Archbishop Grateful Parish Let Him Be Their Priest
Published: November 11, 2010
Dean Trantow looks on as his wife Mary takes a photograph of B.J. Van Gundy coming through the receiving line to greet Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
DUNWOODY—Retired Archbishop John F. Donoghue thanked the people of All Saints Parish recently for giving him the best retirement gift, and the most unexpected one: the chance to be a parish priest again.
Speaking at the end of a Mass Oct. 17 in his honor, the 82-year-old archbishop emotionally told parishioners that when he retired in December 2004 as the active archbishop of Atlanta, he worried “I would not stay busy, and that I might just fade away.”
Instead, he said, when he moved into the rectory at All Saints and began serving at the parish, he has had the happiness of returning full circle to where he began at his priestly ordination in 1955.
“After I came to live here at All Saints, I understood that I had been given perhaps the greatest blessing of all—and that was the chance, at age 76, to become once again, and finally, the very thing I had hoped to be so many years ago—a good parish priest,” he said.
“You, the people of God, acting on His blessing, have given me that chance, that opportunity, that lifeline, and I have nothing further to add, except the thanks that comes from the bottom of my heart, to God, and to you, for having been so good,” Archbishop Donoghue said.
The Mass, and a reception that followed, honored the archbishop as he moved from All Saints to the Catholic-sponsored retirement community of St. George Village in Roswell.
He also thanked Msgr. R. Donald Kiernan, pastor of All Saints, who welcomed him to live at the parish when he retired, as well as the other priests, deacons and staff.
“I owe you so much, for including me in everything—not as some person to be congratulated and then forgotten, but as a priest, fully active, and right at the heart of parish life,” he said.
Six-year-old Moira Christ of All Saints Church, Dunwoody, presents Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue with a card she made for him. As Archbishop-emeritus Donoghue prepared to move to St. George Village, Roswell, All Saints paid tribute to the retired archbishop who for five years lived and served in the parish.
Parishioners and clergy at All Saints said that getting to know the archbishop, not as the leader of the archdiocese, but as a priest and friend, has enriched their lives also.
“You could always count on him being around the church and he always arrived very early to prepare himself for the sacrifice of the Mass,” said Deacon Ed Krise. “His life was most happy when he was in church, serving God’s people.”
“His personality never allowed him to meet a stranger and he grew very close to our parishioners. He became not only a true friend to many; he showed us by his example how to be a true friend of Christ,” the deacon added.
“During my travels with him I was always amazed at how he engaged with all people. Just being in his presence was a blessing for everyone,” he said.
Patsy Moeller, who is charge of welcoming and hospitality at the parish, said she was struck by his deference to others and true lack of concern with himself.
“He is just this good man who reaches out. Not in a big, grandiose way. He has this aura of gentleness and kindness around him,” she said.
One memory that stands out was when she saw him joining a pro-life Life Chain near Perimeter Mall. He was “out there in the rain like a regular citizen standing next to everybody. … Again I just sensed his focus on something else other than himself all the time. He is never focused on himself. It was chilly. It was rainy. He was just out there like everyone else.”
“There are certain graces around him. Nobody knows who he is. There is something about him that just brings people closer to Christ,” she said. “He is truly a servant leader.”
Olga Myers, who first met him when he was serving as archbishop and she was trying to establish the Magnificat ministry in the archdiocese, said he became a priest in the parish with no fanfare.
“What really impressed me the most is when he first started serving at the altar,” she said. “He was just one of the priests. A lot of the Masses he was just a concelebrant. That was so moving to me. He was so humble,” she said.
“I think humility is the greatest gift he has.”
Parishioner Therese Birkbeck said his legacy there will be “living to the best of his ability as an example of what Jesus might be if roaming the halls of All Saints Catholic Church.”
“He would come into the social hall to mingle with the parish community and everyone would light up just being near him and I think he really enjoyed just walking around having a doughnut with the rest of the kids and their parents,” she wrote by e-mail. “He attended many of the parish board meetings and although he might offer a prayer, sat in as just one of the ministry leaders, joking and at ease with us and us with him. He never made you feel like you were in the presence of a VIP, even though he is a VIP.”
In charge of doughnuts and coffee at the parish, and the mother of two daughters, she said the retired archbishop has become her friend and a friend to her daughters who have already gone to visit him at St. George Village.
“When we rang the bell, not knowing who was on the other side of the door, he just welcomed us in and then told us that of all the people that could have been on the other side of the door he was so glad it was us,” she wrote.
“Now I am not calling him a liar, but he knows a lot of people, and for many years, yet he made us feel so important, so welcomed, so loved by him that I am sure each person that comes to visit would feel that there is no one else he would rather see and spend a few moments with. He is present with you when you are with him. He is there and has time for you as if he knows no one else. I am not sure my own mother makes me feel that way,” she said.
She remembers him at All Saints, “Walking with a gentle, patient stride and friendly, warm smile on his face that exudes love.”