When I first came to Charlotte from Washington, D.C., it was after 20 years of working for some of the best and strongest men ever to be named bishop in the United States – Cardinal O'Boyle, Cardinal Baum and Cardinal Hickey. As those years passed, I truly believed that I would spend my life serving the Church out of the offices of the Archdiocese of Washington – and I was not unhappy believing this.
But then, in 1984, our late and beloved Holy Father, Pope John Paul II sent word that he wanted me to move to Charlotte, in North Carolina, and become a bishop of the Church in that diocese – only the second bishop in the history of the Charlotte diocese. It was a major change – for my entire life until then had been passed in and around Washington. My family was there, my friends and associates, and all those sights and sounds and welcome familiarities that define the place we call home, where we work to live in peace in an often troubled world.
Pictured above: Bishop Peter J. Jugis poses with Archbishop John F. Donoghue and Bishop Emeritus William G. Curlin following his episcopal ordination in 2003. (Photos provided by Diocese of Charlotte Archives and Catholic News Herald archive)
But I believe in the Holy Spirit, and that through the Holy Father, the Spirit was telling me what His will for me would be. Now I was to accept this great change, and go and serve Him in Charlotte. I came to the beautiful and gracious city, the jewel of western North Carolina, in December of 1984, and prepared to spend my first Christmas away from home – in my new home.
Very soon, I discovered that whatever skills I had attained over the years, the responsibilities now before me were daunting – even overwhelming. I can remember feverishly thinking to myself, "What can I do, what will I do, and how can I get it all done?" The Church in Charlotte and western North Carolina was on the verge of explosive growth – conversions, people coming to live here from throughout our country and from abroad, and the natural growth of our indigenous population – things were ready to happen, they needed a manager, and I was it. But all I could do was worry and wonder – traits not uncommon in a new bishop.
Then one day, not too long after I arrived, Bishop Michael Begley, the first bishop of Charlotte, and the man who had ordained me to be the second bishop, dropped by the Catholic Center. He saw me in my office, came in and sat down for a visit. All who knew him remember what a humble but strong man of God Bishop Begley was. His appearance was what one might describe as the typical "country priest." There was nothing false about him, and vanity never found even the smallest crack in his character wherein to reside. I suppose that day Bishop Begley saw in my face the worries assaulting me, for he looked me straight in the eye and said: "Young man," - I was 56 at the time – "Young man, what you have to realize is that you don't run the Church – the Holy Spirit runs the Church. Now, what you have to do is step aside and let Him get on with it."
I took Bishop Begley's advice – I never forgot it, and I still live by those words. It didn't mean less work – in fact, it meant more. For after that talk I no longer thought of myself as a boss, but as a first assistant. And soon, to my relief, I learned that here in this wonderful and beautiful state of North Carolina, and here in this warm and hospitable local Church we call the Diocese of Charlotte, I would discover a wealth of support, and a richness of friends – priests, sisters, deacons, lay men and women, all dedicated to the message of Christ, the Holy Gospel, as it is lived every day by our beloved Catholic Church. They were all to become my fellow assistants, and though my hand was on the helm, and theirs manning the tackle and sails, it was the Holy Spirit who provided the wind and determined the course we would sail together.
For 10 years, I did the joyous work of being Bishop of Charlotte. I was so happy doing it that when the apostolic nuncio called me in 1993 to tell me that the Holy Father wanted me to go to Atlanta, my immediate and innocent response was, "What for?" I had never thought I would ever leave Charlotte, and to this day, there is in me a degree of regret that it became necessary.
But I did leave, and left my beloved North Carolina diocese in the hands of a man whom I could trust to carry on – Bishop William Curlin, a long-time friend and fellow priest from Washington. It was my pleasure over the next eight years, until his retirement, to work closely with Bishop Curlin as an associate Bishop of the Southeastern Province, and to see, under his care, what I had done in Charlotte and my hopes for the diocese grow even further, and her people advance in spiritual stature. Then, in 2003, I had the great honor and pleasure to ordain the fourth Bishop of Charlotte – a native son, and one of the finest priests I have ever known, Bishop Peter Jugis. I remember that at Bishop Jugis' Installation, I saluted him with these words: "You are a man for the times and for the place. Your heart, your soul, your roots are here in the hills and plains of North Carolina."
On that day, Bishop Jugis was all of 46 years old – 10 years younger than I was when I came to Charlotte – and now I was 75, the age when bishops send the Holy Father their resignation, in obedience to the law of the Church, and in obedience to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. It had all come full circle – and woven together in ways too special to be random, too holy to be unplanned. Begley to Donoghue to Curlin to Jugis – priests of Washington, priests of North Carolina, but each a man of his time and place, and all, whether born or adopted, loving servants of God's People and His Church on earth – and especially that place on earth so dear to us all - the hills and plains of North Carolina, and the Diocese of Charlotte.
Archbishop John F. Donoghue served as Bishop of Charlotte from 1984 to 1993. This reflection is from "Voices and Places of The People of God" by David Hains, published for the 35th anniversary of the Diocese of Charlotte.
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 Michael J. Begley: 1972-1984
Bishop John F. Donoghue: 1984-1993
Bishop William G. Curlin: 1994-2002
Bishop Peter J. Jugis: 2003-present