Local News Archive
Print Issue: January 7, 1988
A 'Servant Pastor' Is Mourned
By Rita McInerney
In 1987 the archdiocese of Atlanta lost its spiritual leader and the American Catholic Church a dedicated bishop who shared his talents generously.
The death of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, 73, on Oct. 15, almost six months after he suffered a stroke on May 1, interrupted an era of dynamic growth in an archdiocese that not too long ago had been considered mission territory.
On Aug. 14, the College of Consultors of the archdiocese elected Monsignor John F. McDonough as diocesan administrator to lead the archdiocese while the archbishop was unable to carry out his duties.
While his death occurred at a time when several leading American prelates, including Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, auxiliary bishop here in 1966 68, were in Rome for the synod of the laity at the Vatican, the funeral Mass for the archbishop on Oct. 20 was attended by over 30 of his fellow bishops.
Archbishop Pio Laghi, Apostolic Pro-Nuncio in the United States, was principal celebrant of the Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King, and Bishop George Guilfoyle, of Camden, N.J., a friend for more than 60 years, was homilist. He eulogized Archbishop Donnellan as a bishop and priest who understood the true dimension of priesthood as a life of service who spent his life as a servant pastor leading Gods people to fullness of life in Christ.
Many bishops who could not be present at the Mass sent messages of condolences. Their letters expressed his qualities well. Archbishop Donnellan was an extraordinary priest and bishop who served God and the church with exemplary zeal, devotion and competence, always mixed with good humor and kindness, wrote Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston.
Other letter writers called him an inspiration to his brother bishops, and mentioned his very strong pastoral sense and his desire to be of service to people.
The Georgia Bulletin issue of Oct. 22, dedicated to the archbishop, reported on Archbishop Donnellans 19-year leadership during a period of remarkable growth for the Catholic Church in north Georgia. At the time of his installation at the Cathedral of Christ the King on July 16, 1968, there were 34 parishes, 25 missions, 60 diocesan priests and 50,000 Catholics in his see.
At his death, the Catholic population had almost tripled and the number of parishes doubled. The Catholic population was about 133,000 in 65 parishes and 18 missions served by 178 priests.
As a member of the bishops committee which wrote the pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, issued in 1986, he contributed his own experience of growing up in a working class family and his firm belief that the economy should be considered in terms of the dignity of the human person.
Throughout the years of his stewardship in the archdiocese, he was diligent in faithfulness to his motto, To Serve, Not To Be Served. He was ready to listen when one of his priests needed to consult with him. He was in regular contact with the people through his rigorous rounds of Confirmation, church dedications, anniversaries, ordinations, meetings. His fidelity to his pastoral role never wavered; indeed he dedicated a new church building, St. Andrews in Roswell, the night before he suffered a stroke on May 1.