By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF | Published January 13, 2006
Archbishop John F. Donoghue’s service in Atlanta was the culmination of all his beloved work for the church, from his first assignment as priest at a Maryland blue-collar congregation of young families whose church he helped to expand, to his service as bishop of Charlotte, N.C., where he restructured the school system and called for eucharistic renewal and a “decade of evangelization.”
Archbishop Donoghue, celebrating his 50th anniversary to priesthood this June, began his career as a parish priest in Washington, D.C., served 19 years in administrative posts for three cardinals in that archdiocese, and then served nine years as the bishop of Charlotte, N.C., before becoming the shepherd of the Atlanta Archdiocese in 1993.
The archbishop was born in 1928 in the heart of Washington’s northwest section to Daniel and Rose Donoghue. His parents were Irish immigrants who met in Washington, his father being a government lawyer. He discerned his vocation to the priesthood in high school and switched from a Jesuit school to a minor seminary, and he went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, and his master’s degree in theology from St. Mary’s Seminary, Roland Park. He was ordained on June 4, 1955, in Washington, D.C., by Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle, who became a dear mentor and friend.
His first assignment was as a priest at St. Bernard’s Parish in Riverdale, Md. He was the youngest man on the staff. This was a new, energetic and growing parish, and before Father Donoghue arrived the parishioners had already constructed eight classrooms in the school building. While he was there from 1955-61, they added eight more classrooms and built a convent and rectory. “I was amazed by the number of men who would turn out evening and weekends…The women would prepare lunch and dinner…and the pastor provided beer,” he recalled in an August 1993 Georgia Bulletin interview.
He was heartbroken when he was transferred to Holy Face Parish, in Great Mills, a Catholic area in the southern end of Maryland, which along with its neighbor St. George Church, had been run by the Jesuits since they had landed at St. Clements, Md., in 1634. His transfer there came about after Archbishop O’Boyle had suggested to the Jesuit provincial that it might be time for the Washington archdiocese to assign its priests to both parishes. The headline in the local weekly was “Priests Replace Jesuits After 300 Years.”
Many at Holy Face sent their children to the Little Flower Catholic School and worked in tobacco farming or at the Patuxent Naval Air Station. The area was an old-fashioned kind of place where the telephone operator knew everyone and would be quick to call the priests at their number, Great Mills 25, whenever there was an accident.
He was heartbroken again after eight years of parish life to leave Holy Face when Archbishop O’Boyle sent him to Catholic University of America to study canon law. There, he earned a licentiate in 1965. The archbishop had planned to use him in the Tribunal, but following the death of the chancellor he ended up being appointed as vice-chancellor and began 19 years of service in the chancery.
When Archbishop O’Boyle came back from the Second Vatican Council in 1965, he asked Father Donoghue to be his secretary and live at his residence. He was kind, considerate and helpful to the younger priest and “kind of like a father to me.” The “worst time” for Archbishop O’Boyle was when he became a media target after the pope issued Humanae Vitae, the encyclical on human life, in 1968.
He became chancellor before the cardinal retired and was sustained in that post by Cardinal William Baum and Cardinal James Hickey, serving also as vicar general and secretary for support services.
In 1984, Msgr. Donoghue was named bishop of Charlotte, N.C., where the archbishop gave him the crozier given him by classmates when he was named bishop in 1948. He also gave the new bishop a ring, pectoral cross and chain. Bishop Donoghue noted that this was an exciting time but also a sad time, as he was parting with the older prelate.
Bishop Donoghue came to Charlotte with a desire to be with the people and a focus on spiritual development, and he visited each of more than 80 churches his first year there, holding meetings, a cycle he repeated over a three-year period. In Charlotte, as in Atlanta, he emphasized the Eucharist. “Vatican II talks about (the Eucharist) being the source and summit of our Christian lives,” he had said, but the attitude of people suggested a loss of reverence and respect for it. When he left the diocese, the largest parish in Charlotte had perpetual adoration.
Bishop Donoghue was also known as a supporter of Charlotte’s growing Hispanic population, among other things establishing a new Spanish mission. Like Atlanta, that diocese grew in Catholic population under his leadership.
Among significant accomplishments during his tenure in Charlotte was the first three-year Synod of the diocese, which he called in 1986. The recommendations of the Synod included the reorganization of diocesan schools in regional structures. Conditions of facilities were unequal, and curriculum and salary scales differed greatly. Regionalization helped bring schools up to parity. During his time in Charlotte, the diocese also opened a new elementary school, rebuilt two existing schools and added to another facility. He emphasized evangelization to inactive Catholics and the unchurched, proclaiming the 1990s the “decade of evangelization” in the diocese. He initiated the diocesan newspaper. He had addressed two cases of sexual misconduct, both concerning allegations over 20 years old. “I think it would be very helpful to have a national policy,” said the prescient archbishop in July 1993, since that would emphasize to the public that no matter what diocese they were in “this is what happens…the policy is there, the policy is known.”
Ecumenically, he played a leading role in the development of the North Carolina Lutheran-Catholic Covenant signed in 1991 by the Diocese of Charlotte and Raleigh and the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He attended meetings with Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist clergy and developed warm relations with area ministers.
Coming from another Southern diocese as a seasoned bishop, he was welcomed to Atlanta as its fifth archbishop, viewed as a stabilizing force after Archbishop Eugene Marino, SSJ, had resigned in 1990 and Archbishop James Lyke, OFM, had died in 1992. He was installed on Aug. 19, 1993, at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta.
Msgr. John McSweeney, then Charlotte chancellor, spoke of his genuine concern about the poor and poor in spirit. “He’s very much interested in people’s spiritual lives. He’s concerned about physical, emotional and spiritual poverty.”
In his first Atlanta press conference Archbishop Donoghue said he hoped “to take a strong pro-life stand” and “to be able to provide the leadership they need and want” in the archdiocese. When he came here he placed his appointment “in the hands of the Lord…and under the mantle of Mary, the mother of the Church.”
Born: Aug. 9, 1928, in Washington, D.C. to Daniel and Rose (Ryan) Donoghue.
Education: B.A. in philosophy from St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, Md.; M.A. in theology from St. Mary’s Seminary, Roland Park, Md., licentiate, canon law, Catholic University of America.
Ordained: June 4, 1955, by Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle in Washington, D.C.
Assistant Pastor: 1955-61, St. Bernard Church, Riverdale, Md.; 1961-63, Holy Face Church, Great Mills, Md.
1965-72: Secretary to archbishop and vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington.
1972: Chancellor of Archdiocese of Washington.
1973-83: Chancellor, vicar general and secretary for support services, Archdiocese of Washington.
1984: Vicar general and moderator of the curia, Archdiocese of Washington.
Dec. 18, 1984: Ordination and installation as second bishop of Charlotte, N.C.
Aug. 19, 1993: Ordination and installation as fifth archbishop of Atlanta, Ga.
Dec. 9, 2004: Resignation accepted by Pope John Paul II.