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Ernest Leo Unterkoefler

Ernest Leo Unterkoefler (August 17, 1917 – January 4, 1993) was an American clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Bishop of Charleston from 1964 to 1990.


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 (1960-1964) and vicar general (1962-1964).[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 and 1965, 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 to 1981. 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 twenty-six years in Charleston, Unterkoefler resigned as bishop on February 22, 1990.[4] He later died at Providence Hospital in Columbia, aged 75.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Curtis, Georgina Pell (1977). The American Catholic Who's Who XXI. Grosse Pointe, Michigan: Walter Romig. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Retired Bishop Unterkoefler dead at 75 after long illness". The Rock Hill Herald. 1993-01-05. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Roberts, Lori D. (1993-01-05). "CATHOLIC BISHOP UNTERKOEFLER DIES". The State. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "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

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