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 | By Christina Lee Knauss

After an Episcopate Full of Change, Bishop Guglielmone is Looking Forward to One More

A phone call from the Vatican changed Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone’s life once before, and it’s about to happen again.

With the first call, he was rector of a cathedral in his home diocese on Long Island in New York when Pope Benedict XVI tapped him as the next bishop of the Diocese of Charleston.

Now, 12 years later, Bishop Guglielmone waits for another phone call from the Vatican so he can begin his next phase in life: retirement!

In December 2020, the bishop submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis, as he was required to do when he turned 75. For now, he continues to serve as our shepherd while waiting to hear if the pope has appointed his successor. As he waits, he looks back on his years of ministry, and the dramatic ups and downs in one of the fastest growing dioceses in the nation.

From the moment he arrived in the Palmetto State, Bishop Guglielmone has lived a ministry of presence. He speaks frequently about the importance of living the priesthood in persona Christi (“in the person of Christ”) and that is the way he lives out his role as spiritual leader here.

More than almost any other bishop in recent memory, he has been present at the parish level, logging hundreds of thousands of miles on interstates and backroads to participate in church dedications, parish anniversaries, confirmations and other sacramental celebrations. Many times, he took part in several events over one weekend, often crisscrossing the entire state in one day. On many of those trips, he was accompanied by his beloved canine friends, first Mickey and now Barney.

In that time, confirmations became his signature event.

Each year, Bishop Guglielmone makes it a point to celebrate confirmations either at individual parishes or for groups of confirmandi from a specific deanery. Always, he takes time before each Mass to meet with young people, to ask why they chose their confirmation names and to make sure they know the importance of the spiritual journeys they are beginning. Through his personal approach, he conveys the importance of a close relationship with Christ, always offering a message of hope and reassurance that there is never a reason to be afraid as long as they trust in God.

Bishop Guglielmone speaks often about the remarkable growth going on in the diocese, with new parishes and schools opening, and existing parishes building new churches and other facilities to handle the constant influx of Catholics.

In turn, he has also been present to celebrate that growth, dedicating new churches, school buildings, parish life centers and new facilities for outreach such as Catholic Charities. He also continually pays homage to the long history of the Church here, gathering with people in parishes big and small as they celebrate milestone anniversaries of 25, 50 or 100 or more years.

Bishop Guglielmone also honors the diversity of the faithful, taking part in celebrations and days of recollection with Black Catholics, Native American Catholics and Filipino, Vietnamese and other communities. He also recognizes the role that the remarkable growth of the Hispanic community plays in the Church and has promoted the growth of Hispanic ministry.

His capacity to honor the past and look to the future came together as he led the celebration of the diocesan bicentennial, which launched in 2019 before it was disrupted by the pandemic in 2020. He was still able to offer meaningful celebrations to help people reflect on their history and look toward the future with a sense of mission and purpose.

And now Bishop Guglielmone continues to look toward his future as he awaits the call from Rome, always ready to accept the next phase in his life of service to God.

What has it been like for you since you submitted your letter of resignation to Pope Francis?

“It’s just kind of a waiting period. People are asking when something might happen and ‘Did the Holy Father forget us?’ I tell them that it takes time and they need to come up with a successor before they release me. The Holy Father doesn’t want to leave the diocese without a bishop, and I indicated in my letter that I’m at his disposal and will stay until they have selected my successor.”

What are your plans when you do get to retire?

“Certainly, one of the things I want to do is go up and spend a little bit of time on Long Island. I want to reconnect with family and friends that I’ve had very limited access to seeing this past year. Then, my goal is to become a ‘snowbird.’ [Summers are tough] in South Carolina with the heat and humidity and I don’t want to spend winter up north because I don’t want to deal with the cold anymore. So my goal is to be up north during the summers, and to find somewhere to be in South Carolina during the winter. I’d like to be available to help in parishes as pastors might see fit, to help with sacraments if needed. I’ll also certainly be available to the new bishop in terms of any assistance he might ask for.”

What are you most proud of about your time here?

“I’m proud that we’ve raised consciousness in terms of the need for the expansion of Catholic Charities. That’s been an important element of my time here. I’m also proud of the work we’ve done to expand and strengthen our Catholic schools, and also proud of the fact we were able to bring together so many elements of the diocese through the construction of the pastoral center on Orange Grove Road.

What advice do you have for the next bishop?

“I would tell him that the Church here is very deeply faith-filled. Catholics are the minority in South Carolina, but they are a very strong minority. I would say it’s important to be close to them, to visit with them where they are in their parishes, to be present to them and to listen to them.”

Do you have advice for the priests in the diocese?

“I would tell them not to lose their sense of hope. It’s no secret we don’t have the number of priests we need here for a Church that is growing so dramatically. I know it can become frustrating sometimes because as human beings we only have 24 hours in a day. I would tell them there may be times when they’re not going to be able to meet all the needs that are asked of them, but to trust that the Lord will somehow provide and be with them.”

You have made it a point to reach out to young people during your time here. What is your advice for them?

“I’d offer the same message I’ve given to them at youth gatherings and other events I’ve attended over the years, and that is to stay connected with the Church and stay connected with God. There is so much going on in the world that is difficult, and one of the things we all need desperately is a sense of hope. That hope comes about through having faith in God. This society is full of pressure and it’s hard to keep all the pieces of the puzzle together. Sometimes we neglect those pieces, and one of the most important ones is our faith. Stay connected to God.”