John Francis Donoghue

I can't find a link to confirm it, but a facebook friend reports that Archbishop John Donoghue, emeritus of Atlanta but a real Maryland boy, passed away last night after long illness.

I didn't know him well, but have every reason to believe he was "the real deal." Both from the testimony of a friend who worked for him for years, but also because of a personal experience.

I was visiting said friend for a few days -- this was after His Grace' retirement-- and we went to daily mass before visiting some friends for lunch. The confessional happened to be open after mass, so we took advantage -- and lo and behold, it was Archbishop Donoghue in the box.

That already impressed me: the retiree putting in time in the confessional on a regular basis tells me he had a genuine spirit of service. But my confession with him was one of the most extraordinary spiritual experiences of my life. I can't get into it without revealing more than I'd like, but I was in the middle of one of those periodic valleys of faith where everything seems grey, dismal and pointless.

I did not say this to him. My usual confessor knows it all, but I didn't see the point in giving any context. This was just a stranger in a box. I'd never see him again, so I simply confessed my usual list of utterly prosaic, grey, dismal and pointless faults.

What he said back to me was as if he knew my life story. He didn't address my sins at all, but the valley of faith I was in. He also said something quite pointed on a matter I hadn't confessed and hadn't even seen until he pointed it out. His counsel was firm, wise, gentle and encouraging and I had the sense that it wasn't him speaking so much as God.

Is that what people mean by "reading souls"? Or was he just a very experienced confessor? I have no idea. I just know the stranger in the box was an instrument of grace for me, and as he was there of his own volition, I thank him for it.

May he rest in peace.