The passage of time seems to move almost at lightning speed. Incredibly, five years have passed since Cardinal Edward M. Egan entered into eternal life on March 5, 2015, and 11 years have passed since he laid down the mantle of canonical possession of the Archdiocese of New York that he held with grace and dignity for nine years.
As an active duty and retired New York City police officer covering St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Cardinal’s Residence and as an honorary usher in a security capacity from 1979 to 2019, I have had the great privilege of serving and knowing well four truly great archbishops of New York, Cardinals Cooke, O’Connor, Egan and Dolan.
When someone like me is treated with warmth, respect and camaraderie by each of the cardinals, I believe it is symbolic of the way every one of you would to be treated by them, were it humanly possible.
I believe Cardinal Egan was a very sensitive man. To restore fiscal integrity to the Archdiocese of New York, he was required to make financial decisions that were painful to numerous parishes of the archdiocese and deeply heartfelt by him. I know this to be true because he once confided that he was saddened that many parishes did not understand the necessity and the long-term benefits to the parishes of restoring fiscal integrity to the archdiocese. I responded by reminding him that soon after Rudy Giuliani took office as mayor in 1994, he was the object of enormous criticism on many issues, not the least of which was fiscal integrity. After Rudy’s reforms were enacted, he won reelection by landslide proportions. I was very relieved and happy that after completing my words of encouragement that His Eminence responded with a warm and accepting smile.
Cardinal Egan’s fiscal responsibility was undeniable and a matter of record. He eliminated the archdiocese’s operating deficit and also retired a significant amount of internal debt. In addition, the cardinal raised large sums to support parishes and schools in the archdiocese. He also put the largest private school system in America on a sound financial footing. He renovated scores of church facilities, including the Lady Chapel of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The beautiful restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral was brought to fruition and completed under the auspices of the Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and our St. Patrick’s Cathedral rector, Msgr. Robert Ritchie, but the initiation for the restoration was commenced under the leadership of Cardinal Egan.
During his term in office in New York, America and the World experienced 9/11. The World Trade Center became known as “Ground Zero,” but His Eminence referred to it as “Ground Hero.” He was actually present and witnessed the second tower crashing to the ground. He spent the next five days near “Ground Zero,” both at St. Vincent’s Hospital, administering to the sick and injured, or at the morgue at Chelsea Piers anointing and praying for the deceased and comforting their loved ones.
Returning to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Cardinal Egan celebrated two of the most beautiful and heartfelt Masses it has been my privilege to attend. They were Masses for the victims of 9/11. The Cardinal confided in me that the tone of his first Mass was to pray for the dead and the acceptance and comforting of the grieving that so intensely filled the Cathedral. The tone of his second Mass was to pray for the dead and to lift our spirits to the light of eternal life, which had now come for the departed loved ones, and is to be our ultimate destiny when we follow in the way of Jesus.
Early in Cardinal Egan’s canonical term in office, he had just completed his Sunday 10:15a.m. Mass. He walked up and down the aisles greeting and responding to the congregation in almost every language they spoke. I then escorted him to the door of his residence. He turned to me and said, “Are you hungry? How about some lunch?” Needless to say I was a bit overcome. I contemplated that the movers and shakers of New York would feel privileged should he accept their invitation to dine, but now he was inviting me to lunch with his secretary, Msgr. Gregory Mustaciuolo. After the prayer of thanksgiving, we enjoyed a tasty lunch accompanied by a spirit of fellowship and camaraderie throughout our conversation.
My son Danny is a fourth-generation New York City police officer in the Midtown North Precinct. From 2012 to 2019 he was assigned to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Cardinal’s Residence. When my son was newly assigned at Cardinal Egan’s Sunday Mass, and I was doing security there, we both approached His Eminence and I informed him of Danny’s new assignment. As the Cardinal knew the commonality of my personal history and my son’s new assignment, he broke out into the biggest and most joyful smile I have ever seen him wear. He graciously congratulated my son. I believe his greatest joy was his sensitivity and personal insight in perceiving so fully and correctly the pride I felt in my son, and the knowledge that he would be, while charting his own course, following in my footsteps.
Cardinal Egan also had a joyful and musical side to his nature. He would define his musical inclinations by referring to himself with humility, not as a pianist but as a piano player.
Of all the Masses and parades that he celebrated and presided over, it was the Columbus Day Mass and parade that he loved the most. He indicated that his love for the Italian culture was most likely a result of all the years he spent in Rome at the Vatican. I remember him saying that “My blood is Irish, but the heart that pumps it is Italian.”