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A nephew's tribute: In memory of his uncle, George Freeman, Jr., connects the past to the future


More than 22,000 individuals have donated to the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral.

George Freeman, Jr., is one of them.

Like many of those who pledge, he’s not interested in a spotlight. He doesn’t care to have his photograph taken or talk about himself. But he makes a heartfelt exception for another person. When it comes to his uncle, Msgr. Arthur Raine Freeman, Mr. Freeman will tell story after story. He’ll share black-and-white photo after black–and-white photo. 

He’ll point to his uncle’s balding head in one of the pictures, then to his own, and smile about how the Freeman men lose their hair too young.

For Mr. Freeman and his wife Jane, who live in Raleigh, giving to the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral is something they do in memory of the man Mr. Freeman often calls simply “monsignor.”

Arthur Raine Freeman was born in 1886 and ordained a priest in 1915 at Belmont Abbey. A native of Goldsboro, his first priestly assignment was in his hometown as pastor of Saint Mary Church, which was across the street from his mother’s home. He served there for 16 years. During his tenure Saint Mary School opened as the town’s first Catholic school.

In the 1930s he moved to Raleigh and became rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral. Mr. Freeman remembers visiting his uncle in the parish house and serving as an altar boy while his uncle celebrated Mass.

“When I would stumble over the Latin he would, after Mass, try to explain to me what I was supposed to be saying,” Mr. Freeman said with a hint of laughter. “He was kind … just as good of an uncle as you could have.”

Father Freeman was named vicar general while at Cathedral, Mr. Freeman said, and later invested as a monsignor on March 5, 1935. He was administrator of the Diocese in 1937 between Bishop William J. Hafey and Bishop Eugene J. McGuinness, and again in 1944 and ’45 between Bishop McGuinness and Bishop Vincent S. Waters. He also worked in Greensboro at Our Lady of Grace.

“He was a true Southern gentleman,” said Msgr. Gerald Lewis, who added that Msgr. Freeman was known as Raine (his middle name) to close friends.

By the 1960s Msgr. Freeman had returned to his hometown and Saint Mary, the parish where he began his priestly ministry. He died while doing yard work at the parish house.

Today Mr. Freeman has some of his uncle’s photos. They’re pictures from baptisms, an image with his mother, Georgia, and even an official photo from a pilgrimage to the Vatican, where Msgr. Freeman met Pope John XXIII. Mr. Freeman treasures his uncle’s documents, too, the papers that give away details such as a June 1940 appointment to the College of Apostolic Prothonotaries ad instar participantum by Pope Pius XII.

For Mr. and Mrs. Freeman, remembering Msgr. Freeman with a gift to the new cathedral is a way to honor a man who not only had an exceptional record of service, but left good memories for his family.

“He was very human … ‘never met a stranger’ and all that,” Mr. Freeman said about his uncle. “He treated everybody equally.”

The Freemans’ contribution is also about being a part of a time of growth as they acknowledge a link to the past.

“I like Sacred Heart … I was married there and went to school there,” Mr. Freeman said. “Back when I was growing up I’d have thought a church with 320 seats was more than we’d ever need. [But] … the projected growth to one million Catholics in 20 years? That’s incredible to me. I believe each Catholic has the honor, privilege and duty to contribute … the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral will be a fitting tribute to our Lord.”