CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Bishop William G. Curlin, retired bishop of Charlotte who died Dec. 23, was remembered during his funeral Mass for his joy, generosity of spirit, the attention he gave to people in need and for having a pastor’s heart.

More than 600 friends, family and fellow priests filled St. Gabriel Church in Charlotte while dozens more gathered in the adjacent school, the overflow site, to honor his memory Jan. 2.

Mourners recalled the gift Curlin brought to the 60 years he served as a priest, from his first assignment as the pastor of a poor parish in Washington to his eight years as the bishop of Charlotte before he retired in 2002.

Curlin’s death from cancer at the age of 90 just before Christmas was providential, many said, because he loved Christmas so much.

“In his heart, Christmas wasn’t a day. Christmas was a way of life,” Monsignor Anthony Marcaccio, who was the bishop’s secretary and now is pastor of St. Pius X Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, said in his homily at the Mass.

“He saw good in things, good in people, always looking for Christ in each other, always looking for the hand of God in events and the splendor of creation,” he said. “For him, Christ wasn’t just born 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, but here and now in the stable of our hearts.”

A smile crossed Marcaccio’s face as he recalled the joy Curlin shared with others.

“Joy is an indicator of holiness,” he said. “Joy is the fruit of a life well lived. It is the satisfaction that comes with service and sacrifice if you’re doing the right thing, the Jesus thing.”

Humility, love for others, and a constant focus on Christ became Curlin’s hallmarks, Marcaccio added.

“His goal was to think with Christ, to feel with Christ, to have in him the same attitude of Christ,” he said.

“That’s what made him a pastor, that’s what made him a champion of the poor. Well he did it, whether in D.C. or N.C., in the inner city or in Appalachia.”

In remarks at the end of the Mass, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, quoted from the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John to describe his longtime friend: “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”

From his first days as a priest at St. Gabriel Church in Washington, to his final days in Charlotte, Curlin exuded the joy and selfless love of Christ, Lori said.

“Long before Pope Francis spoke about encountering the Lord in one another and accompanying one another, about priests being close to their people, Bishop Curlin lived that reality no matter what assignment he happened to be in,” he said.

“No matter what he was doing, Bishop Bill would drop everything, especially when someone was in trouble or distress,” the archbishop recalled. He said his friend consoled, counseled and encouraged many people throughout his life with “an enormous capacity for friendship, but not just any friendship, but a friendship rooted in our Lord’s love.”

Joining Lori in celebrating the Mass were Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis, Auxiliary Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III of Atlanta, Benedictine Abbot Placid Solari of Belmont Abbey, and dozens of priests from the Charlotte Diocese and several religious orders.

Friends recounted story after story about how Curlin touched their lives or inspired them in their religious vocation.

“Bishop Curlin was also an ever-present figure in Charlotte-area hospitals. I was privileged to be one of many friends who would drive him to confirmations and other events,” friend Robert Gallagher said. “But it was the sick calls, which to many of us are somewhat awkward, that he somehow was blessed to relish the most. He went to bed each evening only after shaving and laying out his clothes for possible sick calls during the night. He was gifted in bringing the peace of Christ to the sick, the dying and to the discouraged.”

Burial followed in the cemetery at Belmont Abbey.

Patricia L. Guilfoyle is editor of the Catholic News Herald, the newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.