Monsignor McSweeney, at Age 74

By Jon Ostendorff
News and Observer (Raleigh, NC)
March 30, 1999

Monsignor James E. McSweeney, the longest-serving Roman Catholic priest in the Triangle, died Sunday at Western Wake Medical Center in Cary.

McSweeney, 74, a vicar general of the Diocese of Raleigh, was ordained May 18, 1950.

McSweeney was a native of Lakewood, Ohio, and chose to minister in North Carolina because he was interested in mission development work.

His first assignment was as associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Whiteville. He later served at 10 churches in the diocese, which until 1972 covered the entire state.

His pastorates included Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, St. Michael Parish in Cary and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Raleigh.

McSweeney served as chancellor of the diocese, the chief administrative officer of the Catholic Church in North Carolina, from 1962 to 1967.

In March 1963, he was named a domestic prelate by Pope Paul VI and given the title Right Reverend Monsignor.

In 1973, McSweeney was appointed administrator of St. Joseph of the Pines Hospital in Southern Pines.

Through his administration there, the hospital was placed on a firm financial ground and then began the conversion to a skilled nursing facility. McSweeney served on the hospital's board of directors until 1995.

"The changes he instituted in that facility have had a lasting effect to this very day," Bishop F. Joseph Gossman said. "He was not just a run-of-the-mill guy. That showed in his appointments. He had a lot of brains and savvy."

In 1981, McSweeney was appointed vicar general of the diocese, a position he held until his death. He also served as judicial vicar of the Diocesan Tribunal, the office that administers church marriage laws.

Gossman said McSweeney excelled in working with people when they got into some difficulty with the church. "I think that is really what it means to be a priest," he said

Vicar General Gerald Lewis, who worked with McSweeney for more than 30 years, said McSweeney, who retired in 1990, remained an active member of the diocese and worked right up to his death in administering church marriage laws.

"In fact last week sometime, a priest had called him for a permission he needed," Lewis said. "I think more than anything he had a real love for the priesthood."

A Christian wake service will be held at 7:30 p.m. today at Our Lady of Lourdes Church with visitation until 9 p.m. The mass of Christian burial will be celebrated by Gossman at noon Wednesday at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Raleigh.

"In his will, he asked me to speak on the priesthood," Gossman said. "I am going to talk about his energy and willingness to give his all."

Burial will follow at 3:30 pm. in the priests' section at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cemetery in Newton Grove.

McSweeney is survived by a sister, Jane McSweeney Nicolay, and her husband, Anthony, of Mesa, Ariz.; and two brothers, Donald McSweeney and his wife, Bea, of Lakewood, Ohio, and Daniel McSweeney and his wife, Mary, of La Jolla, Calif.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.