By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published November 24, 2011
“We get tied up with administration. It’s the spiritual development of our people that matters,” he said in an interview with The Georgia Bulletin on June 22, 1993, the day his appointment was announced.
He immediately stressed how much importance he would place on belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
“Vatican II talks about (the Eucharist) being the source and summit of our Christian lives,” he said, but the attitude of people suggests a loss of reverence and respect for the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and a lack of understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches about the real presence of Christ.
“It is the central, core mystery of our faith. We have lost everything else if we lose that,” he said a few months later, when he issued his first pastoral letter on the Eucharist.
Archbishop Donoghue was attending an International Eucharistic Congress in Spain when he got the call from the pope’s delegate, asking him to become Atlanta’s archbishop, and the overlapping of the two events impressed upon him a deep commitment to this Eucharistic focus as archbishop, he said.
Upon the death of Archbishop Donoghue, who died Friday, Nov. 11, at the age of 83, his legacy clearly includes a deeply rooted Eucharistic focus in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Tangibly, that Eucharistic Renewal can be seen in the perpetual adoration chapel at the Cathedral of Christ the King, now open uninterrupted for 17 years; in seven other chapels with perpetual adoration or sustained adoration every day; and in the total of 70 parishes holding regular Eucharistic adoration weekly or monthly.
Also, the Eucharistic Congress has blossomed from a traditional archdiocesan procession on the feast of Corpus Christi, initiated by Archbishop Donoghue, into a dynamic and evolving spiritual celebration that revives and unifies Catholics from multiple cultures and diverse backgrounds, all through devotion to the Eucharist. In 1996, the Corpus Christi celebration drew about 1,000 people. In 2004, the year his retirement was accepted by Pope John Paul II, 23,000 people were coming to the Eucharistic Congress.
He said, “It is our fervent hope that by our efforts and our devotion, the peace of God, who lives with us in our tabernacles through the life of His Son, may penetrate deeply into the fabric of our society and bring our community to a new awareness of its own worth, and a new sense of promise and direction in all its ideals and actions.”
Opening the chapel is “an action that springs from our human need—our need for friendship, for companionship, for the knowledge that indeed, our God does travel along with us as we walk the bumpy road of life, and as we seek to transverse the rough places and crooked ways that meet us at every turn,” he said.
That this would be his legacy might not be apparent from the years of his priesthood in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
Born in the heart of Washington’s northwest section, the second of four sons of Irish immigrants who met and married in Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donoghue said he became aware of his vocation to the priesthood in high school and switched from a Jesuit high school to a minor seminary. He was formed at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Md., where he received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a graduate degree in theology. He was ordained a priest of the Washington Archdiocese on June 4, 1955.
Although he often said that he expected to be a parish priest all of his life, eight years after ordination he was asked to pursue a graduate degree in canon law at The Catholic University of America, which he received in 1966, and to become a part of the administrative staff of the archdiocese.
He served for over 19 years on the staffs of three successive cardinals: Cardinals Patrick O’Boyle, William Baum and James Hickey, serving first as secretary to Cardinal O’Boyle and as vice chancellor of the Washington Archdiocese. He was named chancellor in 1972 and remained in that role for Cardinal Baum and Cardinal Hickey, serving also as vicar general for each prelate until he was named bishop of Charlotte, N.C., in 1984.
Archbishop Donoghue was bishop of Charlotte for nine years before the Atlanta appointment. Among the accomplishments in his tenure as bishop of Charlotte were the first synod of the diocese, which held three sessions from 1986 to 1987; the reorganization of the Catholic schools into a regional structure; an emphasis on evangelization directed toward inactive Catholics and the unchurched; and the opening of a Catholic newspaper, The Catholic News & Herald, in 1991.
He played a leading role in the development of the North Carolina Lutheran-Catholic Covenant signed in 1991 by the Dioceses of Charlotte and Raleigh and the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Archbishop Donoghue said the day of his Atlanta appointment, “I hope that I’m going to be here for a very long time … that I will be here until I retire.”
He succeeded Archbishop James P. Lyke, OFM, who died Dec. 27, 1992, of cancer.
Pope John Paul II spoke to him and told him to “be very kind” to the people of the archdiocese and “to try and bring peace and reconciliation” after the death of Archbishop Lyke and the resignation of Archbishop Eugene A. Marino, SSJ, he said.
A longtime friend, Lou Schwartz, of Chevy Chase, Md., said at his installation in Atlanta that “leadership has always been thrust on him.”
In Washington, “he stayed steadfast through very difficult times. John never wavered on ‘Humanae Vitae.’ It’s taken 25 years to vindicate that encyclical. … He won’t waver in his strong traditional faith. He’s not one to be a crusader. He has total faithfulness to the Church and the pope.”
Father Frank O’Rourke of the Charlotte Diocese said at that time, “He believes the Holy Spirit guides the Church. It’s not a fierce loyalty, but comes from the heart of his spirituality. He is confident that the Holy Spirit guides the Church and he trusts the Holy Spirit to guide him. He has absolute trust, which is ultimately built on a spirituality rather than just a theological idea.”
Archbishop Donoghue also said at the time of his Atlanta appointment that he was “very strongly pro-life” and hoped to bring a strong pro-life message to his time as archbishop.
Quickly he showed the witness he intended to give as he joined the Life Chain outside the Cathedral in October 1993, the first time a bishop had done so locally, and in January 1994 he joined a prayer vigil outside an Atlanta abortion clinic where more than 250 people joined him in praying a 15-decade rosary. His preaching on Jan. 22, 1994, at the Mass for the Unborn, attended by 1,000, inspired the congregation who realized his passion for the cause, and found in him a champion throughout his years as archbishop. Even in retirement, he continued to participate in Life Chain annually, taking part as recently as 2010.
Significant events during the years of Archbishop Donoghue’s leadership in the Archdiocese of Atlanta included the visit in June 1995 of Mother Teresa to bless the newly established Gift of Grace House where her sisters began ministry to homeless women with HIV/AIDS. In 1997, the archdiocese began a $50 million capital campaign, “Building the Church of Tomorrow,” the largest capital campaign in the history of the archdiocese. Among projects that received some of their funding from this campaign were two new archdiocesan high schools, Blessed Trinity in Roswell and Our Lady of Mercy in Fayetteville, which opened in 2000, and three new archdiocesan elementary schools, Holy Redeemer in Johns Creek, Queen of Angels in Roswell and Our Lady of Victory in Tyrone, which opened in 1999. The campaign also assisted the building of the Lyke House Catholic Center at Atlanta University, established a Catholic Center at Kennesaw State University, and created endowment funds for seminarian formation, care of retired priests and Catholic schools.
In the year 2000 Archbishop Donoghue asked the people of the archdiocese to focus for a year on encouraging inactive Catholics to return to the practice of their faith.
While many were focused in 1996 on the Olympic Games coming to Atlanta, Archbishop Donoghue chose that year to announce the initiative that would prove to be his most enduring legacy: the Eucharistic Renewal.