CHARLOTTE, NC (Tim Funk/The Charlotte Observer) - Monsignor John McSweeney, who heads the largest Catholic parish in the United States, announced Friday he will retire as pastor of Charlotte's St. Matthew Catholic Church on July 18.
A native New Yorker who was the first priest ordained for the new Catholic Diocese of Charlotte in the early 1970s, turned 75 this month. He became pastor at St. Matthew in Ballantyne in mid-1999.
He'll be succeeded by the Rev. Patrick Hoare, who's now pastor at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, also in Charlotte.
In a Friday letter to St. Matthew's 10,370 families, McSweeney said he made his decision "after much thought and prayer."
"I pray that you will continue to grow in Christ with your new pastor," McSweeney continued. "I ask that you give him the same love, encouragement and cooperation that you have given me."
Hoare has ties with St. Matthew. He was a lay member there and served as a deacon at the Catholic megachurch until he was ordained a priest in 2007 at St. Matthew.
He'll take over a church that has come a long way in a relatively short time.
St. Matthew parish established in 1986, when 237 families began attending Mass every Sunday in the Tower movie theater.
Now its 10,000-plus registered families translates into 35,599 members - or 13.7 percent of the entire Charlotte diocese.
Many of them moved to Charlotte over the years from other states.
In a recent video by America, a national Catholic magazine, McSweeney said his parish, which has 60-plus employees and three other priests, sent representatives to other megachurches around the country to see how they do it.
"The star (of the other churches) is usually the pastor," McSweeney said the video. "The star here at this megaparish is Jesus Christ."