Faithful servant: An interview with Bishop George Sheltz

April 24, 2012

HOUSTON – The Vatican’s Feb. 21 announcement that George Arthur Sheltz was to be the next auxiliary bishop of Galveston-Houston honors not only a man born and bred in the Bayou City, but one whose family has served the local Church for generations.

Bishop-elect Sheltz hails from a family of Houston vocations. His father, Deacon George Sheltz, Sr., was in the first class of permanent deacons ordained for the Galveston-Houston diocese in 1972. His late brother, Anton Sheltz, was ordained a priest for the diocese in 1976. His uncle, Monsignor Anton Frank, was the first native Houstonian ordained for the diocese in 1933. 

Together, his father, uncle, brother and Bishop-elect Sheltz have given 150 years of ordained ministry to the Archdiocese.

The second oldest of two sons and one daughter born to the late George and Margaret Sheltz, the new auxiliary bishop says in this next phase of his priestly journey, he’ll continue to work to do all things through Christ – perhaps explaining the choice of his episcopal motto, “Through Him, With Him, In Him.”

Bishop-elect Sheltz sat down with the Texas Catholic Herald to share a few reflections on his years in the Archdiocese. Below is an abbreviated interview of his memories of the people who shaped his vocation, what it was like to grow up in Houston, the joys and challenges of serving at six parishes and lessons learned from his work at the administrative headquarters of the Archdiocese. 

Texas Catholic Herald: How would you define your role as auxiliary bishop?
Bishop-elect Sheltz: My job is to help the ordinary [the archbishop] of the Archdiocese. I’m here to serve the cardinal in whatever he asks me to do. I’ll be the one people will come to for handling the day-to-day business of the Chancery, “running the shop.” I have been confirming youth as Vicar General for the Archdiocese, but now I’ll be ordained as a bishop who can preside over Confirmations and other sacraments, such as the ordination of deacons. I will represent the archbishop as an official of the Church when he cannot be at an event, or when there needs to be a presence of a bishop in two places in the Archdiocese at the same time. 

TCH: What hopes do you have for your episcopacy?
Bishop-elect Sheltz: I hope I will continue to be a good representative of the priesthood. I hope that I will be a good preacher of the life of Jesus Christ, through my life and actions. I hope I will help others continue to grow in their faith.

TCH: What is your episcopal motto? Why did you choose it?
Bishop-elect Sheltz: “Through Him, With Him, In Him” is my motto. I’ve served at Mass since I was 5 years old. In those days, the Mass was in Latin and you had to have prayers memorized. We couldn’t just mumble the words. As I became comfortable with the Mass in English, the phrase, “Through Him, With Him, In Him” always struck me. When I sent out the invitations to my ordination to priesthood, that [phrase] was on the card. It’s been part of my priesthood from the beginning.

TCH: Tell us about your family. How did your relatives influence your faith life and vocation?
Bishop-elect Sheltz: My dad grew up here in Houston and went to Blessed Sacrament parish. My mother grew up in Houston in the old Fifth Ward and went to St. Patrick’s parish … My dad, I think, would have liked to have gone into seminary. He had a calling as a youth to the seminary, but his dad died at age 42. So dad had to take over heading the family and help his mother. My mother’s brother was a priest – Monsignor Anton Frank. He was the first native Houstonian ordained for the diocese, in 1933. 

My mother and dad were introduced by some friends. One of them became Monsignor Jack Jones and the other person became Sister Damian. They introduced my mother and father. My mother and father were married in 1941. 

My [mother’s father] died when I was about 4 years old. My mother was the baby of her family; it was decided she should live with grandma. So my family lived with my grandmother, who was very much the matriarch of the family. I can remember her telling us, “We will go to my son’s [Monsignor Frank’s] church,” which was Annunciation. Dad would drop us off at [Annunciation} school on the way to work and we would walk through Downtown, from Annunciation to Milam, to catch the bus and go home.

I went to Annunciation school, so I was always around my uncle. And he would visit my grandmother once a week, too. He started me serving [at Mass] at 5 years old. So I was always around priests. It was just natural to see a priest as someone you know. 

Mother and dad always prayed for one of their children to enter into religious life. They were most encouraging. We’d go to Mass on Sunday morning, and Sunday night we’d go back for the Our Lady of Miraculous Medal novena, and on Wednesdays we’d go to our Mother of Perpetual Help novena. We were always going to church. We were always encouraged to live our faith. 

My uncle, Monsignor Frank, was a beginning influence on my vocation. My mother and father were very much an influence in my thinking about the priesthood. The Basilian Fathers at St. Thomas High School were a great inspiration to me. I learned from them that priests were men who could laugh, who could tell a joke, who could be holy, who could be serious. They were good role models. 

I am one of three children. My younger brother, Anton, also went to St. Thomas High School. He entered seminary after me, and he was ordained a priest for this diocese, too, in 1976. My brother died from heart disease in 2003. I’m sad that he and my parents aren’t around to celebrate this next milestone in our family. But I know and still feel their love and support.

My grandmother prayed a Rosary every day that one of her grandkids would enter into religious life. All of their support helped me to change my mind from wanting to be a Texas Aggie and being in the core of cadets into entering into seminary in 1963. 

TCH: Tell us about your only sister. 
Bishop-elect Sheltz: Mary Margaret is the oldest child. When we were kids, since she was a girl and I was a boy, we didn’t always relate to one another. But as we’ve gotten older, we’ve become closer to one another. You couldn’t ask for a better sister. 

My brother-in-law, Dutch, is Canadian and he went to St. Thomas High School and he went in the military after St. Thomas. He was at Fort Knox and then in Anchorage, Alaska … They met at St. Anne’s young adults club. Once they were dating and it looked like it would be serious, my mother and dad made a real effort to include his family into my family. So his mother and dad and my mother and dad became very close friends. Over the years, I couldn’t have asked for a better brother-in-law, too, and they’ve done a great job with their kids. We’ve always been a family that did everything together, whether taking trips or celebrating family events. 

TCH: What was it like growing up in the Bayou City?
Bishop-elect Sheltz: In my early childhood, we lived at the end of Baldwin Park, at Elgin and Crawford on a street called Chartreuse, which is now part of [Highway] 59. There was a grocery store where I’d visit and sometimes pick up an item and didn’t realize I had to pay – they’d call my mother and say, “George came in. We’ll put it on your charge.”

We moved over to Norfolk, into [my grandmother’s] big, two-story house. That’s where I grew up .... we lived 17, 18 years – most of my life – with Nanny.