A vocation to the priesthood born from prayers, support of Sheltz, Frank families

April 24, 2012

HOUSTON – If it takes a village to raise a child, it could be said it takes a church to raise a future bishop. 

If there ever was a clan that realized the Catholic teaching of family as domestic church, as parish writ small, the family of soon-to-be-ordained Auxiliary Bishop George Sheltz could be taken as a textbook example. 

From his earliest days, Bishop-elect Sheltz recalled his family as one united in prayer, with a life that centered around their parish, close friends and, of course, one another.

“We were one of those families who believed that if we pray together, we stay together. Every night, we gathered around one of those statues of the Blessed Mother – one that glowed in the dark! Each one of us would say a decade of the Rosary,” Bishop-elect Sheltz remembered.

His sister, Mary Margaret Keen, likewise recalls lots of family prayer, first Saturday Masses, novenas and the presence of relatives who themselves had devoted their lives in service to the Lord.

“We feel ordinary, but very blessed,” she said.

Bishop-elect Sheltz, the middle of three children of the late George and Margaret Sheltz, comes from a family of vocations. 

His father, George Sheltz, described by Keen as a quiet man who kept the family steady, was among the first class of permanent deacons in the then-Diocese of Galveston-Houston in 1972. Bishop-elect Sheltz’ younger brother, Anton Sheltz, now deceased, was ordained to the priesthood in 1976. 

His uncle, Monsignor Anton Frank, was the first native Houstonian ordained to the priesthood for the diocese in 1933. Monsignor Frank served Annunciation Church in downtown Houston his entire priesthood. Annunciation was the home parish for the Sheltz family, who lived in what is now considered the midtown area of Houston. 

Because the Sheltz family for many years shared a home with their grandmother, Viola Frank, the mother of Monsignor Frank, the beloved priest was a mainstay in the household and a hero to the Sheltz children. 

Every Friday, Monsignor Frank would go to the Frank home for breakfast, accompanied by his altar servers who drove him. He often celebrated daily Mass at Annunciation, where the Sheltz children attended grade school.

Despite their familiar ties and affection, everyone in the Sheltz family referred to their Uncle Anton as Father Anton or “Father Tone” – including his own mother, said Keen.

“He was a big part of our life. We lived with our grandmother who thought her son was the most special person in the world. And we felt that way, too - because he was. He was a big inspiration for George,” Keen said, referring to her brother. 

Bishop-elect Sheltz, Keen recalled, showed early signs of a possible priestly vocation. He enjoyed “playing Mass” with his siblings and cousins, even pretending to consecrate candy wafers that looked like the Eucharist. 

‘I can’t remember a time when we weren’t together’ 
Tori Palmer, the only niece of Bishop-elect Sheltz, said it was no surprise that there had been many men in her family that had chosen to join the clergy.

“It seems like up through the generations, we’ve always been very open to religious life and [being open] to that as an option for any member of our family,” she said. 

Though his uncle, father and brother were all men called to service, the women in Bishop-elect Sheltz’ family were equally important in cultivating the faith that would one day lead to his ordination to the episcopacy.

Margaret Sheltz was described by other family members as a proudly faithful woman who exuded an aura of holiness. 

Palmer said her grandmother seemed to be constantly praying, especially the Rosary, which was said every time they drove the car somewhere, even if only a few blocks.

“One of the things that my grandmother taught us is that every time you heard an ambulance or a siren, you would stop and say a Hail Mary. If you were coloring, doing yard work or vacuuming, we would stop and say a Hail Mary. That is something we carry on in our family,” Palmer said. 

Palmer also said the Sheltz family was very devoted to one another, always gathering for birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. Meals and Masses together have always been important.

“I can’t remember a time when we weren’t together,” she said. “I can’t remember any time when I was a little kid that either one of my priest uncles weren’t always there.”

Palmer’s son, Cameron, 17, said his grandmother was the holiest woman he ever met.

“She had an aura around her and it was just amazing. That’s what really helped my Uncle George really grow in his faith as a young child,” Cameron said. “Up until the day that she passed away, she would be rolled into church in a wheelchair, even to the point where she had to be taken in a hospital bed. It didn’t matter; she was going to church every day.”

Along with the birth of their grandchildren, perhaps one of the proudest accomplishments of George and Margaret Sheltz was the ordination of their two sons to the priesthood. 

“I think they felt they were doubly blessed, because who would have thought that both of their boys would become priests,” Keen said. 
As to how they would feel about knowing one of their sons would be ordained a bishop, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza may have put it best when he said the late George and Margaret would be dancing in heaven, Keen said.

“My mom and dad loved to dance and I can picture them having a ball up there and rejoicing,” she said.