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History of the Diocese PDF Print E-mail

Early History

The growth of the Roman Catholic Church in Charlotte can be traced to the early nineteenth century when Father Joseph Stokes, a missionary priest from Savannah, began visits to the area. A permanent Catholic presence in Charlotte began in 1851 when Father Jeremiah O'Connell, after a two-day trip by stagecoach from Charleston, laid the cornerstone of Saint Peter Church in Charlotte. Much of the money needed to construct this church was donated by non-Catholics who had been impressed by Father O'Connell's preaching. Bishop Ignatius Reynolds of Charleston (South Carolina) dedicated Saint Peter Church in 1852; at the time of the dedication, the Catholic population in Charlotte consisted of about one hundred Catholics.

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Pope Pius IX appointed James Cardinal Gibbons as the first Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina in 1868 at the age of 33 as well as being consecrated as titular Bishop of Adramyttium. From 1872 to 1877, Gibbons served as both Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina and Bishop of Richmond. At that time there were about seven hundred Catholics in the entire state. Bishop Gibbon later became Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Bishop James Gibbons, as Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina and the Bishop of Richmond, bought the “Caldwell Place” near Garibalbi Station in Western North Carolina. He directed Father Jeremiah J. O’Connell, Obl.S.B. to offer the land to the Redemptorists, at which they declined. The property was then offered to the Benedictines who accepted it with its accompanying requirement that a Catholic college be established on the property.

The Most Rev. John J. Keane succeeded Bishop Gibbons as both Bishop of Richmond and Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina on 25 August 1878 through 1881. In 1881 Bishop Henry Northrup succeeded Bishop Keane as Vicar-Apostolic of North Carolina. The Catholic population was still small at the time, still only about 2,200 persons in 1883. He was succeeded by Right Reverend Leo Haid, OSB, Abbot of Belmont Abbey. The state remained under the care of the Benedictine community of Belmont until the establishment of the Diocese of Raleigh in 1924.

Diocese of Raleigh

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The Diocese of Raleigh was the first diocese in North Carolina. It included the entire State except eight counties in the western part of the state under the authority of the Abbot Nullius of Belmont. Bishop William Hafey was appointed first Bishop of Diocese of Raleigh and subsequently ordained to the episcopacy on 24 June 1925. In the twelve years that he served as Bishop of Raleigh there was an average of more than two new parishes established per year. Hafey left the See of Raleigh to eventually became the Ordinary of the Diocese of Scranton.

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Bishop Eugene McGuinness became the second Bishop of Raleigh in 1937 following 18 years of working for the Catholic Church Extension Society. During his time as Bishop of Raleigh, the number of parishes with resident pastors increased from 52 to 86 while the number of secular clergy increased from 53 to 83. McGuinness was installed as Coadjutor Bishop of Oklahoma City-Tulsa in 1945 and became Ordinary of that diocese in 1948.

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Bishop Vincent Waters was born in 1904 in Roanoke, VA, Bishop Waters first experienced life in North Carolina while attending Belmont Abbey College in the early 1920's. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1931 and ordained as third Bishop of Raleigh in 1945. Waters attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council and he gained national fame for desegregating churches in his jurisdiction despite great resistance. Bishop Waters died in 1974.

 

The Diocese of Charlotte

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The Diocese of Charlotte was established January 12, 1972, with the Most Reverend Michael Joseph Begley, a priest of the Diocese of Raleigh, being ordained and installed as first Bishop of Charlotte. Bishop Begley served as Ordinary of the Diocese until his retirement at age seventy-five in May 1984. He was then named Apostolic Administrator.

 

The Most Reverend John Francis Donoghue, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, having been appointed Bishop of Charlotte by the Holy See on 6 November 1984, succeeded Bishop Begley; he was ordained and installed as second Bishop of Charlotte on 18 December 1984. Bishop Donoghue was appointed Archbishop of Atlanta on 22 June 1993 and installed on 18 August 1993.

 

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The Most Reverend William George Curlin, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington and Titular Bishop of Rosemarkie, was appointed Bishop of Charlotte on 22 February 1994 and installed on 13 April 1994. Bishop Curlin served the Diocese of Charlotte until his retirement on September 10, 2002. On August 1, 2003, the Holy Father appointed the Most Reverend Peter Joseph Jugis, Judicial Vicar and Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe, as the fourth Bishop of Charlotte.

 

At the time of the establishment of the new Diocese of Charlotte, the Catholic population of the area was just over 34,000; by the end of the year 2001, it was approaching 87,000. Because Catholics are a minority and, also, because there are many people who are considered "unchurched," there are many opportunities in the area of evangelization. In fact, the Bishop declared the 1990s to be the "Decade of Evangelization."

Geography and Economy

The diocese consists primarily of two areas: the mountains in the west and the Piedmont. The diocese encompasses 20,700 square miles; it includes the 46 western counties of the State of North Carolina. These areas are known as the Piedmont and Mountain area of the State.

The major industries are banking, furniture manufacturing, textiles, agriculture and tourism. In the Piedmont area, there is rapid growth of population because of high technology industry moving into the area, which is having a positive effect on the Catholic population. Although there is some manufacturing in the mountain area, tourism is the main industry.

The total population of the diocese is approximately 4.1 million people: of this number, approximately 124,000 are members of the Catholic Church. This number does not include another 120-125 thousand of unregistered Hispanic/Latino Catholics. Industries from other states continue to relocate to North Carolina, because of an active recruiting program of the State government. The movement of new industry continues to increase the number of Catholics, as many of these industries are moving from areas of the United States that have a heavy Catholic population.

The diocese encompasses three main areas of population: the Triad Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem; Charlotte; and the mountains. In both the Triad and the Charlotte areas, there are continuing efforts to cultivate and preserve the fine arts and the performing arts. Also, in the mountain area, there are great efforts being made to preserve the native culture and to promote the native arts.

In the larger and more metropolitan areas of our diocese, many of our Catholics are well educated and serve in management-level positions of employment. However, in many of the rural areas, and especially in the area designated as Appalachia, there are many people, Catholics and non-Catholics, who neither read nor write. There are various programs under way in those areas to help adults learn to read and write. Also, there are programs designed to assist the newcomers from other countries to learn English.

The See City of Charlotte is a dynamic, growing city, offering tremendous resources to industry and business. An excellent combination of moderate climate, market access and amenities are offered. Located in Southwest North Carolina near the South Carolina border, it is ideally situated two hours east of the Appalachian mountain range, as well as just three and one half hours from the Atlantic coast. Charlotte is the county seat, encompassing most of Mecklenburg County. Charlotte was established in the mid-1700s and named for the German wife of England's King George III. Historically, Charlotte has always been a center of trade, from earliest days at a convergence of two trading paths to present day as a financial center and transportation hub. Over a half-century preceding the California Gold Rush, the first major gold discovery took place near Charlotte, further enhancing Charlotte's attractiveness to financial interests. Charlotte has become one of the nation's major metropolitan areas. The city continues to act as a magnet for new and expanded business. Charlotte has had a long-standing cooperative relationship between its public and private sectors, which has facilitated much of its growth.