The Interview

As installation nears, Archbishop Dolan reflects on

Posted

Becoming

Archbishop of New York



Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan will be installed as Archbishop of New York during a Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral on Wednesday, April 15. John Woods, editor in chief of Catholic New York, recently interviewed the Archbishop on a day when he was in Manhattan for meetings at the New York Catholic Center.

What thoughts went through your mind as you were celebrating Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral on your first day in New York?

It was a spirit of awe. For most Catholics in the United States, St. Patrick's is the cathedral. I like to think I was humbled. This is the church of the Archdiocese of New York.

There was also a real sense of relief—through the door of my dining room (in the Archbishop's Residence), I could come into the Cathedral.

I was really thrilled because I found out St. Patrick's is such a vibrant parish.

Msgr. Robert Ritchie (the cathedral rector) told me that there are 50,000 people there on Ash Wednesday, large crowds for Holy Week and Easter.

As a church historian, have you had a chance to think about your predecessors as Archbishop of New York—Archbishop Hughes, Cardinal Hayes, Cardinal Spellman and others?

You can't study the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States without knowing about the towering influence of Archbishop John Hughes, Cardinal John McCloskey, Cardinal Hayes, Cardinal O'Connor and Cardinal Egan...These are towering personalities in the history of the Church in the United States. I was very familiar with all of them.

After Mass I asked Cardinal Egan if we could visit the crypt (below the sanctuary). I wanted to pray for our predecessors, to ask for their help and I also wanted to see where I will be buried. Plus one of my great heroes, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, is buried there.

A number of people have suggested that the priests of New York will be a key to your success as archbishop. What will you do to foster a strong relationship with the priests of the archdiocese?

That will be one of my priorities. I just love the company of priests. Along with the day of my baptism, which of course I don't remember, the day of my ordination is the happiest day of my life...

Am I ever relishing the prospect of getting to know the priests of New York, of collaborating with them...

The bishop of a diocese should be to his priests what he expects his priests to be to their people. They are my special concern. I'll be caring for them as my parish. That's a labor of love. It's a real joy.

A follow-up: Was it more than symbolic that you visited St. Joseph's Seminary on your first day in New York? What did you see there?

I just wanted to show my supreme interest in vocations. These are going to be the fellows coming of age in parishes as I grow older. I was flying the flag. It was my first visit, it won't be the last.

Who were some of your own role models on the road to priesthood?

Role models for me were my parish pastor, Father Jeremiah L. Callahan, chaplain in World War II, and Father Adolph Schilly. I still use his chalice for Mass almost every day. My parish was Holy Infant in Ballwin, Mo.

In freshman English composition class, we were given the assignment to write a three-page essay about, why I want to be a priest. At first I gave a very cerebral answer, and my teacher gave it back with a "D." She told me she would give me one more chance, but she wanted me to be more practical. She wanted to know, "What is driving you?"

I wrote that I wanted to be a priest so I can be what Father Callahan and Father Schilly were to me. They were my heroes. They were what Stan Musial was to me in baseball.

One aspect of your personality that struck a chord with New Yorkers was your friendly and outgoing nature. Should we expect to see more of the same when you return to New York in April?

It's not some strategy. I like to think it's natural...How can you be other than sincere? People know.

Who were the great storytellers in your family growing up?

My grandmother Martha, my dad's mother. She was a great storyteller as I was growing up. She told us a lot of stories about when my dad was a kid.

My dad loved to tell stories. He was great with quips. He was a man of hospitality, he loved making people feel welcome. We always had people in our house.

You mentioned your dad as one of your heroes—what were some of his traits that really formed and impressed you?

While growing up, it didn't dawn on me, but looking back, I remember his perseverance day in, day out. Never missing a day of work. He was a floor supervisor at McDonnell Douglas.

His life was mainly my mom and us kids. He enjoyed being with us. When he was on vacation, we couldn't afford to travel. We took day trips, we went swimming and to ballgames.

He was a good father. He never took his food until last, until everybody else had been served.

You come to New York with about seven years of experience as an archbishop. What are some of the lessons you learned in Milwaukee?

Just be with your people and priests. It's not about being in the office, not about committee meetings. It's about fish fries, picnics and being present at the funeral parlor.

I'm pastor of a parish, only now my parish happens to have 2.5 million people.

I have to listen, and get to know them. Like Jesus, we are servants. We are never to lord it over people.

I have received many letters from people in Milwaukee (since his appointment to New York was announced). They thanked me for small things—"Remember, I sat with you at the chicken dinner," or "You visited my daughter in the hospital." That's how Jesus was. It was one-on-one.

As seminary rector of North American College in Rome and Archbishop of Milwaukee, have you had an opportunity to interact with Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II before him?

While I was rector of North American College, from 1994 to 2001, he was Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. He was as kind as can be and somewhat shy.

Pope John Paul II was one of my heroes. I had a box seat on his pontificate. He demonstrated the power of presence. He was always there to receive people and to be at events. He was indefatigable. He wanted to be spent. He visited close to 300 parishes in Rome in nearly 27 years as pope.

He showed a love for the sick, and a humility. He personified what the Vicar of Christ should be.

What do you see as your top priorities over the next six months?

I've found it's not a good idea to set priorities at the outset. My major priority is to get to know the Archdiocese of New York by visiting, greeting and getting to know people.

I'd first like to keep the Church in New York alive and prospering as it is now.

Cardinal Egan is leaving it working well. I've got to continue the good work he's done. One of the priorities of the first year is to set priorities.

Of course preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and celebrating the sacraments are always my priorities.

A change in archbishops is not only a time of personal transition, it's also a time of opportunity for the archdiocese. How can the people of the archdiocese help you in the work of evangelization in New York, where, as you said, you will serve for the rest of your life?

If they could pray for me and with me. One thing that gives me a lot of consolation is that beginning on April 15th at every Mass in the archdiocese, people are going to be praying for Timothy our bishop.

I hope the people of New York will continue the beautifully warm embrace they've already given me. I have literally received hundreds of greetings and assurances of prayers. I hope they come to get to know me, as I am eager to know them.

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