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Bishop Ernest Unterkoefler papers

Identifier: A-01-1002

Scope and Contents

This collection contains correspondence, administrative records, newspaper clippings, photographs, publications, symbols of office or status, and other material relating to the episcopacy of Ernest Unterkoefler, Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina. Included in the collection are personal papers with biographical material such as family genealogy; documents pertaining to Unterkoefler's ordination as a priest as well as his installation as bishop of Charleston;  writings including articles, speeches, sermons, and book reviews; document relating to Unterkoefler's death and estate, including Unterkoefler's last will and testament, death certificates, and newspaper clippings. Also included are professional papers containing administrative records for the Diocese of Charleston, such as policies and procedural information, lists of priests, and women religious; correspondence regarding the day-to-day operations of the diocese and national and international issues; communication from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB); committee minutes from diocesan and non diocesan organizations;  Unterkoefler's appointment calendars; Apostolic Nunciature report information; and Ad Limina records including correspondence and planning materials regarding required visits to the Holy See. Papal visit material includes correspondence, planning documents, newspaper articles, memorabilia, and photographs from Pope John Paul II's 1987 trip to the United States. Permanent Diaconate material relates to Unterkoefler's role as chairman for the United States Bishops' Committee on the Permanent Diaconate (BCPD) and the creation of the diocesan office of the permanent diaconate.  Items include a copy of Permanent Deacons in the United States: Guidelines on Their Formation and Ministry published under Unterkoefler's chairmanship, as well as administrative and meeting material of the BCPD.  Also included are letters from religious women asking Unterkoefler to support them in joining the permanent diaconate.  Several studies and questionnaires on various diaconate programs, as well as proposal from other dioceses requesting permission to begin a permanent diaconate program, are included. Priest Personnel Board materials include meeting minutes, assignment surveys, seminarian lists, parish data forms, and correspondence regarding priest assignments and any parish administration issues. Vatican II records include various workbooks and publications during the sessions Unterkoefler attended from 1962-1966. Images include depictions of Unterkoefler leading Mass, groups of priest at retreats and conference, the Vietnam War, children on their confirmation day, and other images of Unterkoefler with Catholics of South Carolina. Symbols of office or status include jewelry such as pastoral rings and pectoral crosses; and vestments including shoes, stoles, belts, mitres, and birettas.


  • Created: 1894-1999, undated
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1960-1990
  • Other: Date acquired: 08/07/2000


Conditions Governing Access

Open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Diocese of Charleston makes no representation that it is the owner of any copyright or other literary property in the materials contained in its archives. In providing access to or permitting the reproduction of any such materials, the Diocese of Charleston does not assume any responsibility for determining the nature of any rights, ownership or interest therein; nor for obtaining the appropriate permissions to publish or use; nor for determining the nature of any liabilities (for defamation and invasion of privacy) that may arise from any publication or use. This rests entirely with the researcher.

Biographical or Historical Information

Ernest Leo Unterkoefler (1917-1993) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Ernest L. Unterkoefler and Anna Rose Chambers.  In 1944, Unterkoefler became an ordained priest for the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He then served as a curate in Richmond until 1947, when he was transferred to Arlington, Virginia.  He returned to Richmond in 1950, and in 1954 became secretary of the diocesan tribunal. He served numerous positions for the Diocese of Richmond including chancellor, vicar general, notary, and tribunal secretary.  In 1961, he was named a papal chamberlain, titular bishop of Latopolis, as well as auxiliary bishop of Richmond.  In 1962, Unterkoefler was invited to become a Council Father for the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), and attended the four sessions that took place between 1962 and 1965.  It was during this time, in 1964, when Unterkoefler was named and installed as South Carolina's tenth bishop of Charleston. In 1967, as part of Vatican II, the diaconate was restored as a permanent part of the church. Unterkoefler served as chairman to the United States Bishops' Committee on the Permanent Diaconate (BCPD) from 1968 through 1971 and again from 1975 through 1977.  In 1971, under Unterkoefler's chairmanship, the BCPD published Permanent Deacons in the United States: Guidelines on Their Formation and Ministry. Unterkoefler was also an active participant during the Civil Rights movement.  In 1963, he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on Washington, D.C., and supported integration in South Carolina's schools as well as desegregated Catholic organizations within the state.  He participated in ecumenical organizations and served nationally as chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, from 1978-1981. During Unterkoefler's episcopacy, the Diocese of Charleston was visited by Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1982 and Pope John Paul II in 1987. Unterkoefler served as South Carolina's bishop for twenty-six years, retiring in 1990.  He died in 1993.

Note written by


12.55 Linear Feet (16 document boxes, 1 slim box, 2 record cartons, 2 oversize boxes, 1 crosier box)

Language of Materials



Correspondence, administrative records, newspaper clippings, photographs, publications, symbols of office or status, and other material relating to the episcopacy of Ernest Unterkoefler, Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina.

Arrangement Note

1. Personal papers, 1894-1994 2. Professional papers, 1963-199, undated 3. Office of the Permanent Diaconate, 1967-1995 4. Priest Personnel Board, 1968-1973 5. Papal Visit, 1987-1989 6. Vatican II Council, 1962-1983, undated 7. Images, 1960s-1990s, undated 8. Personal possessions, 1962-1991

Custodial History

Vatican II materials (2002.004) were transferred to the archives by Msgr. Charles Rowland.

Source of Acquisition

Transferred by Monsignors Joseph Roth and Charles Rowland

Accruals and Additions

Objects added February 2013.

Related Materials

Office of the Bishop records.

Separated Materials

Oversize Box (OSB) 1 Oversize Box (OSB) 2 Objects Box (OBX) 1 Objects Box (OBX) 2 Objects Box (OBX) 3 Crosier Box

Processing Information

Processed by Jennifer Neal, 2010; and Melissa Bronheim, September 2011 and August 2013.

Inventory of the Bishop Ernest Unterkoefler papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston Archives Repository

114 Broad Street
Carriage House
Charleston SC 29401 US