The founding of the Diocese of Charlotte
A 14-year-old junior high school student planned to spend a lot of time in front of his family's black and white television on Jan. 12, 1972. History was being made at St. Patrick Cathedral in Charlotte and he was going to watch it all and save it. In those pre-VCR days, "recording" a TV show meant using a bulky cassette player to capture only the audio. As the procession began for the ordination and installation of the new Bishop of Charlotte, the boy held a small microphone near the speaker on the TV set. Hundreds were packed into the church as a man who served as a priest in North Carolina since 1934 was ordained to be the first bishop. The new bishop, Michael J. Begley, was greeted with a thunderous round of applause when the ordination ended. The student, Peter Jugis, was thrilled.
The dramatic event at St. Patrick's actually began to take shape more than a year before. Bishop Vincent S. Waters of Raleigh, working alone and in secret, combed through the archives of his diocese. Bishop Waters was preparing the necessary documents to present a case to Pope Paul VI. The diocese of Raleigh numbered 60,000 Catholics and Bishop Waters felt it was time to divide his large territory that covered all of North Carolina.
Pictured above: Bishop-elect Michael Begley, during the rite of ordination at St. Patrick Cathedral, receives the imposition of hands by Archbishop Luigi Raimondi, apostolic delegate of Pope Paul VI to the United States. The episcopal ordination and installation of Bishop Begley marked the birth of the Diocese of Charlotte on Jan. 12, 1972. (Photos courtesy of the Diocese of Charlotte Archives)
In November of 1971, Bishop Waters received word that the Diocese of Charlotte would be created. There was no fanfare, no great announcement and no press release. The bishop kept the information to himself. Two days before Thanksgiving, he drove to Greensboro to meet with the pastor of Our Lady of Grace parish, Monsignor Michael Begley. Ostensibly the meeting was to discuss the Notre Dame High School in Greensboro.
Monsignor Joseph Showfety, the first chancellor of the diocese, recalls what happened. "Bishop Waters and Monsignor Begley were driving toward the school when the bishop pulled over. 'I'm going to ask you a question. If you say "yes" I'll take it from there. If you say "no" you must never say a word about this conversation to anyone.'
"Intrigued but not surprised by the secrecy, Monsignor Begley wondered what the question was. 'Rome has decided to make Charlotte a diocese with you as the bishop,' said Bishop Waters. 'Do you accept?" The monsignor didn't hesitate and answered, "Yes." Bishop Waters simply put the car in gear and the bishop with the bishop-elect continued down the road."
The establishment of a diocese is a complicated process that, among other things, involved the transfer of church property from one bishop to another. Monsignor Showfety recalls spending several days at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Raleigh transferring the titles of diocesan cars. "The police in that office asked me if I lived there," he recalls with a chuckle.
Monsignor Showfety says the division of assets between the old and the new diocese went very smoothly. In addition to the property, the priest retirement and seminarian funds were divided equally. "Bishop Waters was better to the Charlotte diocese than he was to his own."
Priests for the new diocese were "frozen" in place when the diocese was formed. Any priest of the Diocese of Raleigh who resided in the newly formed diocese became a priest of the Diocese of Charlotte.
The priests, the bishop and others had to start a diocese from scratch in a little less than six weeks. With the Christmas holidays thrown in, it was a very busy time. Monsignor Showfety credits his co-workers from the Diocese of Raleigh with providing invaluable counsel and practical suggestions as the new diocese was getting off the ground.
Those associated with the diocese at its beginning use words like "exciting" and "awesome" to describe what life was like. There was a pioneering sense of starting something new. The diocese was also small enough for most priests to know one another. Monsignor Joseph Kerin, who served as the second chancellor of the diocese, describes the atmosphere as friendly and informal. "There was a sense of a North Carolina spirit of the Church. The lay people and the priests had a sense that they were missioners."
While there was a clear sense of mission and the sparkle that comes with being new, the diocese was cramped into a pair of rooms in the first floor rectory at St. Patrick Cathedral. Aloha Torrents, a longtime secretary in the office of the bishop and the chancery, recalls borrowing paper clips and typing paper from the rector of the cathedral. Torrents worked with Bishop Begley when he was the director of Catholic Social Services. "He asked me to be his secretary and I told him I didn't know how to be a secretary to a bishop. He laughed and told me, 'My dear child, only the office changes, not the man.'"
— Source: "Voices and Places of The People of God," by David Hains, published on the occasion of the Diocese of Charlotte's 35th anniversary.
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.
- History of the Diocese of Charlotte: www.charlottediocese.org/history
- Anecdota in diocesan history: www.charlottediocese.org/ministries-a-departments/archives
Reading of Papal Bulls
Diocese of Charlotte
Paul, Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God for a perpetual remembrance of the event. By the divine plan we have succeeded to the position of Blessed Peter and hence have been placed at the summit of the priesthood, in order not only that we should provide for the pastors, our brothers, the Apostles of the Churches, the Glory of Christ, but also that we should have regard for the interests of God's Holy People. We think we have accomplished this task to a great extent when, having properly arranged the affairs of dioceses and seen to the appointment of outstanding shepherds, we have made it possible for all, both prelates and people, to devote themselves to the pursuits of religion. And so, when our venerable brother, Vincent S. Waters, Bishop of Raleigh, having consulted the conference of Bishops for the United States of America, proposed to this Apostolic See that his diocese should be divided and a new diocese be erected, we agreed to this request after consultation with our venerable brother, Luigi Raimondi, Titular Archbishop of Tarsus and Apostolic Delegate in the United States, and with our venerable brothers, the Roman Cardinals of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops.
From the Diocese of Raleigh we detach the following counties: Alexander, Alleghany, Anson, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Graham, Guilford, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Lincoln, McDowell, Macon, Madison, Mecklenburg, Mitchell, Montgomery, Polk, Randolph, Richmond, Rockingham, Rowan, Rutherford, Stanley, Stokes, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Union, Watauga, Wilkes, Yadkin, and Yancey, together with that part of the territory of Gaston County which lies outside of the boundaries of the territory of the Abbey Nullius of Mary Help of Christians of Belmont. From these territories we establish a new diocese, to be called the Diocese of Charlotte from the city of that name. The Bishop will establish his residence in the same city and his cathedral in the church of St. Patrick, to which we grant all the rights proper to cathedral churches. We declare the new diocese to be a suffragan of the Metropolitan See of Atlanta, to whose prelate we subject the Bishop of Charlotte in accord with canon law.
Both the receipts of the Curia and the free-will offerings of the faithful shall constitute the "Mensa Episcopalis"; and if there are any, the goods accruing to the new See, prorated in accord with Canon 1500. As regards the establishing of a seminary, and the education of youth, we wish that the common law should be observed, with proper attention to the decree "Optatum Totius" of the Second Vatican Council and the regulations of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education. We also order that, if for the present a chapter of canons cannot be founded, diocesan consultors should be selected to aid the Bishop by their advice and their industry; their function is to cease as soon as the canons have been organized. Once this constitution has become effective, by that very fact the priests belong to the diocese in which they happen to have a position or benefice; the other clerics and the seminarians, to that in which they lawfully dwell. Finally, documents, and the like, which pertain to the new diocese are to be sent to its curia and carefully preserved there.
Our venerable brother, Luigi Raimondi, will see to it that this constitution is executed, unless he prefers to delegate this duty to another. He will have a record of this transaction drawn up and send an authentic copy to the Sacred Congregation for Bishops. We wish this constitution to be valid now and in the future, all things to the contrary not-withstanding, even those worthy of special mention.
From a letter from Bishop Vincent S. Waters to the people of his diocese:
November, 30, 1971
"My dear Brethren of the People of God:
Our Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, through the Most Reverend Apostolic Delegate, has made known to us that he has in mind very soon to erect from the territory of the Diocese of Raleigh a new Diocese of Charlotte. He has chosen as the first Bishop of the prospective Diocese of Charlotte our own Reverend Monsignor Michael J. Begley, Pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Rejoice with me at this good news. Be glad and realize how very good this will be for our great Southern State of North Carolina to know that a diocese will be born very soon after the birthday of our Blessed Lord on Christmas.
All our Catholic people will, by prayers and thanks, respond with me in gratitude to our Holy Father and to his Apostolic Delegate for this real Christmas Gift to all of us.
In thanking our Holy Father, who has always been interested in our diocese, I wish to thank him for the high honor and the responsibility he has conferred on one of our own good Monsignors - a splendid choice for the first shepherd of the clergy, religious and people of God of the future Diocese of Charlotte. I congratulate Bishop-elect Begley and wish him a thousand welcomes into the jurisdiction of this State with me as a Brother Bishop in North Carolina.
That you may understand when exactly the birth of the new diocese takes place, let me explain the legal sequence of these events. First is the erection of the New Diocese of Charlotte by the execution of the decree of Our Holy Father by his representative in the United States, the Most Reverend Apostolic Delegate. Second, the consecration of the first Bishop of the Diocese of Charlotte takes place immediately after reading the decree. Third, the installation of the newly consecrated Bishop takes place in the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Charlotte. All of these have been scheduled for January 12, 1972, at St. Patrick's Cathedral, Charlotte, N.C.
All in the Diocese of Raleigh, which includes all of North Carolina except the Abbey of Belmont...should join together with me and Bishop Lynch in the launching of this new Diocese of Charlotte by preparation before, and actually on January 12, 1972. With the greatest joy and hope in assisting the Holy Father in his Apostolic Delegate in the wonderful work of the Church of God in our beloved Southland with your gracious help, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Vincent S. Waters
Bishop of Raleigh"
Bishop Begley Appointment
Paul, Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God.
To our beloved son, Michael J. Begley, of the clergy of the Diocese of Raleigh, first Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Charlotte, greetings and Apostolic Blessing.
Since in the divine plan of salvation Christ Jesus has willed to communicate the fruits of redemption to men especially through the Episcopal office, we who have received the government of the entire Christian family try with all diligence to select only those most qualified to carry out these serious duties. And so, because on the twelfth of November, we established by the Apostolic Letter "Qui Divino" a new diocese, to which we have not yet given a pastor, you, Beloved Son, seemed to us to be the most suited to undertake the government of that diocese because of your outstanding gifts of mind and character. Hence, in accord with the opinion of our Venerable Brothers, the Roman Cardinals of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops, and by our Supreme Authority, we name you, Beloved Son, Bishop of the Diocese of Charlotte, with all the rights and obligations proper to that office. For your convenience, we permit you to be ordained outside of the city of Rome by any Bishop. He will be assisted by two others of the same dignity, as co-consecrators, and all of them must be united to us by sincere bonds of faith. Previously, however, you will make profession of the Catholic faith and take the oath of loyalty to us and our successors in the presence of any prelate who is in communion with this See of Peter. You will use the prescribed formulas and, having signed and sealed them in the usual manner, you will quickly transmit them to the Sacred Congregation of Bishops.
We wish also that this letter of ours be read on a day of precept to your clergy and people. We strongly urge them, our beloved children, not only to receive you most gladly, but also to obey you willingly and promote your undertakings. Moreover, beloved son, we ask Almighty God that you may be a living sign of Christ's grace among your people and that, imitating Saint Paul, you may expand your all for the souls of your faithful.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, on the twenty-fifth day of the month of November, in the year of Our Lord, One Thousand Nine Hundred Seventy-one, the Ninth of Our Pontificate.
Bishop-elect Michael J. Begley acceptance statement:
December 12, 1971
"I humbly express my gratitude to the Holy Father for the responsibility he has entrusted in me. I readily acknowledge my unworthiness as I accept the leadership of the new Diocese of Charlotte.
I am grateful to the Bishops of the Diocese of Raleigh for their guidance, to the clergy, religious and laity for their cooperation and support.
I hope to continue to serve the People of God in the Diocese of Charlotte. I seek the whole-hearted cooperation of clergy, religious and laity that together we may continue the apostolate of the church in the territory assigned to our care. I ask all my friends, Catholic and non-Catholic, to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide our efforts on this new apostolate.
Michael J. Begley
From the Apostolate Delegate's address to the assembly after the installation of Bishop Begley:
A most important event is taking place today...The birth of a new diocese and the Episcopal ordination of its first Bishop...It is a tribute to the tireless, selfless zeal of Bishop Waters, assisted by his devoted priests and religious, corresponded by the faithful of the Diocese of Raleigh that his apostolic endeavors have been amply rewarded at this time.
First, the fact of a new diocese...The spiritual reality has also juridicial, pastoral, social and civic implications. It has juridicial implications in as much as it is a territorial jurisdiction and an administrative organization under the leadership of a Bishop...A territorial unit that is meant to last indefinitely, while Bishops will succeed one another.
But it is easy to discover that the administrative apparatus is not an end in itself, but a means to a higher objective. A diocese is established to unite the faithful in the bond of faith, of charity, of grace and Christian fellowship. A new diocese means and represents an increase of life. This implies a dynamism proper of the church...the church, the Body of Christ, is a living, growing organism...a new diocese is a manifestation of life. There can be no doubt...that the life and dynamism which is proper to the church is of a spiritual supernatural character.
Another reflection regards the Episcopal ordination of Bishop Begley. There cannot be a diocese without its Bishop, and the Bishop is essentially for the diocese. He is the center and the moving principle of the life of the diocese.
Any organism must follow a definite pattern of activity and growth. This pattern presupposes a unity of purpose and variety in functions. The dogmatic constitution on the church, dealing with the role of Bishops in the church says: "For the nurturing and constant growth of the People of God, the Lord instituted in his church a variety of ministries which work for the good of the whole body ... Jesus Christ, the Eternal Shepherd, established his Holy Church by sending forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father. he willed that their successors, namely the Bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world." (Lumen Gentium, N. 18)
The same council says: "Among the various ministries ... the chief place belongs to the office of those who, appointed to the Episcopate ... are the ones who pass on the apostolic seed ... with their helpers, the priests and deacons, Bishops have taken up the service of the community, presiding in the place of God over the flock ... as teachers of doctrine, priests of sacred worship, and officers of good order." (IBID N. 20)
The functions reveal the mission of the Bishops. "Among the principal duties of Bishops, the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent place, for Bishops are the preachers of faith who lead new disciples to Christ. They are authentic teachers." (IBID N. 26) ... A Bishop is the "Steward of the Grace of the Supreme Priesthood, especially in the Eucharist, which he offers, or causes to be offered, and by which the church constantly lives and grows." (IBID N. 26)
In virtue of the authority that comes to them through Episcopal ordination, they moderate everything pertaining to the ordering of the liturgy and apostolate. (IBID N. 27)
From the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: "Pursuing the saving purpose which is proper to her, the church not only communicates divine life to men, but in some way casts the reflected light of that life over the entire world" - (Gaudium Et Spes, N. 40) ... Earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's kingdom. Nevertheless, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God. (IBID N. 39)
... We are all joining in prayers for your new Bishop that his work be effective and its fruits abundant ... It is necessary to look to the future with Christian confidence and to ask the Holy Spirit that by His guidance and inspiration, doors may be open to the Gospel in spite of dangers which the church cannot overcome by merely human means. We should give thanks to God the Father that He has given us all the opportunity of manifesting more faithfully the countenance of Christ. With zeal and daring we must show the world the fullness of the mystery hidden through all ages in God so that men through their sharing in it may be able to enter into the fullness of God. Eph. 3:19