Ernest Leo Unterkoefler

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Ernest Leo Unterkoefler (August 17, 1917 – January 4, 1993) was an American Roman Catholic prelate who served as Bishop of Charleston from 1964-90.


Ernest Unterkoefler was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Ernest L. and Anna Rose (née Chambers) Unterkoefler.[1]

An avid baseball fan, he once considered a professional career in the sport before studying for the priesthood; he later said, "If I couldn't be bishop of Charleston, I'd love to be commissioner of baseball."[2]

He graduated summa cum laude in pre-law from the Catholic University of America in 1940.[3] He also earned a Licentiate of Sacred Theology (1944) and Doctor of Canon Law (1950).[1]

On May 18, 1944, Unterkoefler was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.[4] He then served as a curate in Richmond until 1947, when he was transferred to Arlington.[1] He returned to Richmond in 1950, and became secretary of the diocesan tribunal in 1954.[1] He also served as chancellor (1960–64) and vicar general (1962–64).[3] He was named a papal chamberlain in 1961.[1]

On December 13, 1961, Unterkoefler was appointed auxiliary bishop of Richmond and titular bishop of Latopolis by Pope John XXIII.[4] He received his episcopal consecration on February 22, 1962 from Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, with Bishops Vincent Stanislaus Waters and Joseph Howard Hodges serving as co-consecrators.[4] He adopted as his episcopal motto: Deo Placere (Latin: "To Please God").[5] Between 1962-65, he attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council, where he served as secretary of the American delegation of bishops.[3]

Following the transfer of Bishop Francis Frederick Reh, Unterkoefler was named the tenth Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, on December 12, 1964.[4] An active participant in the civil rights movement, he worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and ended racial segregation in all Catholic institutions in the Diocese of Charleston.[3] He served as chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs from 1978-81. In 1987, he hosted Pope John Paul II during his visit to Columbia.[2]

He was also a prominent advocate for restoring the permanent diaconate in the United States, and ordained Joseph Kemper in 1971 as the first permanent deacon in the nation.[3] In a 1985 interview, he said that his greatest satisfaction was in ordaining new priests, but also expressed his concern that a materialistic culture was making it more difficult to attract young men to the priesthood.[2] "We can't go out and recruit them with high salaries," he said. "We must wait for the Lord to call them."[2]


After 26 years in Charleston, Unterkoefler resigned as bishop on February 22, 1990.[4] He later died at Providence Hospital, Columbia, South Carolina, aged 75.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e Curtis, Georgina Pell (1977). The American Catholic Who's Who. XXI. Grosse Pointe, Michigan: Walter Romig.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Retired Bishop Unterkoefler dead at 75 after long illness". The Rock Hill Herald. 1993-01-05.
  3. ^ a b c d e Roberts, Lori D. (1993-01-05). "CATHOLIC BISHOP UNTERKOEFLER DIES". The State.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Bishop Ernest Leo Unterkoefler".
  5. ^ "The Bishops of the Diocese of Charleston 1820-present". Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Francis Frederick Reh
Bishop of Charleston
Succeeded by
David B. Thompson