By GRETCHEN KEISER and STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published November 24, 2011
As Archbishop John F. Donoghue began his episcopacy in the Atlanta Archdiocese, from the very beginning he stated that his focus would be on Eucharistic Renewal. And this focus on devotion to the Blessed Sacrament brought about some of his greatest legacies to the church in North and Middle Georgia: perpetual adoration, the Eucharistic Congress and an increase in vocations.
The Gift Of Perpetual Adoration
Keri Allen, director of evangelization at the Cathedral of Christ the King, had quietly initiated a holy hour of adoration once a week at the Cathedral parish four years before Archbishop Donoghue was named to the Atlanta Archdiocese. A few people came. They were not sure what impact this was having.
After Archbishop Donoghue was installed, he approached the Cathedral rector, the late Msgr. Tom Kenny, and said, “I want you to start perpetual adoration at the Cathedral.”
Msgr. Kenny said, “I’ve got the perfect person.”
“I think people thought (the archbishop) was crazy, that you couldn’t possibly get that many volunteers. We did. We got 850 volunteers,” Allen said.
“Opening that chapel was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. It just all fell into place. Everything that needed to be there was there. Every door that needed to be opened was opened,” she said.
Once the chapel was established, the archbishop called for a Eucharistic Renewal in the Atlanta Archdiocese, citing a Gallup poll that showed a high percentage of Catholics either didn’t understand or didn’t believe church teaching that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ. Since the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Catholic faith, he devoted great attention to the majority of people caught up in disbelief or misunderstanding. He was also greatly concerned for children and youth who were not receiving a faith-filled and reverent introduction to the Eucharist through traditional devotions like adoration.
The congress evolved from annual Corpus Christi celebrations that the archbishop encouraged, so people could come together in public and show their faith on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. First held at parishes, it evolved into a celebration at the Georgia International Convention Center. Allen was teamed with Kathi Stearns, the archbishop’s vice chancellor, and Mary Elkins, active in the Serra Club, in bringing the Corpus Christi event to a much larger group of people and adding speakers from outside the archdiocese and a range of specific programs for people of different ages and of different languages.
“The archbishop introduced me to Mary Elkins and Kathi Stearns. Without those two it wouldn’t have become what it is today. I didn’t really have experience in any of these areas,” Allen said. “They made a huge impact in terms of making the Congress happen.”
But she emphasized that their efforts, even as a group with many other volunteers, were not responsible either for the vibrancy of the first congress or for the enduring vitality of the Eucharistic Congress.
“I couldn’t take credit—none of us could,” Allen said. “In the beginning, people thought we couldn’t pull it off, and we couldn’t. The Holy Spirit did.”
Another tangible program that came about through the Eucharistic Renewal was a Life in the Eucharist seminar, involving lay people sharing their personal experiences of faith. Many seminars have been held over the last 15 years and are still being held.
Archbishop Donoghue’s priority—placing devotion to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist at the center of archdiocesan attention—was difficult to accomplish, she said.
“That was not an easy thing to do. … It was not where the focus was,” she said.
“I don’t think he had his own agenda. I think his agenda was the Lord’s. What a role model for all of us.”
The Gift Of The Eucharistic Congress
The Eucharistic Congress is “an amazing event, and it has clearly evolved. I just think it has become a part of the fabric of the diocese,” said Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor, who now coordinates the Eucharistic Congress.
“It always takes one person with vision to kick off things,” he said. “Archbishop Donoghue had the vision.”
There is a 38-person steering committee that works on the congress, virtually year round. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory continued the tradition and embraced the congress when he was installed in the Atlanta Archdiocese in 2005, Deacon Dorner said.
“(Archbishop Gregory) has been stalwart in his support of it from day one. He came to the steering committee and made that statement: ‘I’m committed to it.’”
Ordained to the diaconate by Archbishop Donoghue, Deacon Dorner said he sensed his own call to the diaconate “in the presence” of the Blessed Sacrament while he was on a Cursillo retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers.
He affirms Archbishop Donoghue’s insight that prayer in the presence of the Eucharist fosters religious vocations and people hearing their vocational call. The congress in 2011 had the theme of vocations and that will be continued in the 2012 congress, Deacon Dorner said.
At World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, this past summer, Deacon Dorner said other bishops told him Archbishop Donoghue would be known for what he did in focusing upon the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the Eucharistic Congress.
“His fellow bishops recognize him for having had the vision to do that,” he said.
“He took Pope John Paul II’s whole message of new evangelization and the real presence (of Christ in the Eucharist) and he echoed that,” Deacon Dorner said.
“My responsibility is to keep (the congress) focused on the Eucharist,” Deacon Dorner said.
The Gift Of Vocations
Father Tim Hepburn, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, was ordained a priest just as Archbishop Donoghue was getting settled in as the fifth archbishop of the Atlanta Archdiocese. Father Hepburn remembers that after the short administrations of Archbishop Eugene A. Marino, SSJ, and Archbishop James P. Lyke, OFM, Archbishop Donoghue’s sense of permanence was welcomed in the archdiocese.
“Changing structures had been our history when Archbishop Donoghue came. He made it clear that, as far as he had any say over things, he planned to come and stay awhile. And that was welcome because we needed stability,” said Father Hepburn.
Father Hepburn remembers Archbishop Donoghue beginning a Eucharistic Renewal not long after he took up his appointment in Atlanta. For him, it was an exciting time to be a priest in the archdiocese.
“There was this dynamite mix of people who were very excited about what God was doing in raising up the knowledge of him in the Eucharist,” said Father Hepburn. “It was very exciting. I was intimately involved in all of that.”
“We immediately saw the signs of the Lord’s work,” he continued, saying there were a number of people who were coming home to the Catholic Church through their exposure to the Eucharist. “We saw lots of people touched in lots of ways through their renewed devotion to the Eucharist.”
Father Hepburn also saw the effects in the priesthood as well. It was not just lay Catholics responding to the Eucharistic Renewal. It was a widespread reaction as the Eucharist became more and more accessible to the faithful of the archdiocese.
“Absolutely there is a connection,” between the Eucharistic Renewal and vocations, Father Hepburn said. “From the very get-go, from the beginning of the Eucharistic Renewal, there was an increased prayer for vocations.”
“Even Pope Benedict (XVI) makes the point. He said pray (for vocations). He didn’t say first go out and do ad programs. He said pray,” Father Hepburn said.
Father Hepburn believes that Archbishop Donoghue’s dedication to the Eucharistic Renewal has had lasting effects on the archdiocese and its priesthood. He was a very generous and merciful man and cared deeply for the presbyterate and the people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the priest said.