Father John Francis Ulm
Priest, cherished brother and uncle and friend
June 11, 1934 – August 15, 2023

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
            clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,
            gentleness and patience.

Colossians 3:12

John Francis Ulm was born on June 11, 1934 in Orange, Texas and at age 89, left for heaven at 5:00 PM on August 15, 2023, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother. He probably chose this day to “let go” as he longed for his broken body to be restored to glory so that he could continue his life’s aim of serving others.

Father John was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston on May 24, 1958, at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston.  He had a special dispensation for ordination as he was only 24 years old and the archdiocese required men to be 25. During his 65 years as a priest, Father John served in eight parishes in the Houston area; earned a master’s degree in liturgical theology at the University of St. Thomas; learned Spanish and became a missionary in Guatemala City, Guatemala for five and a half years; led pilgrimages to the Holy Land for several years; and served as a Chaplain in the Army (in the USA for 2 years and in Germany for 6 years).   He retired from St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Houston after twelve and a half years during which he helped design and oversaw building the beautiful new church of which that parish is very proud.  Father John considered his part in the building of St. Max’s church a privilege and a great step in doing God’s work. To view a video Father John made describing the reasoning behind the design of the church, and to see Father John’s huge smile, go to this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pyOTBtc_8Y0 or click play on the video below.

Words people use to describe Father John include “devoted to God and the Church … a believer who made others believe … extraordinary … a leader … mischievous and funny … brilliant … intense … gentle … very kind … hard working (never stopping) …  funny … caring … a fighter … forthright (said what he thought!) … devoted to his family … lover of the Eucharist … love of and pride in being a priest … a fisherman … a gardener … a builder.”  Those words only begin to create a picture of this humble priest who changed the lives of thousands in the USA, in Guatemala, in Germany.  John Francis Ulm was an extraordinary human being, a devoted son, a caring, responsible brother and uncle, and most of all, a priest who loved God and God’s children and used his many talents and gifts to bring God’s Kingdom to earth every day of his life.

John was the 2nd son and the 9th of 11 children of Louis Peter Ulm, Sr., and Elsie Hildegarde Conzelmann Ulm.  Preceding him in death were both his parents and his brother, Louis Peter Ulm, Jr. (“Buddy”) and his sisters:  Elsie Louise Darst, Mary Ruth Nolan, Catherine Amelia Fore; Claire Rolen; Hildegarde Bulovas; and Miriam Estelle (Sister Dolorosa).  Fifty nieces and nephews and numerous great nephews and nieces filled “Uncle” Johnny’s life and eight of them were waiting for him in heaven:  Louis Peter Ulm, III; Tommy Rolen; Bobby Fore, Theresa Darst Brumfield, Timothy Nolan, Patrick Rolen, Michael Rolen and Paul Drew Wood.   His family was devoted to him — everyone sought to be within his circle of love and laughter! Father John officiated at the weddings of dozens of these loved ones, baptized their children and tenderly said most of the funeral Masses of his family who preceded him in death.  A bishop will celebrate his funeral Mass. 

“Johnny” as his parents and siblings called him was totally devoted to God and his family.  He never wavered from that purpose.  His sisters Dolores Simar of Orange, Texas, Amelia Matilda Scales of Beaumont and Rose Marie Ulm (Sister Carita) of Houston will sorely miss his phone calls filled with “adventurous” ideas (that is, things he needed them to do for him — usually related to his then current mission for the Church!), his humor (often directed at himself), and definitely his worries (usually about them or one of the other sisters, nieces or nephews or anyone within his sphere of knowledge he thought he might be able to help). 

John’s values, world view and love of life and others was formed in the family home in Orange, Texas.  WWII raged and enveloped the bustling Ulm household.  “Buddy” (Louis Jr.) joined the Army and flew a bomber.  Young John idolized his older brother who, as family tradition goes, “landed a bomber on a ship while being blinded by his own blood.” And life went on life went on.  The Ulm children worked hard — at everything!– food preparation, holiday festivities, and school (an important value instilled in each of them).  They learned to pull together and to sacrifice individually for the common good.  For instance, the elder Ulm children remember watching a truck pick up their iron baby bed they were donating to be melted down to assist the US military in WWII.  The small house was crowded with children! Somewhere along the way, the family enclosed part of the back porch and it became John’s room.  Later a portion of the front porch was enclosed creating two bedrooms for the girls! 

Everything in the Ulm household was centered around church. There was never a thought of missing Mass for any reason! The children attended St. Mary’s Elementary School and High School.  John graduated from St. Mary’s in May, 1951, one month before his 17th birthday.  Three months later that August, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in LaPorte (later moved to Houston).  When asked about where his desire to be a priest began, he said, “I think I had a lot of values instilled in me during the early part of my life, the first 15 to 16 years. It all started with the desire to serve the people and the Church. It is not something that came to me later in life. It was something I had in me since I was young.”

 In 1967, as a young priest, he begged the bishop to send him to Guatemala. He learned Spanish and the bishop granted his wish.  Father John fell in love with the “special people” he found in Guatemala City. In 1984, John fulfilled a lifelong dream, to be like his big brother “Buddy.” With the Bishop’s permission, John became a Chaplain in the Army.  Not surprisingly, he became the head or “post” Chaplain and 2 years later in 1986 realized another dream, to travel to Germany all the while serving soldiers who were far from home.  He delighted in telling people about the great cathedral in “Ulm, Germany.”

Each time his life turned a different direction, he met the change with excitement, hope and faith that he was following God’s Will.

John’s desire to be a priest was not the only thing that began during his youth.  John’s talents, interests, grit and stubbornness also developed during those early years.  As is German tradition, the Ulms celebrated Christmas magnificently.  His father’s large front yard manger scene was famous throughout the parish. Then there was the inside manger scene and that glorious tree!  His father used candles to light the giant Christmas tree in the living room at 1311 Orange Avenue until the 1950s when his mother insisted that they be replaced with the wonderful, magical (but definitely safer) “bubble lights” that mesmerized the grandchildren for years.  Occasionally, when his parents wanted to have a conversation that was private from the children, they spoke German to each other.  The children, though, were never taught German.   Surely Father John’s curiosity about the ‘home country’ Germany was almost innate.  

The Ulm children all had responsibilities when they were growing up.

John latched onto the task of improving the house even when he was a child.  He loved to “fix things.”  He loved to “tinker,” to build things out of wood, to explore.   As a youth, he made dozens of model planes that he hung from the ceiling of his bedroom.  He would research and sometimes just “experiment” in order to gain the knowledge he needed to solve a problem (he actually learned to use the Internet in recent years and said it would’ve changed his life if he’d had it in the 1950’s!)  He laughingly told the story about when he decided as a recently ordained priest with no official training in electricity to rewire the family house by replacing the old insulators in the attic with electrical conduit. “Can you believe I actually did that?!” he said to a niece last summer.  He said his father was very angry with him, frightened, doubtful that the wiring was safe.  In fact, John sadly reported that his dad had worried for years that the house was going to burn down. Years later, after the house was still standing, his father somewhat reluctantly admitted the rewiring was “a good thing.” 

John’s feelings of responsibility for others, and his nurturing for those around him started with caring for his sisters, especially his younger sisters (“Rosie” and Miriam.) Taking care of the needs of an inner city parish, of a struggling mission parish in Guatemala City, as well as his care for soldiers in the US and in Germany all stemmed from what he learned within the family life in Orange.

Over the next few years, John also single-handedly remodeled the Ulm bathroom and kitchen and built a stone grotto in his mother’s back yard … just because he could — and because it made life better for those he loved. John’s wiring the house was an example of how he approached obstacles — he saw a problem and assumed that he could solve it and then set out to find out how.  It was never “if” but “when” for him.  He carried this forward to his parishes.  No doubt when he approached the bishop and said he wanted to go to Guatemala or later, to join the Army, the bishop was as incredulous about this “extraordinary” request as Father John’s father had been about the re-wiring of the house.   But John was determined, motivated by his love of the Eucharist and his desire to be God’s hands on earth.  I imagine the bishop was as powerless to refuse him as were most of the rest of those who loved John.  Father John was not satisfied with leaving things “as is.”  He wanted to make things better.

Father John carried his love of fishing, gardening, and adventure into his retirement. He cleared an area for a garden almost as soon as he moved into the retirement home.  When he wanted more room than his own “yard” allowed, he began to garden his friends’ allotments!  He especially loved roses and watched for every new bud.  Still, he would joyously cut an armful of the perfumed blossoms as a thank you to guests who visited him. Because of his love of family and his curiosity about Germany and history, he spent several of his retirement years investigating and recording his family’s genealogy — often recruiting his sisters, and nieces and nephews to assist and carry the task forth. 

“Impish” or “mischievous” might also describe John Francis — from his childhood on!  He loved to laugh and make people laugh.  His smile transformed his face and stopped people mid-thought.  In fact, perhaps his humor combined with his smile (and stubbornness in hearing the word “no”) were perhaps his greatest tools for success when he wanted to set out on another of his adventures and wanted to take you with him! As soon as you saw the smile and heard the humor in his voice, you were “roped in.”  Later you might wake up saying, “What did I agree to do?!”  That was true for obtaining money to build a church, in encouraging a bishop to allow him to join the Army or become a foreign missionary, in getting a library for retired priests, in getting a sister (or niece or nephew) to run an errand or clean out an attic or his room, or to encourage a friend to take him fishing!  A grandnephew reported that even Uncle Johnny’s last phone message “made me smile.”  In this message, Father Johnny said, “Hello my friends, Now that I’m back on my feet, I mean, foot … ha, ha … I’ll try to call you back when I get back from my mischief.”   (He’d had a leg amputated a couple of years ago).

One can imagine the grin on his young face as his mother discovered the blue ribbon he had tied to the topmost branch of the pecan tree in their back yard —  “just to show her he climbed that high without her knowing!” These traits added significantly to his skill as a leader who knew how to motivate others around him to achieve seemingly impossible and certainly difficult objectives!  It was also a pleasant way of interacting with his family and friends in the last few years of his life.  For example, a niece fondly smiles when sharing a recent visit to Houston.  She phoned Father John to say “hello” and after a few minutes, he coyly said, “By the way, there’s a new place you might want to try for lunch …Oh, and I am available for lunch, too!”

Johnny’s sister Amelia (Aunt Mimmie” to her family) was Johnny’s major companion for the last few challenging months.  But this was no surprise.  She was next to him in birth order and had stayed by his side supporting him from childhood.  When he moved from St. Maximilian’s to the priests’ retirement home, she was there to help pack and carry boxes.  When he needed something typed or anything else, she was there.  She knew he loved her, but like his father before him, and so many other men of that generation, mouthing the words, “I love you” were difficult for Johnny though he showed his love in millions of other ways.  One of her last moments with him while he was still cognizant last week, she said what she always did upon leaving:  “I love you, Johnny.”  This time, he responded with, “I love you, too.”  Surprised, she stopped and said back to him, “I love you 3!”  “I love you 4!” he said weakly and grinned.  She left with a huge Ulm smile on her face.  This gift to her was one of his last.

Father John’s family lovingly invites you to pray for him and to attend any of the following events held for him:

Funeral Service Information

Friday, August 18, 2023
5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
6:30 p.m.
Vigil Service – Led by Rev. Eric Pitre
7:00 p.m.

St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church
10135 West Road
Houston, Texas 77064

Saturday, August 19, 2023
Funeral Mass:
Bishop Italo Dell’Oro, Main Celebrant; Msgr. Michael Jamail, Homilist.
10:30 a.m.
Luncheon to Follow, Provided by the Catholic Daughters

St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church
10135 West Road
Houston, Texas 77064

Monday, August 21, 2023
Funeral Mass:

Bishop David Toups, Main Celebrant; Msgr. Michael Jamail, Homilist.
10:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church
912 W Cherry Avenue
Orange, Texas 77630

Interment to Follow

St. Mary’s Cemetery
4320 Meeks Drive
Orange, Texas 77632

In lieu of flowers, you may honor Father John with a donation to either St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church at https://stmaximilian.org/give or St. Mary’s Catholic Church at https://www.stmaryorange.org/

A tribute video in honor of Father John has been made available by clicking HERE or by following the link below:



  1. Gina Bibb on August 19, 2023 at 9:51 pm

    I first met Fr. John after he retired since I was the secretary at the retirement home. Such a unique, gifted priest. He loved his family, the church, people of all walks of life and all parts of the world. I’m already asking for his intercession! May you rest in peace Padre!
    🙏✝️🙏. Gina Bibb

  2. Don and Cindy Farrell on August 19, 2023 at 10:54 pm

    Father John will always be special to our family. Our sons Ryan and Heath served as altar boys and MCs with Father John. They both did there Eagle Scout projects at St. Max under his direction and Don was a lector and EMHC alongside him. I taught CCE for many years and Don and I spent many hours working with Father John on the new church building. We enjoyed our Christmas letter from him and will cherish my last visit a few years ago at his retirement home. I can still here him coming down the hall saying “where is that Cindy Farrell, I want her to take me on a cruise.” He enjoyed hearing about our many European river cruises. Our condolences to Father John’s family. I’m sorry I couldn’t attend the services as we are in Colorado and I just found out about his passing today. We will make a donation in his memory to St. Max Church.

  3. Aida J Gonzalez on August 29, 2023 at 2:00 pm

    I am shocked and saddened by the news that Fr. John F.Ulm has left this world but I am happy that he has gone to a much better place. Such a giving soul and one filled with such joy and love for the Lord in the service of our Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Well done good and faithful servant. May He Rest In Peace.