Oubre Brothers in the same town- again
The Rev. Sinclair Oubre, right, and Dr. Shawn Oubre, city manager for Orange, haven’t worked in the same city for nearly 20 years. That changed this summer when Sinclair was appointed pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Orange. Both men reflected on growing up together and their careers. RECORD PHOTOS: Lawrence Trimm
David Ball – For The Record
Maybe Orange can also be known as The City of Brotherly Love.
The Rev. Sinclair Oubre and Dr. Shawn Oubre grew up in Port Arthur and worked in that city together earlier in their careers. Due to circumstances the brothers were separated with Sinclair staying in Port Arthur and Shawn working as the city manager for the city of Orange. But fate would have it the brothers would work together again in the same town after being apart for nearly 20 years.
Sinclair was appointed in July as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Orange, joining Shawn who has been in Orange for a decade. The last time was the late 1990s. Shawn was working for the Groves Police Department and Sinclair was working for the Port Arthur International Seafarers’ Center and as diocesan director for the Apostleship of the Sea among other endeavors.
Their paternal side of the family, the Oubres, originally hail from around St. Martinville, New Iberia and along the Mississippi River in Acadiana in South Louisiana. The family began arriving in Port Arthur during the 1930s and 1940s, Sinclair said.
One of their ancestors on the maternal side, Thomas Sinclair, came from Sumner, Georgia near the area where Thomasville Furniture was made. He would work picking peanuts and working in a lumberyard. At age 16, he followed Horace Greely’s advice and headed west for more opportunities.
He worked on a Standard Oil pipeline in Bunkie, Louisiana in the 1920s. He married there and moved to Port Arthur for work.
“There was a massive migration to Port Arthur to build refineries,” Sinclair said.
Their grandfather poured the concrete slab at Neches Butane. His last project was pouring the slab for the rectory at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Port Neches.
Their father worked as a cabinet maker. Sinclair said their father was constantly working.
“It was cabinet making Oubre style,” Sinclair said.
He would build the cabinets for homes. Sinclair and Shawn were also enlisted to work on the assembly line, offloading lumber and whatever else needed to be done.
“Dad taught us don’t be afraid to tackle big things,” he said.
For instance, Sinclair was instrumental in getting the Savannah House Apartments in Port Arthur built for elderly, African Americans, etc. built rather than waiting on somebody else to do it.
“He would retired the company in 1968. That craft died with that generation,” he said. “Our dad still works. Our brother still does it. They do maintenance and installation of cabinets.”
Sinclair joked since he’s left-handed, it would terrorize his dad when he worked with him.
Sinclair and Shawn said their dad represents the three “Hs”- hard work, hard-headedness and hard of hearing.
Of the Oubre children, Max, their sister, is the oldest. She graduated from Lamar University and works as a CPA. Sinclair is next, Shawn is next and Stephen is the youngest.
Sinclair said their mother had a sense of humor in naming the children. Her doctor told her she would never have children, so she named her firstborn Max after him. All of the boys also have SKO as their initials.
“I travel all over the U.S. and I find people who attended Texas schools,” he said. “If we use the gifts we have, there is nothing that can prevent us.”
Sinclair believes the leaders of Orange made a commitment to make their city great. Even though, in Little Cypress, where the church is located and he’s told is the place to live in Orange, isn’t what it once was and people are always restless to find greener grass.
“I don’t see real estate people tripping over themselves to get in here. People are constantly running. You can never run far enough,” he said. “There’s a disconnect with your private life and where you work. The fabric tears; the quality of the schools comes into question.”
Sinclair said his family had a typical Catholic upbringing- they attended parochial schools and their mother stayed at home. His first job was with Bruce Thompson at Market Basket. He also made shelves and counters for the store.
“By the eighth or ninth grade, we knew Buddy (Sinclair) would go into the seminary. He needs a one-day a week job,” Shawn joked.
Sinclair took the SATs, but he didn’t fill out any applications for colleges (because he knew he would go to seminary) after speaking with Father Romero, his vocational director.
Some of Sinclair’s educational and professional background include, with other accomplishments too many to list, St. James Catholic School, Bishop Byrne High School, the University of St. Thomas, The Catholic University of America and the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. He had also served as a pastor, chaplain, Diocesan Tribunal Judge, director, etc.
Likewise, Shawn attended Bishop Byrne and Thomas Jefferson High School, Lamar University Police Academy, a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Lamar University and a doctorate from Walden University.
He has served as a police officer with the Port Arthur and Groves Police Departments, Vidor city manager, and Orange.
Shawn told one humorous story of how Sinclair, who loves Lone Star Beer, could find none at Leuven in Belgium. His mother would mail packages of “books” that weighed the same and were the same diameter as a six pack of Lone Star Beer (which was inside). He received cigars with the same method.
Shawn said people sometimes ask him what is it like to have a brother who is a priest.
“When you have a brother or sister who is at the nun or priest level, you see them as siblings and not as the public sees them,” he explained. “At Thanksgiving, we’re just as brutal to each other.”
Shawn said their father built the first house they lived in and also the second house they now live in.
“We learned about honest, hard work from them (their parents) and to give back to the community. We learned to support nonprofit endeavors,” he said. “I was barely out of the double digits (in age) and I was told to go to work. I did stuff like mowing lawns, delivering papers, working at grocery stores, etc.”
From there, Shawn went to work in a plant out of high school.
“In Port Arthur, the refineries make a pitch they need you and it’s a lifetime job. I wasn’t ready for college and I though I could always go back,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be a policeman. I was at the refineries and attending LIT taking instrumentation. It wasn’t for me, at the plants though there’s nothing wrong with that. It was very good to be a policeman, I felt a calling.”
Shawn said he was fortunate to work in Port Arthur and he met a lot of successful people there.
He said he learned a lot in Port Arthur, but the tipping point was when his lieutenant with the PAPD asked him why he was majoring in criminal justice at Lamar and he should take accounting courses instead to have a more versatile degree after graduation. He thinks this was one of his first steps in eventually becoming a city manager. It would lead to him earning a PhD after his family gave him their blessings to pursue it.
Obtaining a doctorate, however, wasn’t instantaneous as Shawn had to go through two hurricanes to finish his coursework. In the end though, he thought he would become a better manager and a better person after he received the degree.
Some of the influences in his life were Congressman Jack Brooks, Beaumont fire Chief Pete Shelton, Jefferson County Sheriff Mitch Woods, Mentor Sam Macalana and Rod Carroll.
“I never knew I was being mentored. I thought then if I made sergeant or lieutenant I would be somebody,” he said.
Sinclair said mentoring has been most important in his life as well.
“(Congressman Jack) Brooks took me under his wing as an intern. I was put in a subcommittee and I learned how important a role mentoring is,” he said. “I can’t mentor a young guy who has all the answers.”
Sinclair was also mentored by Dan Slayman, an AFL-CIO representative and Democratic Socialists of America member. Another was from Monsignor Don Higgins, a labor priest in Washington, D.C. He said his phrases and stories are a part of him.
Higgins would tell Sinclair a person could “Get killed on the left just as much as on the right.”
“American culture wants to shed any kind of responsibility,” Sinclair said. “You have a right to do whatever you want to do until you do something and then they have to call the police.
“The younger only plug in when they want to. Citizens plug in only when they want to. The co-responsibility is lost. We’re autonomous human beings fighting over each other.”
He added, however, there still are some charitable organizations with people who accept responsibility. Others have to be paid to be motivated to do something.
Before he became pastor at St. Francis Sinclair was a canon lawyer.
“I’ve been blessed at St. Francis,” he said. “Father Phelan left a great staff with very talented people who can make decisions and carry things out. They are quality leaders who do the work there.”
Sinclair’s goals while pastor there are to one, help clarify the Catholic identity there so they can be more Catholic there, and two, work for closer discipleship with Jesus Christ.
“There’s a difference between Catholic discipleship or a Catholic who goes to Mass. Someone who relationship is so deep with Jesus Christ,” he said.
Shawn said he will work as long as he is able to. When he’s done with being a city manager, he would like to teach public administration and public policy at the graduate level.
Sinclair, too, said he would like to do more teaching.
“I want to bring the experience I have with others. I wanted to be the vocational director at LU (at the Catholic Student Center) as a forum to teach with,” he said.