CHARLOTTE — A little-known fact to most Catholics now living in western North Carolina is that in 1987, the Diocese of Charlotte's second bishop, Bishop John F. Donoghue, gathered lay men and women, religious and clergy from across the diocese for a diocesan synod to address the issues facing the growing Church within this missionary territory. It was the first and so far only synod in the diocese's history, and its effects continue to be seen 25 years later.
What is a synod?
By definition, a synod is an assembly of ecclesiastics or other Church delegates, convoked pursuant to the law of the Church, for the discussion and decision of ecclesiastical affairs; an ecclesiastical council.
Why hold a synod?
In his letter to the people of the diocese on Sept. 14, 1985, Bishop Donoghue said, "It is my hope that in the broad consultation called for by a Synod, we will be able to develop a pastoral plan which will shape the diocese for the future so that together, we will be the 'sign and instrument of communion with God and unity among all men'." (Vatican II, "Constitution of the Church")
When did the diocesan synod take place?
From October of 1985 until the first meeting of the synod in September 1986, Bishop Donoghue established preparatory commissions, held parish programs during Lent to address the synod issues to be discussed, selected members to attend the synod, and created materials to be considered at the synod.
After the first meeting of the synod in September 1986, the preparatory commission revised the materials. The second session of the synod was held in January 1987. The materials were then revised a second time. The final session of the synod was held in May 1987. The synod documents were promulgated, or published, at that time and the implementation of the diocesan pastoral plan established by the synod then began.
In all, more than 140 people from around the diocese contributed their time and talents to the synod.
In his letter of promulgation on May 23, 1987, Bishop Donoghue noted, "Through this Synod, we have grown together as a community of faith. We have supported one another as a community of love; and we have served one another and our brothers and sisters throughout the Diocese of Charlotte, out of a conviction of faith and an experience of God's Spirit at work within us.
"The sole task of this Synod has been to glorify the Lord through the advancing of His Kingdom in this Diocese, at this time, through the men and women who are now providentially the People of God of the Diocese of Charlotte. I am confident that what we propose for implementation will lead each of us and all members of the Church of Charlotte to be mindful of the need for personal and ecclesial purification and the need to reach out and truly be a 'light to the nations.'"
What was the outcome of the 1987 synod?
Seven areas were addressed during the synod that saw direct results afterward. The areas were: spiritual life, evangelization, education, poverty, lay ministry, councils and growth.
Monsignor John J. McSweeney, the first priest ordained for the Diocese of Charlotte and now pastor of St. Matthew Church in south Charlotte, was vicar general and chancellor of the diocese during the time of the synod.
Monsignor McSweeney stresses that those seven areas were carefully selected, and great effort went into selecting Catholics from around the diocese to participate in the synod and discuss these topics.
"At that time we had no idea of the growth the diocese would experience," he noted. "We made sure we kept it balanced, as there are 46 counties in the diocese. We didn't want everything based or centered in Charlotte."
Monsignor McSweeney believes the 1987 Diocesan Synod is historically significant for many reasons, which can be seen in the fruits of the synod still tangible today. In particular, he has witnessed a great impact in the areas of Catholic schools, lay ministry, Catholic Social Services and the work of pastoral councils in the local parishes.
"At the time of the synod, there was a bold effort to save Catholic schools, to make sure there was equity in pay (for teachers), to build Catholic identity, merge schools and build new ones," he said.
He said he is impressed with the response of the laity and the development of lay ministry in the diocese over the past 25 years. His parish is a prime example of this growth, as the 9,000 registered families there can participate in more than 100 ministries. Every parish in the diocese has a range of ministries for the laity according to the seven topics the synod focused on.
Thinking back to the time of the synod, Monsignor McSweeney said, "What amazed me so much was all these people giving their time – seriously giving their time."
— SueAnn Howell, senior reporter
Did you know?
As the shepherd of the Diocese of Charlotte, the bishop regularly issues pastoral letters and other official communication about and for the local Church in western North Carolina.
Since the diocese was founded in 1972, many official documents have been promulgated, or decreed, by its four successive bishops. These decrees provide clarification, direction and focus to the clergy, religious and laity around western North Carolina.
Here are some of the major documents and pastoral letters promulgated by the bishops over the past 40 years:
1975 "This Land is Home to Me" – A pastoral letter by Bishop Michael J. Begley, the diocese's first bishop, written as a statement of solidarity with the poor and powerless in Appalachia
1987 "Synod Promulgation" – A promulgated document by Bishop John F. Donoghue, the diocese's second bishop, outlining the goals and action plans that emerged from the landmark Diocesan Synod in 1987
1997 "Of One Heart and Mind" – A pastoral letter issued jointly by Bishop William G. Curlin (the diocese's third bishop) and Raleigh Bishop F. Joseph Gossman, discussing the disparities in economic opportunities across North Carolina
2004 "Worthy to Receive the Lamb: Catholics in Political Life and the Reception of Holy Communion" – A joint pastoral letter by Atlanta Archbishop John F. Donoghue, Charleston Bishop Robert J. Baker and Bishop Peter J. Jugis, written to guide Catholics in public life regarding their responsibilities and the reception of Holy Communion
2005 "Liturgical Norms" – A promulgated document by Bishop Peter J. Jugis outlining the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy in the Diocese of Charlotte
2007 "Guiding the Roles of Pastors and Pastoral Councils" – A promulgated document explaining the respective roles and responsibilities of the parish, the pastor, the parish's pastoral and finance councils, and the parish's commissions or committees
— compiled by SueAnn Howell, senior reporter