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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

Pastor of diocese's largest parish announces he is retiring

CHARLOTTE — On May 12 Monsignor John J. McSweeney, pastor of St. Matthew Church, announced that he would be retiring after 42 years of priesthood, effective July 18. In a letter to parishioners, he wrote, "Many thanks to all of you for your support, dedication and wonderful commitment. I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is truly present and guides St. Matthew."

He said Father Patrick Hoare, presently pastor of St. John Neumann Church in Charlotte, would replace him as pastor. He noted in his letter, "Father Hoare was a member of St. Matthew as a layman and served at St. Matthew as a deacon until his ordination to the priesthood in 2007, which took place here at our parish."

"I pray that you will continue to grow in Christ with your new pastor. I ask that you give him the same love, encouragement and cooperation that you have given me," he wrote in his letter.

— Catholic News Herald


Editor's note: We published this article in September 2014, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Monsignor John McSweeney's ordination as a priest on Sept. 29, 1974 – the first priest for the new diocese that had been established only two years earlier, in 1972:


051217 mcsweeney 1

First priest ordained for the Charlotte diocese celebrates milestone anniversary

CHARLOTTE — Forty years ago on Sept. 29, 1974, the Feast of the Archangels, the new Diocese of Charlotte ordained its first priest, Father John J. McSweeney. The ordination Mass at St. Gabriel Church in Charlotte was celebrated by the diocese’s first bishop, Bishop Michael J. Begley.

It was a special moment for them both, as the two had a father-son-type relationship, Monsignor McSweeney recalls.

Because of his distinction as the first priest ordained for the diocese and his close connection to its development over the past 40 years, Monsignor McSweeney is perhaps one of the few pioneers of the diocese who understands first-hand the transformation of this former mission territory into the vibrant diocese it is today.

“It was the new diocese beginning, and I had the privilege of being the first guy being ordained for service in the Diocese of Charlotte,” the 72-year-old priest says.

“My motto of priesthood has always been servant leadership.” — Monsignor John McSweeney

He admits he was a bit scared on his ordination day. “It was funny because the bishop didn’t really know what he was doing. He had never ordained anyone, and I had never been ordained.”

He remembers both Monsignor Joseph Showfety, the diocese’s first chancellor, and Father Frank O’Rourke, now pastor of St. Gabriel Church, being extremely helpful that day.

051217 mcsweeney 4John McSweeney was ordained a priest on Sept. 29, 1974. (Archive photo)“Frank O’Rourke (then a seminarian) knew all the ceremonies inside and out. He put together the book that Bishop Begley used at my ordination. He literally typed it, because at that time in history the liturgy was being changed. He was an integral part of the ordination that was held at St. Gabriel.”

Monsignor McSweeney says it was no accident his ordination was held at that particular parish on the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Rafael, the Archangels. “Bishop Michael Begley ordained me at St. Gabriel (in the old church), where I was a deacon.”

Monsignor Showfety, now retired, served as master of ceremonies for Bishop Begley that day. “It was a beautiful ceremony,” he remembers.

Father O’Rourke also recalls, “Almost every priest of the diocese was there and the Sisters of Mercy and many school children from all over were there. It was very beautiful coming together as a faith community. Bishop Begley had a very warm, caring, inclusive way about him, and everybody felt part of something bigger than themselves that day.”

Both Monsignor Showfety and Father O’Rourke acknowledge Monsignor McSweeney’s work for the diocese over the years.

A New York native and graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Monsignor McSweeney has pastored 12 churches in the diocese. He served as diocesan vocation director and director of planning and development, and then as vicar general and chancellor for eight years for Bishop John F. Donoghue. Then, prior to Bishop William G. Curlin’s appointment as the third Bishop of Charlotte, McSweeney served as diocesan administrator and later as Bishop Curlin’s vicar general and chancellor.

After spending a year in the U.S. Virgin Islands serving as pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Thomas, Monsignor McSweeney returned to the diocese to shepherd St. Lawrence Basilica in Asheville in 1996. Then in 1999, he was appointed pastor of St. Matthew Church. Now, 15 years later, St. Matthew is the largest parish in the diocese and one of the largest in the United States, with 9,623 registered families.

“He has worked very hard and has done very well,” Monsignor Showfety notes. “He has done work that people on the outside may not know. He has done so much for the diocese over the years.”

“I think John has a lot of confidence in himself and others and finds great satisfaction in calling forth from other people their gifts, and he does that as a man of faith,” Father O’Rourke says. “He is very inclusive in his understanding of ‘church,’ and invites others to find meaning in their lives through that.”

On Sept. 29, 2014, Monsignor McSweeney will celebrate his 40th anniversary by offering Mass in honor of the sacraments of holy orders and holy matrimony. He has invited all couples at St. Matthew celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary to attend the Mass.

“We have many couples who are celebrating their 40th anniversaries. My goal is to recognize the couples celebrating marriage, and the holy priesthood. So I am going to ask them to renew their vows (at Mass), and I am going to renew my vows.”

Parish Council Chairman Mark Schuler will ask him the same questions Bishop Begley asked him 40 years ago, he says. “The reason I am doing that is for the recognition of the baptismal commitment of everyone,” he notes.

051217 mcsweeney 2Monsignor McSweeney sees his priestly ministry as that of a servant leader. Pictured: Holy Thursday Mass 2017 (Photo by Tara Heilingoetter, Catholic News Herald)Reflecting on his 40 years of priesthood, Monsignor McSweeney shares his thoughts on his priestly ministry.

“My motto of priesthood has always been servant leadership. These 40 years have been a great 40 years and I don’t regret any of them. I don’t. I haven’t always liked what I’ve had to do, but I don’t regret it as far as being in the priesthood. Like married couples, I have been through the ups and downs of life in my vocation.”

“I’ve watched (the diocese’s) growth in many different ways. My emphasis has always been the spiritual growth of adults. I am also impressed with the international sense of our diocese – that we have people now, Catholic people, from all over the world.

“We have that sense of mercy, compassion and hospitality here. That is my philosophy as a priest, and that is what this parish represents.”

— SueAnn Howell, senior reporter


McSweeney Msgr John webMonsignor McSweeney, who celebrated his 75th birthday in May, was recently honored with an endowment in his name that will help feed the hungry: http://www.catholicnewsherald.com/90-news/local/1762-st-matthew-pastor-honored-with-endowment-to-end-hunger


Monsignor McSweeney has overseen the growth of St. Matthew Church in south Charlotte as its pastor for the past 18 years, and now it has grown to become the nation's largest Catholic parish: http://www.catholicnewsherald.com/90-news/local/571-st-matthew-church-surpasses-10-000-registered-families


When St. Matthew Parish celebrated its 30th anniversary, Monsignor McSweeney also chose to honor the legacy of the Sisters of Mercy: www.catholicnewsherald.com/90-news/local/803-st-matthew-church-celebrates-30th-anniversary-honors-sisters-of-mercy-sept-21

— Catholic News Herald