Archbishop Carlson Prepares for Retirement

Remembering His Legacy


Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Christian Hall, Staff Writer

On June 30, the Archdiocese of St. Louis celebrated Archbishop Robert Carlson turning 75. After this new milestone, Archbishop Carlson must submit a letter of resignation to Pope Francis.

The Code of Canon Law requires most bishops to submit retirement when they turn 75; however, the Pope does not have to find a replacement right away. Carlson will continue to lead until a replacement bishop has been chosen. The 500,000 Catholics in the archdiocese could wait weeks, months or even years for Carlson’s replacement.

For the past decade, Carlson has built a strong Catholic community in St. Louis. He has ordained 50 men to the diocesan priesthood and 80 to the permanent diaconate. There have been 50,400 baptisms, 10,200 adults entering the Church and 17,200 marriages. Although St. Louis is the 40th largest diocese in the United States, it ranks seventh in Catholic education, with over 82,000 children having graduated from Catholic grade schools, high schools and Parish School of Religion (PSR).

On top of that, Carlson helped reform education at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, where most St. Louis priests are educated. Carlson focused much of his early bishop ministry on refurbishing the seminary. With a $61 million campaign, the seminary was modernized, with the addition of a new library and recreation center.

“I want [future priests] to understand that they are here to serve. I want them to respect where the people are at and don’t demand that they have to be where you think they should be at. But if you are right, come up with a process to help them grow,” Carlson said.

Additionally, Archbishop Carlson reshaped curriculum at the seminary, from academic lessons to more courses that teach more hands-on skills for a parish. Classes which once were electives, like grief counseling and marriage counseling, became mandatory. He also reinstituted the pastoral internship policy, where a seminarian lives and works at a parish church for a year before being ordained. Most seminarians usually only spend summers and weekends in a parish beforehand.

“People are a lot different than books.We want these men to see the messiness of a parish, the tension between how things should be and how they are. We don’t want them to use the seminary as a cocoon,” president-rector Rev. James Mason said.

Although Carlson has brought many gifts to our archdiocese, the “Rome of the West” has continuously been on the decline. Baptisms have dropped 20% and Catholic school enrollment from kindergarten through high school has dropped 25% in the last decade. The three largest parishes now exist in St. Charles County: St. Joseph in Cottleville, Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in O’ Fallon. There is also a decline in the presence of priests, with 322 today versus 357 in 2009; however, the seminary has its largest enrollment in 33 years with 140 seminarians, nearing capacity.

With retirement in the near future, Archbishop Carlson has several plans already in place. He is looking forward to retirement in Florida. He may pheasant hunt in the fall or visit St. Louis in the spring for Confirmations. He also wants to lead religious retreats, as well as see more friends and family.

“I’ve been a bishop a long time. It’s time to make sure I spend more time with God, and more time with God’s people,” Carlson said.

Whether the pope accepts Archbishop Carlson’s retirement tomorrow or in two years, the Archdiocese of St. Louis would like to thank him for all he has done, and we anxiously await announcements about his replacement.