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Bishop Emeritus William Curlin: 55 years of ministry to 'God's holy people' as priest, bishop

 060512-bishop-curlin-mainOn Friday, May 25, Bishop Emeritus William G. Curlin celebrated 55 years as a priest by administering the sacrament of confirmation to 75 children at St. Thérèse Church in Mooresville.

"I continue to help Bishop (Peter) Jugis with confirmations throughout the diocese," Bishop Curlin says. "I am encouraged and deeply moved when people invite me to special occasions and celebrations."

As a retired priest, Bishop Curlin sees his current ministry as one of providing this spiritual support to God's people.

Pictured: Bishop William Curlin is pictured blessing a child at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, France. (Photos provided by Diocese of Charlotte and Catholic News Herald archives)

Primarily, this ministry brings him to hospitals and nursing homes, which he visits on a daily basis.

"I find in my own retirement being very busy," he explains. "I no longer have all of the administrative duties and responsibilities – thanks be to God! But I feel myself free now to totally devote myself to the spiritual needs of God's people... I see this ministry to the sick and dying as a gift from God."

060512-bishop-curlin-babyEven the nurses know that he is available at a moment's notice to come to the aid of a sick or dying person.

"I shave before I go to bed, and I shave as soon as I get up," Bishop Curlin explains laughing. He wants to be ready any time day or night that a sick or dying person is in need of the sacraments.

Forming a habit of serving

From his first parish assignment after ordination as assistant to the senior auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C., John MacNamara, Bishop Curlin has devoted his priestly life to spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

"I was told by my first pastor: your primary task as a priest is to help people form an intimacy with Jesus Christ in their personal life," he says. "He kept repeating Jesus' words that He would live in us. And that's the same message as Mother Teresa. My first pastor and Mother Teresa had the same words: a Christian's life is to reveal the Christ in them in the way they treat others."

It's no wonder, then, that Mother Teresa and Bishop Curlin formed a fast friendship when they first met in the early 1970s. "People could criticize me maybe for mentioning her too many times!" Bishop Curlin says, laughing.

But his work with the famed nun – whom Bishop Curlin calls "one of the greatest saints of our times" – led him to aid in founding homes for the poor and homeless with terminal diseases, notably AIDS.

060512-bishop-curlin-burnett"Gift of Peace" is the home in Washington, D.C., for those dying of AIDS and other terminal conditions. It is staffed by Mother Teresa's sisters.

"It's very sad sometimes – the loved ones don't want them, they don't seem to care about them," Bishop Curlin recalls. "We had one little girl there. She was not a Catholic; she was 7 years old, but we said she was an angel in many ways and a joy to know. And I had the privilege of presiding at her funeral at the cemetery."

"These people are dying wanting to be loved," he says. "And nobody ever died at Gift of Peace without knowing they were loved and we were keeping them in our prayers. It's hard to die unloved and unwanted. And Mother opened the home for that reason, so people would know they weren't abandoned, that they were loved by God."

'Adsum'

"The day I was ordained, we used the word 'adsum' when we stepped forward to present ourselves for ordination," the retired bishop explains of the Latin phrase for 'I am present' that is used in the ordination Mass.

This little answer, however, became a daily part of his spiritual life.

"Every day I repeat that word. I need to say it not just once when I became a priest, but every day. You re-consecrate your life to Jesus through prayer, through devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and a willingness to spend your life in serving others."060512-bishop-curlin-highfive

Even as a bishop, he never saw his vocation as a job, but as a privilege and a joy.

"If the bishop loves his priests, they will in turn be good pastors," he explains. "For example, I can think of several occasions where priests were not well, and I took them into my home and took care of them until they got back on their feet again. It was such a privilege to do that, to help them return to good health."

Inspired by others

Bishop Curlin explains that a priest's devoted life will inspire young people to consider vocations today. He himself found his priestly vocation in looking up to the priests and nuns from his life in post-World War II Washington, D.C.

"Following World War II, people were discouraged by all the horrors of the war, looking for peace and joy, and I observe now over the years that I look back to how these priests and sisters inspired me to think seriously about the priesthood.

"We were blessed with wonderful priests. They were so joyful! They were so dedicated! And we had wonderful sisters in our schools – they were an inspiration.

"There has never been a moment that I haven't thanked God for this great privilege, and I pray that God will inspire many young men to come forward (to become priests) and many young men and women to offer themselves in religious life."

To young men considering the priesthood, he urges them to speak to a priest to discern, but also to understand the demands that being a priest has on a man. The man should consider whether he has the qualities and virtues to meet those demands.

And most importantly, the young man, Bishop Curlin says, must have the heart of Christ.

"I have been privileged to ordain over 100 men to the priesthood in 24 years as a bishop. I know when I laid my hands on them, they're a priest. However, each man must bring with him the heart for it, the disposition for it, the kindness for it, the mercy and the love that the priesthood demands. Each man must bring that himself."

Mary B. Worthington, correspondent

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Diocese of Charlotte was founded on Jan. 12, 1972. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the diocese and the history of the Church in western North Carolina, we are publishing a year-long series spotlighting the people who built up the Church, the major developments over the past 40 years, and what changes could be in store for the future.

Bishop Emeritus William G. Curlin060512-bishop-curlin-posed

Episcopal motto: "Sentire Cum Christo" ("To Think With Christ")

May 25, 1957 – Ordained by Cardinal Patrick O'Boyle, St. Matthew Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

1957 – Assistant to Bishop John McNamara, St. Gabriel Parish, Washington, D.C.

1964 – Assistant Pastor, Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, Takoma Park, Md.

1967 – Assistant Director of Vocations for Men and Assistant Pastor in St. Ann Parish, Washington, D.C.

1968 – Director of Vocations for Men and Director of Formation Program, Catholic University of America, for Washington Candidates for the Priesthood

1969 – Appointed Chaplain to Pope Paul VI

1970 – Pastor of Old St. Mary's Church, Washington, D.C.

Director of Vocations for Men

Director of Permanent Diaconate Program, Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

1978 – Appointed Prelate of Honor by Pope John Paul II

1983 – Pastor, Nativity Parish, Washington, D.C. 

060512-bishop-curlin-mug

1988 – Ordained as Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, D.C.

1994 – Installed as Bishop of Charlotte

2002 – Resigned as Bishop of Charlotte

More online

History of the Diocese of Charlotte: www.charlottediocese.org/history

Anecdota in the Diocese of Charlotte's history: www.charlottediocese.org/ministries-a-departments/archives

See the full special edition from Bishop Curlin's retirement. 

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