Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Archbishop Says Support Of People Sustained Him

By SUZANNE HAUGH and GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writers | Published January 13, 2005

His office cleaned and ready for his successor, Archbishop John F. Donoghue reflected Jan. 7 on his 11 years as the archbishop of Atlanta, giving credit to his staff and to the clergy and laity of the archdiocese for everything that has been accomplished.

Relaxed and exuding a sense of quiet peace, the 76-year-old native of Washington, D.C., smiled and said he does now consider Georgia his home and expects to spend the rest of his life here as archbishop-emeritus.

“I feel very much at home” in Atlanta, he said, though some family members live in the Washington area. “I feel very close to the priests and people here.”

He’s moved to the All Saints rectory in Dunwoody, where he’ll stay until St. George Village retirement facility in Roswell opens. He’s number one on the waiting list.

While more reticent when talking about his service, he warmly speaks of his great confidence in the next archbishop, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.

“Archbishop Gregory, who is extremely capable in my opinion, will do an excellent job,” he said. “He is a spiritual man. He loves the church. He loves the Holy Father. It is obvious when you get to know him that he is a man who is very much taken up in his vocation as a priest and as a bishop.”

It is also time for an infusion of fresh energy and new ideas for the challenges ahead, said the archbishop, who offered his resignation to Pope John Paul II in August 2003, as required, when he turned 75. His resignation wasn’t accepted until Dec. 9, 2004.

He doesn’t seem torn about letting go as a spiritual father to the Catholic community, acknowledging he is confident that the time is right. “I feel I have gone as far as I can go. Now I think it is time for somebody else with new ideas, with different ideas.”

This June Archbishop Donoghue will celebrate 50 years as a priest—the role he expected would occupy his entire life when he was ordained for the Washington Archdiocese in 1955. Being a bishop “was not something I expected to happen. It was not something I wanted to happen.”

“I just presumed I would always be a parish priest. I would be an associate pastor . . . then a pastor, perhaps moved around a few times . . . and then made a pastor at a parish where I would stay till I died.”

“I got my first inkling (this would not be the case) when I was sent back to study canon law” by Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, who ordained him. Then Cardinal O’Boyle said, “Now we need you in the chancery.”

He served as his secretary, his chancellor, his vicar general and lived at the archbishop’s residence until he was asked by the pope to become bishop of Charlotte, N.C.

“I didn’t expect it to happen to me. Most priests don’t expect it to happen to them.”

It was while he was traveling on a pilgrimage to a Eucharistic Congress in Spain that he was asked to serve as archbishop of Atlanta, a memory that still provokes a laugh and a story.

“The phone rings at six in the morning in the hotel. I thought it was a wake-up call. I just lifted it up and put it down without answering. Then it rang again. I had the good sense this time to pick it up, and it was the apostolic nuncio on the phone.”

After the nuncio ascertained he was speaking to Archbishop Donoghue by asking him personal questions only he could answer, the nuncio said, “The Holy Father wants you to go to Atlanta.” Archbishop Donoghue asked, “What for?”

“To be the bishop,” came the reply.

“Can I think about it?”

“The Holy Father wants it,” he said again, and so Archbishop Donoghue accepted.

“I spent the next 11 years here, happy years in every way.”

He credits the people of the archdiocese with reaching important goals in Catholic education, in the Eucharistic Renewal, and in strengthening priestly vocations.

“I really believe it is because of the people . . . They are so good and so supportive, not just financially, but they volunteer their time and their talents. The bishop gets the credit, but the people are really the ones who accomplish it,” he said. “Unless you get the support of the good Catholic people, you are not going to get anyplace.”

Shortly after coming to serve the Atlanta Archdiocese, Archbishop Donoghue announced the beginning of perpetual adoration at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, a development that ignited the archdiocese in its eucharistic devotion.

When he was not traveling, the archbishop also visited the Blessed Sacrament weekly for a devotional hour in the middle of the night. “Sometimes I would go in there without a thought in my head. I’d just sit there and look at the Lord in the Eucharist. Then I would be inspired to know what to say and what to ask for.”

In 1996 the archbishop, disheartened by a poll which reported that only about 30 percent of Catholics believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, launched the Eucharistic Renewal, entitled “His True Presence.”

With the continued education of those in the archdiocese, and guided by the Holy Spirit, 10 parishes now offer perpetual adoration and many others have scheduled weekly hours of eucharistic adoration. In 2001 the first large-scale Eucharistic Congress took place at the Georgia International Convention Center, College Park, which drew an estimated 12,000 people. Now held annually, the Eucharistic Congress in June 2004 brought over 23,000 area Catholics together for a day of prayer, praise and spiritual talks that ended with the celebration of Mass.

“It has been pleasing to me to promote eucharistic devotion in a number of ways and to see the number of vocations increase, which is what happens when you get people praying for vocations. God is not outdone in generosity,” the archbishop said. “I see more clearly every time I go to perpetual adoration how people are earnestly praying and they’re grateful for all of God’s blessings.”

The idea to hold a Eucharistic Congress grew, again, from the archbishop’s constant desire to promote eucharistic devotion. “I wanted some way to get people involved so maybe we’d have a Eucharistic Congress, I thought, not every year, but every two to three years,” he explained.

With the success of the first congress, many in the archdiocese wanted to make it an annual event.

“I was delighted,” said the archbishop, and added that, through the generosity of individuals in the community, parishes have not been assessed to pay to attend, as that might limit those unable to afford the event.

Under Archbishop Donoghue the archdiocese has seen a dramatic increase in the number of priestly vocations. Nearly 50 men are in various stages of their journey toward the priesthood.

“I can’t take credit for the increase in vocations,” said the archbishop, who acknowledged the contributions of vocations director Father Brian Higgins and his committee. The archbishop also expressed his gratitude to the priests of the archdiocese who are good, Catholic men living the priestly life.

“That’s what attracts good men. They see (the priest’s) life of sacrifice. They know it’s not always easy, but they see the priests living that life and it’s encouraging.”

The archbishop said that the opening of new Catholic schools was the most fulfilling part of his service.

“When I came to Atlanta I was very well aware we had very few Catholic schools in the archdiocese . . . Every parish I visited that first year people said we have to have schools. I spoke to Msgr. (Edward) Dillon (then vicar general) about it and he said we have to have a fund drive. We planned the ‘Building the Church of Tomorrow’ campaign.”

When the fund-raising consultants said they thought $50 million could be raised in the campaign, Archbishop Donoghue thought it sounded impossible. But the campaign eventually generated over $70 million.

The campaign had several goals that were important to him, including seed money to help start new Catholic schools and to start endowments for priestly vocations and priests’ retirement. While each component appealed to some in the Catholic community, he said that this drive and other major initiatives were difficult at times and only successful by God’s grace.

“It is God’s wisdom that tells us where to go, how to proceed.”

The sexual abuse crisis in the church was the most difficult time for him as a bishop.

“The most difficult was going through this period of scandal. Every priest was looked at suspiciously. Every bishop was looked at suspiciously. That was very painful when you’re the ones being addressed that way. We came through it, thank God.”

The archbishop has not been afraid to stir up controversy in defense of the Catholic faith. In 2004 he joined with Bishop Robert J. Baker of Charleston, S.C., and Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, N.C., to issue a letter explaining that Catholic politicians who support pro-abortion legislation commit a grave sin and must first reconcile with the church before receiving Communion.

“We felt if we really believed this why be afraid to say it? We must say what we believe.”

The archbishop realized that to shepherd the archdiocese he has had to make some hard decisions.

“I do feel isolated at times from my own people. I have to make decisions I know my own people don’t like, but I accept that and go it alone.”

Most often, however, they have put their confidence in him. “Many people believe that you’re the bishop and you therefore have the charism to speak for the church. A lot of people don’t believe that.”

“Sometimes I have to make a difficult decision that I know others don’t agree with and I strike up controversy where there wasn’t any before when I make a strong statement. As bishop I have to do that. I have to be bold in issues of justice and peace.”

The archbishop spoke on his responsibility to clearly teach and profess the teachings of the church, a lesson he said he learned from Cardinal O’Boyle, particularly when he served as secretary to then Archbishop O’Boyle when the papal encyclical Humane Vitae sparked protests from priests, other Religious and the laity in the 1960s.

“I believe every bishop must defend and promote the teachings of the Magisterium. Once I became bishop I saw that as being true to my calling. I do not find it difficult to defend church teachings. In fact, I’d have difficulties going against the teachings of the church.”

In reference to the time immediately following the release of Humane Vitae, the archbishop added, “We must have enough faith and the time to go through it … God provides for His church and it will always continue even though we have been trying to destroy it for over 2,000 years.”

He holds onto Christ’s promise that the Lord will remain with His people until the end of time.

The archbishop now faces his next assignment: retirement. “I’m hoping to keep busy and hope not to dry up … There’s a lot I can do to assist the new bishop.”

He looks forward to visiting parishes in the archdiocese to help with the sacrament of confirmation.

“I must say every assignment I’ve ever had has been most satisfactory for me. I’ve enjoyed them all. Not every priest can say that. I have been very fortunate.”

“I always had a happy rectory and good friends in the priesthood.”

He wants the Catholic community to know “just how grateful I am for making my life enjoyable as a bishop and for all the times people have said to me, ‘I am going to pray for you.’ It means a lot.”

“Whatever success there’s been, it is really because of our good Catholic people and good priests and good Religious. Without them and their generosity in offering their lives to the church we wouldn’t have anything.”