Starting a diocese from scratch in less than 6 weeks
The founding of the Diocese of Charlotte
A 14-year-old junior high school student planned to spend a lot of time in front of his family's black and white television on Jan. 12, 1972. History was being made at St. Patrick Cathedral in Charlotte and he was going to watch it all and save it. In those pre-VCR days, "recording" a TV show meant using a bulky cassette player to capture only the audio. As the procession began for the ordination and installation of the new Bishop of Charlotte, the boy held a small microphone near the speaker on the TV set. Hundreds were packed into the church as a man who served as a priest in North Carolina since 1934 was ordained to be the first bishop. The new bishop, Michael J. Begley, was greeted with a thunderous round of applause when the ordination ended. The student, Peter Jugis, was thrilled.
The dramatic event at St. Patrick's actually began to take shape more than a year before. Bishop Vincent S. Waters of Raleigh, working alone and in secret, combed through the archives of his diocese. Bishop Waters was preparing the necessary documents to present a case to Pope Paul VI. The diocese of Raleigh numbered 60,000 Catholics and Bishop Waters felt it was time to divide his large territory that covered all of North Carolina.
Pictured above: Bishop-elect Michael Begley, during the rite of ordination at St. Patrick Cathedral, receives the imposition of hands by Archbishop Luigi Raimondi, apostolic delegate of Pope Paul VI to the United States. The episcopal ordination and installation of Bishop Begley marked the birth of the Diocese of Charlotte on Jan. 12, 1972. (Photos courtesy of the Diocese of Charlotte Archives)
In November of 1971, Bishop Waters received word that the Diocese of Charlotte would be created. There was no fanfare, no great announcement and no press release. The bishop kept the information to himself. Two days before Thanksgiving, he drove to Greensboro to meet with the pastor of Our Lady of Grace parish, Monsignor Michael Begley. Ostensibly the meeting was to discuss the Notre Dame High School in Greensboro.
Monsignor Joseph Showfety, the first chancellor of the diocese, recalls what happened. "Bishop Waters and Monsignor Begley were driving toward the school when the bishop pulled over. 'I'm going to ask you a question. If you say "yes" I'll take it from there. If you say "no" you must never say a word about this conversation to anyone.'
"Intrigued but not surprised by the secrecy, Monsignor Begley wondered what the question was. 'Rome has decided to make Charlotte a diocese with you as the bishop,' said Bishop Waters. 'Do you accept?" The monsignor didn't hesitate and answered, "Yes." Bishop Waters simply put the car in gear and the bishop with the bishop-elect continued down the road."
The establishment of a diocese is a complicated process that, among other things, involved the transfer of church property from one bishop to another. Monsignor Showfety recalls spending several days at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Raleigh transferring the titles of diocesan cars. "The police in that office asked me if I lived there," he recalls with a chuckle.
Monsignor Showfety says the division of assets between the old and the new diocese went very smoothly. In addition to the property, the priest retirement and seminarian funds were divided equally. "Bishop Waters was better to the Charlotte diocese than he was to his own."
Priests for the new diocese were "frozen" in place when the diocese was formed. Any priest of the Diocese of Raleigh who resided in the newly formed diocese became a priest of the Diocese of Charlotte.
The priests, the bishop and others had to start a diocese from scratch in a little less than six weeks. With the Christmas holidays thrown in, it was a very busy time. Monsignor Showfety credits his co-workers from the Diocese of Raleigh with providing invaluable counsel and practical suggestions as the new diocese was getting off the ground.
Those associated with the diocese at its beginning use words like "exciting" and "awesome" to describe what life was like. There was a pioneering sense of starting something new. The diocese was also small enough for most priests to know one another. Monsignor Joseph Kerin, who served as the second chancellor of the diocese, describes the atmosphere as friendly and informal. "There was a sense of a North Carolina spirit of the Church. The lay people and the priests had a sense that they were missioners."
While there was a clear sense of mission and the sparkle that comes with being new, the diocese was cramped into a pair of rooms in the first floor rectory at St. Patrick Cathedral. Aloha Torrents, a longtime secretary in the office of the bishop and the chancery, recalls borrowing paper clips and typing paper from the rector of the cathedral. Torrents worked with Bishop Begley when he was the director of Catholic Social Services. "He asked me to be his secretary and I told him I didn't know how to be a secretary to a bishop. He laughed and told me, 'My dear child, only the office changes, not the man.'"
— Source: "Voices and Places of The People of God," by David Hains, published on the occasion of the Diocese of Charlotte's 35th anniversary.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Diocese of Charlotte was founded on Jan. 12, 1972. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the diocese and the history of the Church in Western North Carolina, we are publishing a year-long series spotlighting the people who built up the Church, the major developments over the past 40 years, and what changes could be in store for the future.
Feb. 17: "An interview with Monsignor Joseph Showfety, the first chancellor of the Diocese of Charlotte."
- History of the Diocese of Charlotte: www.charlottediocese.org/history
- Anecdota in diocesan history: www.charlottediocese.org/ministries-a-departments/archives
- Next >>
Mecklenburg County Bar honors diocesan attorneyLucey recognized for distinguished service to families CHARLOTTE — It's hard to surprise a seasoned attorney, but the Mecklenburg County Bar managed to pull off an unexpected award presentation for Diocese of Charlotte attorney Richard Lucey...
PHOTO GALLERY: Crowning Mary during Family Rosary ProcessionCHARLOTTE — Patricia Jane (P.J.) Pickhardt crowns a statue of Our Lady of Fatima during the Family Rosary Procession sponsored by the Charlotte Catholic Women's Group on May 3 at St. Ann Church. Pickhardt, a parishioner at St. Ann Church,...
First healing Mass to be offered at St. Margaret ChurchMAGGIE VALLEY — Everyone is invited to a healing Mass on Pentecost Sunday, May 19, at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Maggie Valley. This first-ever healing Mass, sponsored by the Holy Spirit Charismatic Prayer Group, will be celebrated...
Monroe pastor leads pilgrimage to National Shrine of St. DymphnaMONROE — On a blustery day in March, Father Benjamin Roberts made good on a promise made to St. Dymphna more than 14 years ago. Father Roberts, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Monroe, boarded a charter bus with 52 pilgrims from North...
Charlotte food pantry gets refrigeratorsCHARLOTTE — Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte's food pantry in Charlotte now offers perishable goods to clients, thanks to several refrigerators that were recently set up in the pantry at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Charlotte. Catholic...
Asheville parishioners honor Father Thomas on his 40th anniversary as priestASHEVILLE — Member of Asheville's historic St. Lawrence Basilica filled the church's Laurentine Hall recently to honor their pastor, Father Wilbur Thomas, on his 40th anniversary as a priest. Pictured: Father Wilbur Thomas, pastor and rector...
Holy Cross in Kernersville responds to call for life, liberty and marriageKERNERSVILLE — Parishioners at Holy Cross Church in Kernersville have been active in the U.S. bishops' campaign "Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty" that began earlier this year. The campaign launched by the U.S. Conference...
Consecration to the Sacred HeartHUNTERSVILLE — Latino Catholics gathered at St. Mark Church in Huntersville on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, for consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through Mary. A similar gathering was held on Dec, 8, the Feast of the Immaculate...
St. John of Avila, diocesan priest, graces Our Lady of Lourdes ChapelMONROE — Thanks to an anonymous donor and the work of a talented North Carolina artist, parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes Church have an original commissioned image of St. John of Avila in the Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel. Father Benjamin...
Sacraments celebrated at St. Elizabeth of the Hill CountryBOONE — On May 1, 22 young adults at the parish received the sacrament of confirmation during Mass at St. Elizabeth of the Hill Country Church in Boone celebrated by Bishop Peter J. Jugis. Eight children received their first Holy Communion...
Bishop Morneau: 'Gratitude is the key to good stewardship'CONCORD — Gratitude is the key to good stewardship. That was the message from Auxiliary Bishop Robert F. Morneau of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., to more than 225 stewardship leaders from the Carolinas and Georgia who gathered in Concord...
Sylva Knights volunteer, raise money and give it awaySYLVA — Members of Knights of Columbus Council 9722 of Sylva volunteered April 12 at the Veterans Restoration Quarters in Asheville, a residential facility providing housing, food, job training and counseling to veterans who need a helping...
Marquette University honors Alzheimer's advocateCHARLOTTE — Ellen Nowak Belk, whose career includes working on behalf of individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia, has been honored with the James T. Tiedge Memorial Award from Marquette University's Diederich College of Communication. Belk,...
Celebrating the Ascension: Eastern, Western Catholics observe different datesCHARLOTTE — The traditional day to celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church is the Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, or 40 days after Easter. But not all Catholics celebrate the feast on this day. That doesn’t...
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy