Over 50 years, veteran priest’s ministry has centered on seminary and administrative work for Sulpicians
Jul 24, 2020
Marking his 50th anniversary as a priest in 2020, Father Thomas Ulshafer said priests persevere through challenges over the years with God’s grace, which also helps married couples endure in their vocation.
The retired priest, who is 75, said he feels “a sense of gratitude to God for His help over the years, and a sense of satisfaction that you’re able to continue God’s work.”
Father Ulshafer is a member of the Society of St. Sulpice, also known as the Sulpicians, and he was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington by Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle in 1970 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
In a video message on the Sulpicians’ website, Father Ulshafer – who over the years has held top administrative positions for the society and taught seminarians studying for the priesthood, explained that its priests, ordained for dioceses, are dedicated to forming priests “after the heart of Jesus Christ, the high priest and the Good Shepherd. We are the only community in the Church with priestly formation as our primary mission.” The Sulpicians, founded in France nearly 400 years ago, came to the United States in 1791 in Baltimore, beginning their work serving in seminaries and providing ongoing formation programs for priests.
A Baltimore native, he said his priestly vocation was inspired by the Pallottine Sisters who taught him at St. Mary of the Mills School in Laurel, Maryland, and also by the parish priests there, and by the examples of his parents, devout Catholics who were both medical doctors and had met in Johns Hopkins University’s Medical School. His father, Dr. Thomas Ulshafer, was an internist whose medical practice over the years was mostly devoted to serving members of the military in the Army and Navy, and the priest’s mother, Dr. Chloe Ulshafer, practiced family medicine. Father Ulshafer is the oldest of his parents’ three sons.
As a seminarian, he studied at St. Charles College and later St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, where he earned a licentiate in sacred theology. Father Ulshafer also earned a doctorate in theology and ethics from Princeton Theological Seminary and took graduate courses in management from Johns Hopkins University.
After his ordination, Father Ulshafer returned to St. Mary’s Seminary, where over the years he served as an instructor in moral theology, as an assistant and later an associate professor, as dean of students, and as a vice president for administration and finances.
“I have loyalty to St. Mary’s Seminary, like any alumnus would have to his alma mater. It was a thrill to be assigned back to St. Mary’s after I completed my doctorate,” he said.
The priest also served as a spiritual director and advisor to seminarians. “I really enjoyed my interactions with seminarians,” said Father Ulshafer. From his years in seminary work, he has gotten to know many priests serving in dioceses across the United States.
Over the years, Father Ulshafer also served as the provincial superior and provincial secretary for the U.S. Province of the Society of St. Sulpice.
“I was a person who enjoyed teaching and administration,” said the priest, whose administrative duties included overseeing finances, investments, construction projects and the renovations of buildings.
The priest also expressed gratitude for the friendships that he has made during his five decades as a priest.
“One of the things that sustained me over the years (has been my) friendships with priests and laypeople,” he said.
In his retirement, Father Ulshafer has been serving as an auxiliary Catholic priest at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and noted that when he was growing up, his father served as a doctor at various military bases, and the priest chaplains he met “encouraged me in my vocation.”
Father Ulshafer has continued to serve the Society of St. Sulpice as its general treasurer, which he said is a way that he can continue to “support my brother priests” carrying out the society’s ministries in priestly formation.
Also since he retired about four years ago, he has researched the Society of St. Sulpice in the United States, and wrote an article for the U.S. Catholic Historian on the Sulpicians and their connection to slavery in Maryland in the early years of the United States. He will give a talk on that topic at an online meeting for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men later this summer. That research, he said, has given him a more realistic sense of the accomplishments and shortcomings of the early Sulpicians, noting that at one point, the Jesuits loaned them their plantation in Cecil County to support their new seminary, and the society rented enslaved people to work in the seminary’s kitchen and in its gardens.
“You have to face the reality,” he said.
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