Ken Hackett remembers well the day that Archbishop Timothy Dolan first stepped into the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) offices in Baltimore. It was March 13, 2008, a few months after Dolan had been named chairman of the board of CRS, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.
"It was a special moment," recalled Hackett, CRS president. "He stood up in front of the entire headquarters staff and said, 'I am here to serve you.' He engaged in such a personal way with everyone and had such warmth and was so genuine. He had everyone laughing. People have his picture in their cubicles. Nobody has my picture in their cubicles," he said with a laugh.
It is those attributes that Hackett feels will endear Dolan to New Yorkers when he is installed as archbishop April 15.
In just over a year as chairman of Catholic Relief Services, Archbishop Dolan ventured twice into the field, visiting Ethiopia last May and India in early January, just weeks before he was named Archbishop of New York. Those two trips had a profound impact on the archbishop, he has said.
But Sean Callahan, CRS executive vice president for overseas operations, who accompanied him to Ethiopia, said Archbishop Dolan also made a deep impression on the people he met, from CRS staffers on the ground to political leaders, to excited villagers he spoke with at a newly installed well in a remote area of Ethiopia as a bedraggled herd of thirsty cattle mounted a languid charge on the well to drink.
"He went from meeting to meeting seamlessly," Callahan said. In Ethiopia Archbishop Dolan met with President Girma Woldegiorgis, with local church leaders, U.S. diplomats, village elders, women and children, greeting everyone, laughing, joking with people. "There is no question Archbishop Dolan is a man of the people and he enjoys meeting people of diverse backgrounds," Callahan said.
The archbishop had the same impact in India, where Catholic Relief Services has supported development programs for 60 years. Visiting a refugee camp in Bhubaneswar, Archbishop Dolan sat on the dirt for two hours listening as a group of persecuted Christians told him their stories. In India, the archbishop confronted poverty on a colossal scale. But he saw reasons for hope and credited CRS for the work it was doing, sometimes under severe pressure.
"We can be legitimately proud of the tremendous work CRS is doing," he told the Catholic Herald of Milwaukee on his return. "India is a promising country making tremendous progress in spite of tremendous poverty. I was amazed at what I saw, the traditional relief services where every day they feed thousands."
He brings that optimism, buoyancy and enthusiasm to the Archdiocese of New York and to New York City, a city in many ways a microcosm of the world CRS serves, with all its problems, including extreme poverty juxtaposed against tremendous wealth.
It is a huge job, chairing an organization with a global staff of 5,000 working in more than 100 countries while simultaneously ministering to a diverse archdiocese comprising more than 2.5 million souls. But Archbishop Dolan plans to remain at his CRS post even as he takes on his new responsibilities in April.
"It's already become part of my DNA," the archbishop told CNY recently. "Anywhere I went, anywhere I go, the work of CRS is part of my work. I love it so much. If you could see the effect one well in Ethiopia has, as the lives of thousands of people are changed for the better, you can't help being exuberant."
Ken Hackett couldn't be more pleased with Archbishop Dolan's appointment. He believes having the Archbishop of New York championing CRS's work in the media capital of the world and seat of the United Nations can only benefit his agency.
"In a sense, it brings us full circle. Catholic Relief Services started in New York 60 years ago. Archbishop Dolan will be in his element in New York," he explained. "He's fast-paced, energetic, quick-witted and passionate about his ministry. He made a strong positive impression on the staff at Catholic Relief Services from day one; he'll do the same in New York."