‘Together we can further the kingdom of God’
CHARLESTON—A decade has passed since Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone received the phone call that would change the course of his life.
He was serving as rector of a cathedral on Long Island in New York when he learned that Pope Benedict XVI had selected him to become the bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, serving Catholics in the entire state of South Carolina.
It was a surprising move for a priest who had lived his entire life in New York. He was born on the west side of Manhattan and grew up on Long Island, where he served parishes after being ordained a priest for the Diocese of Rockville Centre on April 8, 1978.
He followed God’s directive to head south and was installed as the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Charleston on March 25, 2009. South Carolina was completely new territory for the self-described “Yankee”, but he tackled the job with the down-to-earth, genuine approach that had endeared him to parishioners back home. In his 10 years in the Palmetto State, Bishop Guglielmone has reached out to people of all ages in a rapidly growing and increasingly diverse diocese, clocking thousands of miles on the roads as he traveled to confirmations, church dedications and other events in every corner of the diocese. Much of the time, he was accompanied by his beloved canine friends, first Mickey and now Barney.
Bishop Guglielmone commemorated his decade as bishop by celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston on March 24. He looked back on a decade that includes both highs and lows, a time when he worked to strengthen Catholic education, ministry to young adults, and the role of Catholic Scouting in the life of the diocese.
He has also been extremely supportive of ethnic ministries, pro-life and family life programs, and vocations.
Bishop Guglielmone recently sat down with The Catholic Miscellany to reflect on his 10 years as shepherd:
How does it feel to have reached this anniversary?
“Sometimes it feels like I just started yesterday, and other times it feels like I have been here longer than 10 years. I am thankful to God for all the good things that have happened, but it’s not about me. It’s about what the work of God has done for the people of South Carolina.”
What has surprised you the most about your time here?
“I expected growth because the Church in the entire southern part of the country is experiencing growth, but the extent of what we have had here in the diocese has really been much more than I thought we would see. Part of it has been because of the work of people in the Church, and part of it is because of all the industry coming to the state — Boeing, Volvo, Mercedes Benz, Amazon. The entire state is experiencing this and it is bringing us growth I did not expect, but that is welcome.”
What accomplishments or events over the past 10 years make you the most proud?
“I have really enjoyed participating in the growth of the diocese and helping the faithful meet the challenges of that growth. We’ve seen new high schools open, other schools add grades and expand their facilities. It has been great to see the establishment of new parishes and the building of new, larger churches at other parishes. There has been a major expansion of Catholic Charities so it has a bigger outreach. And we were able to establish the new pastoral center here in Charleston so that most of the diocesan employees could be together in one location. I am also looking forward to the bicentennial, which should be a wonderful celebration.”
Have there been difficult times as well?
“Certainly the scandals that have hit the Church as a whole have been the biggest difficulty. It has been very difficult to learn about and deal with the horror that is the sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy.”
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the diocese?
“We continue to have an insufficient number of priests to fill the growing needs of the people. We’re managing to serve the faithful in the best way possible, including having deacons and women religious help where they can. Increasing the number of vocations has been a constant goal since I started, and we have good and strong men currently in seminary studying for the priesthood, but the fact is we still are not ordaining enough priests each year to meet the needs of the diocese. Increasing vocations continues to be a goal.”
How has your time as bishop affected your own faith?
“From the time I came, I found the spiritual life of people here in the Diocese of Charleston to be impressive. People here have a deep spirituality and a deep desire for a relationship with the Lord, and encountering them has deepened my own faith. I hope the people of the diocese will continue to pray and be faithful and pursue their own vocations, so together we can further the kingdom of God.”
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone at a glance:
Born: Dec. 30, 1945, in Manhattan to the late Frank and Caroline Guglielmone.
Childhood: Grew up on Long Island.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in education from St. John’s University, graduate study in education at New York University.
Work history: Prior to entering seminary, he taught high school business.
Seminary study: Earned a Master of Divinity from Immaculate Conception Seminary in 1977.
Ordained: April 8, 1978, as a priest for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y.
Previous experience as a priest: Served parishes across Long Island, including as rector of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, and director of pastoral formation and Dean of Seminarians at Immaculate Conception Seminary.
Was installed as the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Charleston on March 25, 2009.
Catholic Scouting: Bishop Guglielmone has been involved in Catholic Scouting for more than 30 years and served as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Episcopal Liaison for the National Catholic Committee on Scouting from 2011-2017.
He was World Chaplain to Catholic Scouting from 2000-2009; earned prestigious Scouting awards including the St. George Emblem and Brother Barnabas Founder’s Award.
He also started the St. George’s Trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico in 1992.
Some milestones since his installation:
Bishop Guglielmone started the annual Diocesan Scout Convocation in 2011 to recognize Scouts for their hard work on earning religious emblems.
He helped establish the Bishop England Trek in 2016, an outdoor, spiritual experience for Scouts in the diocese.
The new diocesan pastoral center opened in Charleston in September 2015.