Published March 4, 2010
Cheatham Eli Hodges Jr., who served as the executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference for more than 25 years, died Saturday, Feb. 27. He was 84.
Born in Savannah on Sept. 23, 1925, to parents Marie and Cheatham Sr., he also served as a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher and a Knight of Columbus. He was given the papal honor of Knight of St. Gregory after nomination by the bishops of Atlanta and Savannah.
Hodges’ tenure as executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference began in 1974 as state Catholic conferences were first created in the United States following Vatican II. Their purpose is to convey to government officials the church perspective on the moral and ethical implications of public policy on topics such as abortion, the death penalty, child welfare, health care, education, immigrants and other issues.
Hodges felt that people didn’t always understand what was involved in his work with the conference, which included articulating the concerns of the Catholic Church as given by the two Georgia bishops.
“The Catholic Church has been very, very graciously endowed by the concept of a Catholic conference throughout the world. We always have to remember we represent the Catholic Church through our bishops, and only through our bishops,” Hodges told The Georgia Bulletin in a 2002 interview when he retired.
Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan of Atlanta, one of the two bishops who selected him in 1974, told him, and he never forgot, “Remember—you are us—the bishop of Savannah and the bishop of Atlanta.”
Something of a self-made man, Hodges was raised in the Cathedral parish of Savannah and was educated by Marist brothers in elementary school. But he left Savannah high school after a year and a half to go to work in the electrical trade.
Entering the Navy in 1942 he found greater opportunities. He was trained as a hospital corpsman, given educational opportunities and sent to the Pacific, where he acquired a lifelong trait of being an independent worker. He read medical books extensively while on board ship, was recommended for college when he left the service, studied at Armstrong Junior College and then graduated from the Citadel, and briefly studied in the seminary and at the University of Georgia law school.
Hodges’ peripatetic career included working for Dupont and teaching in Florida parochial and public schools. He earned a master’s degree in special education and was involved in schools for troubled children in Pennsylvania and in low-income subsidized housing in Georgia.
Hodges is survived by his wife, Joan Weiller Hodges, and children, Mary West, Ann Rountree, Teresa Dean, Julia Miller, Clare Bennett, Joseph Hodges, Peter Hodges and Paul Hodges, as well as 17 grandchildren, and his brother, Walter Hodges.
The funeral Mass was to be celebrated on Thursday, March 4, at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Dunedin, Fla. Memorial contributions may be made to Kimberly Home, Clearwater, Fla., or Suncoast Hospice.