Msgr. Kovacic celebrates 65 years as a priest
HIGH POINT — At 92, Monsignor Anthony Kovacic is the Diocese of Charlotte's most senior member of the clergy. He also holds the current record for most years being ordained, as he celebrates his 65th ordination anniversary this month.
Monsignor Kovacic, affectionately known as "Father Tony," was born in the Slovenian town of Bizeljsko in 1920. His life has been filled with joys and sorrow, narrowly escaping the Nazis who invaded his home country and killed many of his family members in concentration camps and making his way to Rome to study for the priesthood.
"In a way, my life is many miracles," said Monsignor Kovacic in an interview included in his farewell celebration booklet, compiled when he was leaving Queen of the Apostles Church in Belmont, to move to his current residence at Pennybyrn at Maryfield in High Point in March of last year.
"The biggest miracle was that I became a priest."
Pictured: Monsignor Anthony Kovacic, a pioneer of desegregation in the Diocese of Charlotte, is pictured at Pennybyrn at Maryfield in 2011. In the background is a photo of the home he lived in as a child in Slovenia. (SueAnn Howell, Catholic News Herald)
Monsignor Kovacic is one of a handful of seminarians from his homeland who was "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 tuberculosis was prevented from doing so. After review of updated medical records, he was found to be cured of the tuberculosis and cleared to work in the U.S.
In 1951 Bishop Vincent S. Waters of the Diocese of Raleigh put him straight to work as assistant pastor at St. Patrick Cathedral in Charlotte. At that time, there were only 5,000 Catholics in all of North Carolina. 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 the next 13 years.
His love for all people helped him during the 1960s when he was charged with creating the first desegregated school, St. Joseph Catholic School, in New Bern. Monsignor Kovacic traveled to nearby military bases and communities and appealed to the families there to enroll their children, and eventually he reached the goal of 100 students split evenly along racial lines.
Monsignor Kovacic served in 12 parishes in the state, with more than 29 years of service spent in the Diocese of Charlotte. His legacy in the "missions of North Carolina" also includes the construction of churches and parish centers, the directorship of the diocese's permanent diaconate program at its inception in 1980, 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.
"Parish work was always enjoyable," Monsignor Kovacic said in an interview with the Catholic News Herald last summer. He believes his ministry has always been to help people know the faith, and his greatest joys have come from his work with converts, visiting the sick and spending time with families in his parishes over the years.
Though Monsignor Kovacic formally retired in 1994, he continues to concelebrate Mass alongside the other retired priests at Pennybyrn and share his stories and his infectious smile with all those he meets.
-- SueAnn Howell, staff writer