BELMONT — Hundreds of faithful gathered Feb. 12 at Queen of the Apostles Church to bid farewell to one of the founding priests of the Diocese of Charlotte. Monsignor Anthony Kovacic, 95, also known as "Father Tony," passed away Feb. 8 at Pennybyrn at Maryfield in High Point.
Bishop Peter J. Jugis was the main celebrant and homilist for the funeral Mass. In his homily, Bishop Jugis cited three particular Scripture verses that he said summed up the priestly vocation of Monsignor Kovacic, who was ordained to the priesthood in Rome in 1947.
The first verse he selected was from John 14:1-6, the Gospel reading in which Jesus declares, "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life."
"From a very early age, Monsignor took Jesus as his way, his truth, and his life, and never wavered from that commitment," Bishop Jugis said. "At the age of 5 he had already expressed his desire to become a priest. And despite the iron grip of the Nazi occupation of his country later on, which threatened to derail his path to priesthood, he doggedly pursued his vocation, never being deterred."
Bishop Jugis explained that because of what he endured and had to give up, Monsignor Kovacic learned the truth of the Mass's second reading from Romans (8:31-35, 37-39): nothing could separate him from the love of Christ.
The second verse which exemplified Monsignor Kovacic's life, he said, was "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."
"As a 21-year-old seminarian he left behind everything in his native Slovenia, fled the country because of the persecution of the Church, and carried that spirit of leaving all behind for Christ and living for simply for Christ his whole life long.
"During his whole priestly ministry here in North Carolina, 64 years, he had no relatives or family members here in this country – a true missionary, fully integrating himself in the local Church. He experienced the truth of Jesus' beatitude; 'You are blessed because of the poverty you have chosen of total dependency on Jesus because you now have the freedom to be for the Kingdom of Heaven.'"
Bishop Jugis pointed out that Monsignor Kovacic had "a basic, very simple unadorned lifestyle which gave credibility to the Gospel message which he proclaimed. His example reminds us that by true poverty of spirit, we are then able to possess more surely our true treasure, Jesus."
His third and final Scripture passage was "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel."
"The Holy Spirit gave him a fervent missionary spirit that drove him from his home, to Italy, to the missions of North Carolina. He chose to come to an area that was less than 1 percent Catholic... With great energy and enthusiasm he took up every charge that the bishops of North Carolina gave him for priestly service and pastoral ministry, to 'go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.'"
Monsignor Kovacic was also known as a beloved pastor.
"He would meet personally with people in his parish... In this way his parishioners not only learned the faith but understood by his deep conviction that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He communicated that in everything he did."
Bishop Jugis also spoke about Monsignor Kovacic's affection for permanent deacons, as he was responsible for creating the permanent diaconate program in the diocese.
"In this strong dedication to Christ in the Church, he also communicated to his deacons whom he formed for ordained service in the Church... Just a few weeks before he died, in conversation with him he said, 'I love deacons!'"
Bishop Jugis also recounted Monsignor Kovavic's interest in the Cursillo movement, which resulted in the faith enrichment of thousands of Catholics across the diocese. He also had a great love for the Knights of Columbus, for whom he served as chaplain, and many of them were present at the funeral Mass to serve as pallbearers and as honor guard.
More than 20 of Monsignor Kovacic's brother priests of the diocese concelebrated the Mass, and several more were present in the congregation. Among those concelebrating were Bishop Emeritus William Curlin; Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari of Belmont Abbey; and Monsignor Mauricio West, vicar general and chancellor of the diocese.
Deacon Ron Steinkamp, director of the permanent diaconate program for the diocese, proclaimed the Gospel. Many more permanent deacons also assisted at the Mass and others were in attendance.
In his closing remarks, Bishop Jugis said, "So inspired by the example of Monsignor's priesthood and pastoral ministry, let us also ask the Lord for a strong conviction of the faith: that Jesus is our Way, our Truth, our Life."
Monsignor Kovacic will be laid to rest near his childhood home in Slovenia.