Who is the Catholic Labor Network? Meet Fr. Sinclair Oubre, union seafarer

Fr. Sinclair K. Oubre, J.C.L.  is the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Orange, TX in the Diocese of Beaumont and a member of the Seafarers Union. Fr. Sinclair grew up in Beaumont and knew from about the 4th grade that he wanted to be a priest and entered the seminary immediately after high school. He said that while others were going through “spiritual discerning” in the seminary, “I was just there to get trained.”

The area around Beaumont has three major ports, which also drove Fr. Sinclair’s attachment to the sea. As a seminarian, he would spend two summers on merchant marine ships working in the Gulf of Mexico, and sailing between the Texas and Florida ports. In 1990, he joined the Seafarers Union, with which he continues to maintain his membership. He attended the University of St. Thomas in Houston and Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he received his bachelor’s degree. He did his graduate theological studies in Leuven, Belgium, and was ordained to the priesthood May 10, 1986. In 1997, he completed his license in canon law at Catholic University in Washington.

Fr. Sinclair has been active in the labor movement for more than 30 years. During the famed Staley lockout in Decatur IL. In Decatur, IL the workers were locked out by the AE Staley company after prolonged contract negotiations in which the company demanded large concessions. The Staley workers were soon joined by Firestone and Caterpillar workers on strike. The struggle came to represent the growing greed of global corporations and the decline of worker power.  Fr. Sinclair met Fr. Martin Mangan, a Decatur area priest who worked with the Staley workers during their fight. While doing graduate work for his JCL in canon law, he met Msgr. Higgins, who was living at Catholic University.

With the Staley lockout, working with Tim Vining and Steve Donahue of the Baton Rouge Catholic Worker House, and other prominent national labor priests, he organized a conference in Decatur, whose goals were to support the workers in Decatur, and promote the Catholic social teaching regarding work, workers and unions. This group coalesced into the Catholic Labor Network in 1996 as the group realized that the bonds between the church and the labor movement had to be reinvigorated.

Fr. Sinclair is now the Spiritual Moderator for the Catholic Labor Network and continues his labor activism as a Chaplain to the Sabine Area Central Labor Council. As a Diocesan Director of the Apostleship of the Sea in the Diocese of Beaumont, he ministers to local and visiting seafarers at the Port Arthur International Seafarers’ Center.  He is also active in the Port Arthur Area Shrimpers’ Association, which organizes among the local Vietnamese shrimping community.

Fr. Sinclair also maintains his connections to the water, as a member of the United States Merchant Marine, and holds a merchant marine credential as AB-Limited, and holds a 100 ton near coastal master license. He sails through the Houston Seafarers International Union hall. In the summer of 2019, he signed on the Training Ship Golden Bear with the cadets of the Texas A&M Maritime Academy for 29 days.