 Black Catholics as of 2016, and which currently boasts of 10 predominantly Black parishes—one of which was infamously abandoned by the diocese for several decades following the Civil War.

At least two other Black parishes were closed by Guglielmone, who has served since 2009, and the diocese has faced a number of other racial controversies under his leadership—including three White students being expelled from local Catholic schools since August 2019 due to threats of violence against African Americans.

Fabre, representing a potential change of pace, will be installed in Charleston on April 29th.

Correction: A previous version of this story noted that the Diocese of Charleston contains an estimated 86,000 Black Catholics. That number has been corrected. We regret the error.

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).

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