5/3/12 | 579 views
A Celebration Witnessing Christ
St. Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village was filled April 22 with guests who had been invited to join Cardinal Egan as he celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving for his 80th birthday.
The guests in the church included all manner of family members, friends and associates, namely from his tenure as Archbishop of New York. As he looked back on his 80 years of life, he said he was happy to recall “in loving memory” those who have witnessed Jesus Christ to him.
The cardinal, as is his custom, did a fine job in remembering all who had played a role in his development as a young man, a priest and as shepherd of the Archdiocese of New York for nine years until his retirement in 2009. The Cardinal, now Archbishop Emeritus of New York, had turned 80 on April 2.
Cardinal Egan, the main celebrant and homilist, was joined at the altar by Cardinal Dolan; Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Vatican nuncio to the United Nations; Bishop Timothy McDonnell of Springfield, Mass., whom Cardinal Egan had ordained as an auxiliary bishop; Auxiliary Bishop Josu Iriondo, vicar for Hispanic Affairs; as well as a host of other priests.
Cardinal Egan spoke passionately about the witness that he, other New Yorkers and the nation and the world received from the heroes who responded to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Drawing on the day’s Gospel from Luke, he said that the way New Yorkers acted on that horrific day and in the days and months that followed was a lesson to the rest of the nation and the world. It showed, the Cardinal said, that they were a witness to Jesus’ example “by the way you live your lives.”
He also spoke about the many saints and near saints who have walked the same streets as the rest of us do each day, ticking off a familiar litany that began with St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. John Neumann and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and included others such as Rose Hawthorne, founder of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne; Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulist Fathers; Cardinal Cooke, one of Cardinal Egan’s predecessors as Archbishop of New York; Archbishop Fulton Sheen, the great communicator; as well as two lay people, Pierre Touissaint, who became a legend for his works of charity, and Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement.
The Cardinal concluded by paying tribute to the life of Father Felix Varela, a native of Cuba who also made quite a name for himself on the streets of 19th century New York and recently had his cause for sainthood advanced by Pope Benedict XVI. “He’s my favorite priest,” Cardinal Egan said.
In a day of thanksgiving, perhaps it was only appropriate then that some of the gratitude turn back toward Cardinal Egan. Before the Mass began, a group of young students from the Academy of St. Joseph, located next door, lifted their voices in a sung version of “Old Irish Blessing.”
At the reception that followed, Angela Coombs, the head of school at St. Joseph’s, told me about the special relationship that exists between Cardinal Egan and the students at the school, which was founded under his direction in 2007. Initially, there were only two students enrolled; now, the student body from prekindergarten to fourth grade stands at 63, with 92 already registered for the fall and realistic hopes of reaching 100 students, Ms. Coombs said.
“Our children have a really personal kind of relationship with (Cardinal Egan),” Ms. Coombs said. “They have a commitment to making him proud.”
A comment like that is well deserved. Anyone who followed Cardinal Egan’s career in New York, even a little bit, knows the work and support he gave and continues to give on behalf of Catholic education. It was nice to see and hear some of that being returned to him on a special day.
Ms. Coombs and I spoke near the end of the reception in the gleaming new Catholic Center at New York University, where the furniture had arrived only that week. Just a few blocks away from St. Joseph’s, which serves as the university’s Catholic parish, the new facility overlooks Washington Square Park.
The Catholic Center, on the ground floor of the five-story facility, includes a 181-seat chapel, a lecture hall for 200 people, a meeting room that can accommodate 180 and a common room holding another 100, plus a kitchen, a confessional room and other amenities.
Father John McGuire, O.P., the pastor and director of the Catholic Center at NYU, said such a structure is quite in keeping with the university’s standing as home to the largest number of Catholic students in the nation.
He credited Cardinal Egan for giving “incredible energy and time to the initial discussions and subsequent implementation of the center’s existence.”
On a day that the Cardinal had focused on the witness to Christ that he had encountered in the lives of others, it seemed fitting that we were able to see His Eminence’s own witness right before us.
The best part of all may be that the Catholic Center at New York University will be dedicated as the Edward Cardinal Egan Catholic Center at NYU on Sept. 12.
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