By SUZANNE HAUGH, Staff Writer | Published January 13, 2005
Many call him the “eucharistic bishop” who has focused his energies on rekindling the reverence of and love for Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament among Catholics in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Through his leadership, Archbishop John F. Donoghue ignited among scores of the faithful the pursuit of and desire to discover our Lord personally in the Eucharist and to have the courage to say “yes” to His calling.
“He’s known as the eucharistic bishop,” said Father Bernard Johnson, OCSO, former abbot of the Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. Speaking from the New Clairvaux Abbey in Vina, Calif., where he retired to in 2000, Father Johnson recalled the archbishop’s love of the Eucharist.
“He always has had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament,” explained Father Johnson. “I think his devotion … helped him on a personal level especially during the last couple of years. His prayer life had to be strong. He found strength through his devotion to the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament.”
Father Johnson’s own faith in the Blessed Sacrament has grown over the years. “I may not be the world’s best spiritual director, but if you’ve got a problem I tell people to do what St. Ignatius of Loyola used to say … ‘Give me 15 minutes before the Blessed Sacrament to solve it.’”
Many have taken notice of the dynamic spirituality of the Atlanta Archdiocese.
“It’s a booming archdiocese. The Lord is fanning the flames there,” said Father Johnson, who came to the Atlanta area in 1946 when only five parishes existed. “I’ve watched the church grow under various bishops. We had some bad luck … And then along comes a very gentle, very dignified man who was very quiet but also very effective.”
Father Johnson served as the homilist at the Mass on the opening day of the Eucharistic Renewal, which began in June of 1996.
“I remember that day. It was just like what I grew up with—processions, singing and Mass—I never realized what impact it would have even now.”
In his youth, Archbishop Donoghue attended first Friday devotions and weekly Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, which led everyone into periods of silent prayer in the presence of the Eucharist. This helped to instill an awareness and reverence in the young, the archbishop recalled in 1996 when he initiated the Eucharistic Renewal, an effort begun to educate the Catholic community on the essence of the Eucharist or to grasp its significance for the first time.
The archbishop also explained at the time how a loss of reverence in the presence of the Eucharist had evolved in the Catholic community and could further erode the authority of the church’s teaching.
Evidence of this erosion came in 1992 when a Gallup poll of U.S. Catholics revealed that only one-third of them believed that Jesus—His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—was truly present in the Eucharist.
“The Renewal began as a reaction to the Gallup poll,” said Keri Allen, director of evangelization for the archdiocese and at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta. “Our intent was to catechize the people and also to evangelize.”
Allen articulated the challenge facing the church at the time of the Eucharistic Renewal: “Unfortunately it appears that some people want to believe only in the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist; others want to believe in his presence in the community. What I think we are missing is that it is not an ‘either/or’ statement; it is a ‘both/and’ statement.”
While there is still progress to be made, today she believes there is a greater understanding among those in the archdiocese that the two cannot be separated. “Over the past 11 years it has become more apparent to me that you can’t separate feeding the poor from feeding yourself.”
Few have been as involved in bringing people to the Eucharist as Allen, who has helped to organize perpetual adoration at the Cathedral, the Eucharistic Renewal and the Eucharistic Congresses held annually.
“Archbishop Donoghue, to me, is a very exceptional leader and shepherd of the people,” Allen said. “Our archdiocese is richer for having him because of his faith, his humility. We have been so graced to have him at the helm during some very difficult times.”
She added, “The archdiocese has grown, not just in numbers, but spiritually grown through his vision. In every age group he has touched hearts, and there is so much love for the archbishop. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to work on his behalf.”
Allen credits the Holy Spirit with the remarkable success of the Eucharistic Congress held annually since 2001. In 2004 approximately 23,000 Catholics converged on the Georgia International Convention Center for the day-long event. The day—which is dedicated to the Eucharist and includes adoration, spiritual talks and Mass—has also attracted participants from outside North Georgia. “We have great volunteers and the day is so well organized,” Allen said, “… but when it comes down to it, the Holy Spirit initiated it and implemented it.”
Prior to the start of the Eucharistic Congress and the Eucharistic Renewal, Allen was tapped in 1993 by Archbishop Donoghue to orchestrate the huge task of beginning perpetual adoration for the archdiocese at the Cathedral. When she reminisces about starting this ministry she often refers to the well-known adage: “God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.”
Perpetual adoration began in 1994 and now is also offered at nine other parishes. Many other churches offer adoration each week.
“In our culture it’s difficult to find silence. What kind of father wouldn’t want to talk to his children?” she asked. “God’s talking to us, but we’ve often put Him on hold. Adoration is about quiet time with our Father … It helps us find the purpose we have in life now and prepares us for life in the future.”
Like Allen, Chris Paciorek, a parishioner and coordinator of perpetual adoration at Corpus Christi Church in Stone Mountain, never imagined how she could coordinate perpetual adoration at her parish. “No way. I’m not a leader,” she said. “Honestly, I still don’t know how it works, but it works. God makes it possible.”
She recalled her own mindset prior to participating in eucharistic adoration.
“I, myself, and others, I think, we lost reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, not deliberately, but we kind of got used to it. Through adoration you come to realize how truly Jesus is present. You regain the reverence, respect and awe. Myself, I went to Communion every time I went to Mass. It became routine. I did not realize what the Eucharist was … Through the Eucharistic Renewal I came to realize that (the Eucharist) is not just some thing but is someone, Jesus, who loves us. We understand now that need to be reverent. We want to be.”
Paciorek described some of the fruits of perpetual adoration she’s witnessed or heard of: an end to unemployment, restored health, and young pregnant girls who choose to have their babies instead of abort them. “The archbishop is dedicated to vocations and through perpetual adoration we see a lot of vocations.”
Yolanda Tapia has helped coordinate perpetual adoration at the Cathedral for the last six years. She recalled praying before the Blessed Sacrament for the ability to move from outside the perimeter to affordable housing in the high-rent district near the Cathedral.
“Now I can walk to church, and my rent has gone down twice since I’ve moved,” she said, laughing.
She remains amazed by the number of her friends who are considering the priesthood or who have already entered the seminary. “People are responding to God’s will; they’re stepping out in faith because of the graces they are receiving.”
She described herself as “Jesus’ secretary,” along with Cathy Zeliff, when it comes to coordinating the perpetual adoration guardians, those who commit to a particular hour each week. “I just schedule people. I help them find where God is calling them.”
For instance, some want a “penance hour,” which requires more of a sacrifice, such as an hour in the middle of the night. She will also take them into the chapel, as most people have no idea where it is, and like herself when she began, why they want to be a guardian. “I bring them in and let the Holy Spirit take over.”
People of all ages and ethnicities participate in adoration, she said. “I always joke about the middle-of-the-night people: I never hear a peep from them.”
One particular middle-of-the-night guardian is the archbishop, she confided. “He’s a holy man.”
The “humble” archbishop, she explained, has attended a guardian appreciation dinner the Cathedral hosts every few years. “He comes, speaks and thanks everyone for their devotion as guardians, but he has never once said that he, himself, was also a guardian …”
Tapia, who begins each day by stopping by the adoration chapel and also attends Mass during the week, would hate to think what life would be like without perpetual adoration. “Every grace we receive, we receive as a community,” she said. “(Without adoration) we would all feel very empty and not know why—like I felt before my own conversion.”
A love for the Eucharist is also at the heart of the vibrant faith life of parishioners of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Smyrna, particularly of the Hispanic community. The parish offers weekly adoration each Wednesday that begins after Mass at 6:30 a.m. and goes through the day until the Divine Praises, Benediction and Mass is celebrated in the evening starting at 6:45.
The Hispanic community also participates in a nocturnal adoration, coordinated by Abraham Franco and Francisco Rodriguez. Following a format familiar to many in Mexico and brought to the parish by Father Jaime Molina-Juarez, MNM, parochial vicar, once a month on Friday, families gather around 9 p.m. to organize and from 10:30 to midnight pray as a community before the Blessed Sacrament. After midnight mostly men remain—some bringing sleeping bags to rest in until their shift begins. As many as are able return for morning Mass at 7 a.m.
“Sarahita” Jane Butler, a volunteer and parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle, estimates that about 150 people attend the nocturnal adoration. The parish’s goal is to begin perpetual adoration as they hope to draw upon about 50 small faith-sharing groups already established in an Hispanic community that knows what it is to sacrifice. “Jesus is really living in these people,” she said.
“We love our archbishop. We’ve had a lot of people each year go to the Eucharistic Congress … The Eucharist is central to our faith. It’s how we get our strength.”