The South is generally known as Protestant territory, but this stereotype is becoming increasingly inaccurate, particularly in the Diocese of Charlotte. While many can vividly remember a time when Catholics in North Carolina were persecuted for their beliefs, the Catholic population of our Diocese has grown immensely since Blessed Pope Paul VI first established the Diocese in 1972. With that growth, persecution has dimmed while acceptance and vitality have grown. In fact, we like to think of the Diocese as a bastion of Catholicism in the South.
bastion | noun | bas·tion | \basCH(ə)n\ an institution, place, or person strongly defending or upholding particular principles, attitudes, or activities.
The Diocese traces its roots back to the Benedictine monks, who arrived here in 1876. By 1892, they had established a monastery and a college, and built the first and only abbey cathedral in the United States. At the time of the monks’ arrival, North Carolina was the least Catholic state in the United States, and it was the last state in the Union to get its own diocese when the Diocese of Raleigh was created in 1924. By 1972, the Diocese had grown to 70,000 faithful, prompting Pope Paul VI to create the Diocese of Charlotte from the western half of the Raleigh Diocese. Today, the Diocese of Charlotte is comprised of 92 parishes and missions, 112 diocesan priests, and 28 religious order priests serving nearly 300,000 Catholics – ten times more than when the Diocese was first created 45 years ago. With 25 men currently in priestly formation – 11 at major seminary and 14 at St. Joseph College Seminary – and another 8 men scheduled to begin minor seminary in the fall, it is evident that the rapid growth of Catholicism in the Diocese will continue for the decades and, we pray, centuries to come. To what do we attribute this growth of the Faith in the Diocese of Charlotte? Of course, a burgeoning population in the area, with many northerners moving here to enjoy the wonderful climate and culture plays a role, but that cannot fully account for the remarkable number of conversions that we are witnessing. Therefore, we must attribute this growth, first and foremost, to the grace of God, and His grace at work in the hearts, hands, and feet of the faithful in our Diocese. It is these faithful who prayerfully support the work of Diocesan leadership and staff, enabling them to develop events like the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress, a special gathering led by the Bishop to inspire clergy, religious, and laity to bear witness to the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. In his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Saint John Paul II said, “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” and we know that the life and continued growth of the Diocese of Charlotte is dependent upon our love of Christ, present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. Thus propelled and strengthened through devotion to our Eucharistic Lord, the faithful of the Diocese have made Charlotte a hub for national Catholic media, with many choosing Charlotte as their headquarters, including Saint Benedict Press, TAN Books, The Catholic Company, and Catholic Scripture Study International. Likewise, the faithful, with the support of Diocesan leadership and staff, have established and supported efforts like MiraVia, a first-of-its-kind crisis pregnancy center housed on the campus of Belmont Abbey College. Invoking a Christ-centered approach inspired by the examples of Mary and Joseph, MiraVia helps young families move toward a new life of hopeful, independent, and healthy living, educating the broader community on the importance of fostering a culture of life. Moreover, it is the faithful who, through their day-to-day living of the virtues of Christ, bear joyful witness to the beauty of following Him and his commandments. By their example, they encourage others to enter into communion with Christ and His “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Today we give thanks for the leadership and faithful of the Diocese of Charlotte. We are grateful for the increase of vocations with which our Diocese has been blessed, and for the men and women who are responding to the call, and blessed to nurture priestly vocations through St. Joseph College Seminary. We pray that God will continue to strengthen the Church throughout the Diocese, that we may faithfully bear witness, defend, and uphold the teachings of Christ and His Church in the South and throughout the world.