Centuries of service in the Charlotte diocese: Retired priests still serving
HIGH POINT — There is no such thing as a retired priest. Just ask two of the diocese's "founding fathers," who between them have 118 years of service and have created state-wide legacies in the building up of the Church in North Carolina. They still minister, in their own way, every day at Pennybyrn at Maryfield, a retirement community and assisted living center in High Point.
Pictured: Monsignor Anthony Kovacic is one of 53 retired diocesan and religious order priests in the Diocese of Charlotte being supported in part by the annual priests' retirement collection. A pioneer of desegregation in the diocese, Monsignor Kovacic has served as a priest for 64 years. He now lives at Pennybyrn at Maryfield in High Point, a retirement community that is home to four other retired diocesan priests. In the background is a photo of the house he lived in as a child in Slovenia. (SueAnn Howell, Catholic News Herald)
MONSIGNOR KOVACIC: HISTORIC CATHOLIC LEADER IN NORTH CAROLINA
It's a miracle that Monsignor Anthony Kovacic is with us today. Born in Slovenia in 1920, he was a child when Hitler rose to power in Europe. He was one of the fortunate ones who escaped the tyranny, sneaking over the border into Italy one harrowing night to seek shelter with his uncle's family. If the guards who had detained him that night had killed him as they had been told, so many seeds of faith planted by his hands would have never grown and flourished during the 64 years of his priesthood.
Monsignor Kovacic, who prefers to be called "Father Tony," is now 91 and lives at Pennybyrn at Maryfield in High Point with four other retired priests of the Diocese of Charlotte. His life story makes for a great novel, spanning from world wars to the battle over desegregation in the U.S.
FROM ITALY TO N.C.
Monsignor Kovacic is one of a handful of seminarians from his homeland "rescued" by Pope Pius XII. He studied in Rome and was ordained a priest in 1947. He was assigned to work in the Colonia Marina refugee camp in Salerno, helping fellow displaced persons from 1948 to 1951. He had hopes of working in foreign missions in Australia, but after discovering he had contracted tuberculosis, he couldn't go. He continued to serve at the camp until a priest friend who had gone to the U.S. encouraged him to apply to join him in North Carolina. After he was cured of the tuberculosis, he was cleared to come to the U.S.
In 1951 then Bishop Vincent Waters of North Carolina (long before the second diocese for Charlotte was carved from the Raleigh diocese) put him straight to work as assistant pastor at St. Patrick Cathedral in Charlotte. At that time there were only 5,000 Catholics in the entire state. Monsignor Kovacic spent a year at the cathedral before being transferred to eastern North Carolina, where he helped build up the Church in Kinston, Tarboro, Scotland Neck, New Bern and Greenville over 13 years.
Monsignor Kovacic's experiences in the seminary at the Propaganda De Fide at the Vatican helped him desegregate the Catholic schools during his tenure in eastern North Carolina.
"I saw so many brown faces, and faces with color, looking out the windows when I walked up to the building for the first time that I thought I was in the wrong place," Monsignor Kovacic said of his first day at the seminary.
His love for all people helped him during the 1960s when he was charged with creating the state's first desegregated Catholic school, St. Joseph in New Bern. The school opened with 50 black students and one white student. Monsignor Kovacic traveled to nearby military bases and communities and appealed to the families there to enroll their children, and eventually he saw enrollment grow to 100 students split evenly along racial lines.
BUILDING UP THE BODY OF CHRIST
During his 64 years as a priest, Monsignor Kovacic has served in 12 parishes in the state, with more than 29 years of service in the Diocese of Charlotte. His legacy in the "missions of North Carolina" also includes the construction of churches and activity centers, the directorship of the diocesan permanent diaconate program at its inception, leading the Cursillo movement in the diocese for many years, and bringing the first active Knights of Columbus council to Queen of the Apostles Church in Belmont.
"Parish work was always enjoyable," Monsignor Kovacic said. He believes his ministry has always been to help people know the Faith, and he said his greatest joys have come from his work with converts, visiting the sick and spending time with his parishes' families over the years.
MONSIGNOR KERIN: HUMBLE SERVANT WHO EMBRACED THE NEW CHARLOTTE DIOCESE
Monsignor Joseph Kerin lives just down the hall from Monsignor Kovacic at Pennybyrn. At age 79, he is the "new kid on the block" among the retired clergy at Pennybyrn, having moved there only nine months ago. His legacy of service, first in the Diocese of Raleigh and then in the Diocese of Charlotte, spans 54 years, involving the creation of two of the biggest parishes in the Diocese of Charlotte: St. Matthew Church in southeast Charlotte and St. Mark Church in Huntersville.
A native of Scarsdale, N.Y., Monsignor Kerin grew up in a faithful Catholic family of nine children. He gave thoughtful prayer to becoming a priest in his youth and after discerning he was called to go to college and not seminary, he attended Niagara University to study accounting.
"By the time I got to college, I was confident I had really considered a vocation and that I didn't have it," Monsignor Kerin said. "I was confident God wasn't calling me. But after I graduated, during that summer, the thought came to me: 'You are running from something.'"
His sister was a Dominican nun working at a school in Raleigh at that time, so he applied to work that summer in the Home Missions set up by Bishop Waters, before he planned to enter law school that fall. But he never got there. Instead, he answered God's call to the priesthood, and Bishop Waters sent him to the Catholic University of America to study theology.
Monsignor Kerin was ordained in 1957, and Bishop Waters assigned him to a teaching post in Asheville.
"Bishop Waters put me into school work, which I thoroughly enjoyed," Monsignor Kerin said. He served as a teacher there for two years and then as principal for another six.
After the Charlotte diocese was created in 1972, Monsignor Kerin volunteered to join the new diocese. Then, Charlotte Bishop Michael Begley sent him to Mexico for two years in a missions program that proved to be an invaluable experience for the non-Spanish-speaking Monsignor Kerin.
"It was another new experience that really was a great help to me," he recalled. "It was a growing experience being thrown into a totally different culture."
BUILDING UP THE CHURCH
When he came back from Mexico, Monsignor Kerin began parish work around the Charlotte diocese. Bishop John Donoghue then asked him to serve as diocesan chancellor. He greatly enjoyed being a "pastor to the pastors" for seven years.
Monsignor Kerin also had the opportunity to help build the two largest churches in the diocese during the active years of his priesthood. Both St. Matthew and St. Mark churches were entrusted to him to build and grow. As a result, thousands of parishioners young and old have benefitted from his steadfast service.
"I feel I have been blessed with a very rich experience in this life," Monsignor Kerin said. "I loved getting into things that were new. That was always exciting. Coming down here has been a great blessing."
Monsignor Kovacic, Monsignor Kerin and their brother priests at Pennybyrn – Father James Solari, Father Joseph Waters and Father Bernard Manley – have more than 229 years of service among them. Their lives are a testament to the power of God's grace working in the lives of our priests and a witness to the faith that has borne great fruit for the Church in North Carolina.
— SueAnn Howell, staff writer
Editor's Note: Read Bishop Peter J. Jugis' letter about the 2011 Priest Retirement Collection.
2011 Priests' Retirement Collection: Way to say 'thanks'
At all Masses on Sept. 10-11, the faithful will have an opportunity to express their gratitude to the 23 retired diocesan priests and 108 active diocesan and religious order priests in the Diocese of Charlotte by contributing to the Priests' Retirement and Benefits Collection.
The goal to fund the priests' retirement and benefits program for 2011-'12 is $1,494,000. More than $893,000 will go toward pension contributions for priests' retirement plans; more than $569,000 will be used for retirement benefit expenses for their health plan.
Each parish is assessed 3.5 percent of their annual offertory income. In most parishes, that amounts to slightly less than two times their average weekly offertory.
The collection also helps provide for the future retirement of the 78 current diocesan priests, ensuring the funds will be available when they retire from active ministry.
The Diocese of Charlotte's retired priests have served in ministry for a total of 1,066 years:
Father Joseph J. Ayathupadam
Father James Cahill
Father Francis M. Cintula
Father Thomas P. Clements
Bishop Emeritus William G. Curlin
Father William Evans
Father James Hawker
Father Conrad Hoover
Father Raymond Hourihan
Monsignor Joseph Kerin
Father Joseph Kelleher
Monsignor Anthony Kovacic
Father Andy Latsko
Father Bernard Manley
Father Richard McCue
Father Gabriel Meehan
Father Charles Reese
Father Edward J. Sheridan
Monsignor Joseph S. Showfety
Father James Solari
Father John Tuller
Monsignor Thomas Walsh
Father Joseph Waters
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