Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Farewell Mass Lauds Archbishop’s Faith, Humor

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published January 13, 2005

The congregation at the Cathedral of Christ the King stood and welled up with warm, extended applause for Archbishop John F. Donoghue as his vicar general Msgr. R. Donald Kiernan thanked him for his service and leadership as their father over the past 11 years in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

As the large white Christ statue glowed on the cross high above the altar, the archbishop, 76, quietly smiled and then stood up in his cream vestments from the elevated bishop’s chair for a slight bow in acknowledgement of the gratitude expressed.

“Over 11 years ago the church of Atlanta was a family in need of a father. The archbishop came to us and was willing to be just that,” said Msgr. Kiernan. Some 700 Catholics came from around the archdiocese for the Mass held Jan. 10 to honor the archbishop, including those who had a respectful work relationship with him at the Catholic Center or in parishes, others deeply inspired by his eucharistic spirituality and resolute, quiet leadership, and others who didn’t know him at all but who were warmed and strengthened by the light of that leadership.

Archbishop Donoghue celebrated the Mass. While he didn’t address the congregation about his retirement, his handshaking of the priests during the sign of peace, his lifting high the chalice during the consecration and his reception of a long line of well-wishers after the service all spoke of his love for his priests, his flock and for the Eucharist. Some 44 priests, many wearing stoles with the crest of the archdiocese, concelebrated the Mass, with music provided by the Archdiocesan Festival Choir. Msgr. Kiernan lightened the mood as he opened his homily with silly stories reflecting on the archbishop’s sharp-edged sense of humor. He told a story about how he tried to console the father-in-law of a Georgia politician who had died, but the man had burst into tears. When Msgr. Kiernan told the archbishop about the experience, he said to him, “Donald, that’s how I feel every time I see you.”

He called attendees to embody the archbishop’s legacy by fully living out their faith. “The greatest gift we can give to the archdiocese is to continue to love all life, from the unborn to the convict,” he said. “It is my fondest hope that all persons take the example of service and humility you have given to us and allow themselves to be better disciples. Thank you for being our father, thank you for being a father who listens … who cares … who taught us, who prays with us.”

Among attendees was Nicholas Azar, a seminarian at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., who flew in to attend the Mass and assist with the upcoming installation. He admires the commitment, prayerfulness and holiness of the archbishop whom he views as a mentor.

“I’ve seen his strength in dealing with issues in running a large archdiocese like he does. Even in his age you still see joy in his eyes for who he is and what he does. I feel that enthusiasm. It’s contagious in a way. You know he’s given everything he has … to something he believes very deeply in and I hope to do the same in some way,” he said. “I think he’s been what we need—strength and endurance and holiness.”

Another seminarian, Jim Flanagan, just completing his second year as a seminary student at Mount Saint Mary’s, noted that Archbishop Donoghue is quite supportive of the seminarians. “He definitely encouraged my vocation through his love for the Blessed Sacrament and by promoting the Eucharistic Congress. It is a pleasure to be a seminarian during his episcopate.”

The archbishop initiated the Eucharistic Renewal, which has led to an annual Eucharistic Congress in the archdiocese on the feast of Corpus Christi and the establishment of 10 perpetual adoration chapels.

Following the Mass a reception was held at the JW Marriott at Lenox Hotel where the archbishop greeted and took pictures with a long line of grateful Catholics. Dick and Pauline Bomeisl of St. Joseph Church, Marietta, are enthusiastic supporters of the archbishop. “He is wonderful—he brought us 100 priests, perpetual adoration and the Missionaries of Charity.”

Archbishop Donoghue also was instrumental in getting the Nashville Dominicans to St. Catherine of Siena School in Kennesaw. Sister Maria Goretti, OP, principal of St. Catherine’s, is one of three sisters who moved here last year to work at the school. She noted, “We love him.”

“We’re grateful for all the archbishop has done for the archdiocese, particularly for Catholic education,” said the nun. Under his leadership, three archdiocesan elementary schools and two high schools opened, in addition to three private grade schools and three private high schools.

Maria Vigil recalled how she was confirmed at 19 by the archbishop and after that experience was inspired to delve deeper into the faith to grow in holiness. She saw him a year later where she told him he had confirmed her, and he responded, “Did it take?” “I just saw that enthusiasm and love for the faith he had, and I wanted that,” she said. “Over the years I’ve been watching and reading about the different things he’s done for Atlanta and especially this last year when he wrote a statement about conscientious voting. That continued fidelity has been inspiring.”

She appreciates his love for priests and the sense he’s created of the laity’s responsibility to help foster them. She and her husband helped bring the Elijah’s Cup program to their parish, Holy Cross, which focuses on family prayer for vocations.

The archbishop has also been a steadfast supporter of the pro-life movement. Jean Hess, along with a core of volunteers, founded the pro-life Pregnancy Problem Center, Hapeville, in 1984. “He really, really, really cares about pro-life. He came with that mission in Atlanta,” she said. He recently spoke at the center’s fund-raiser, and “from when he came here in 1993 he’s been supportive. He’s come by on occasion, knocked on our door. He was there for the dedication. He just makes us feel like he cares.”

Father James Larson, LC, appreciates the archbishop’s deep prayerfulness and his “quiet faithfulness.” In addition “he’s really set the diocese on a great path for the future with the eucharistic focus he’s given and the good number of men training for priesthood, getting good, solid training,” he said. “We’re going to feel the reverberations for a long time.”

Father Fabio Sotelo-Peña, chaplain at the Our Lady of the Americas Mission in Doraville, likes the archbishop’s decisiveness, particularly during the media exposure of the sexual abuse crisis. “He’s very committed, very clear about his mission, has perseverance. He handled in such a great way the struggle the church had a couple years ago. He knew how to manage the whole situation. He’s a strong leader.”

Maureen Walker, of “Sewing Sisters,” a Marietta company specializing in handmade vestments and altar linens, said that Archbishop Donoghue gave their company a “kick start” by using their vestments. One of their specialties is a vestment showing the crest of the archdiocese. “He really helped us out when we first started our business.”

Gene Turner, a young first-year seminarian at St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, La., said that he had been honored to eat lunch recently at the same table as Archbishop Donoghue. “He has a great sense of humor,” Turner reported. “He’s very down to earth with the priests.”