Over the last couple of weekends, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reading “Sons of St. Patrick” around the house, so much so that my wife began to wonder out loud what exactly I was doing spending so much time with it.
Although I am only about halfway through the book, I wanted to have a good feel for the material before I wrote about it here. Since St. Patrick’s Day falls the day after this issue will be published, I also wanted this piece to be timely.
At 490 pages, including notes and index, it is far from a light read. The historical information and interesting stories about the 10 men who have served as Archbishops of New York make it more than worth the investment of time.
If you have always wanted to find a book that would tell the stories of each, without giving short shrift to any, “Sons of St. Patrick” is just that book.
The book’s title is a tribute to the Irish roots of each of New York’s archbishops from John Joseph Hughes, who led the then-Diocese of New York even before he became its first archbishop in 1850, to the current spiritual head of the archdiocese, Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan.
The book is subtitled “A History of the Archbishops of New York from Dagger John to Timmytown.”
Authors George J. Marlin and Brad Miner have done a masterful job telling the stories of each by combining research from official sources, including the Archives of the Archdiocese of New York and the library at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, as well as from personal interviews with Cardinal Edward Egan, who died in 2015, and Cardinal Dolan.
In a phone interview with Marlin last week, he said that the authors spent three and a half years on the research and writing with another year passing before Ignatius Press published the work, which costs $34.95. During that year, the death of Cardinal Egan, Pope Francis’ visit to New York and the Synod on the Family all necessitated updates.
As we spoke, Marlin gave me a thumbnail sketch of each of the archbishops, the kind of thing that just naturally spills out after you do the kind of spadework the two authors did. “It was a great challenge,” he said, before adding, “We had a lot of fun doing it.” They divided the work, with Miner taking most of the 19th century and Marlin taking over with Cardinal John Farley in the early 20th century.
Of the chapters I’ve read so far, the one I enjoyed the most was about Cardinal Francis Spellman, who served as archbishop from 1939 until his death on Dec. 2, 1967.
His chapter is titled “The Power Broker,” and the 40 pages therein do not disappoint.
The reason Cardinal Spellman interests me so much is because he was just a little before my time. The four most recent Archbishops of New York (Cardinal Terence Cooke, Cardinal John O’Connor, Cardinal Egan and Cardinal Dolan) are very familiar to me, and I’ve actually worked here at Catholic New York under the last three.
As the archbishop during the post-WWII boom years, I knew that Cardinal Spellman presided over an astounding period of growth in the New York Church. What I did not fully appreciate before reading “Sons of St. Patrick” was how much of a mover and a shaker he was, both in Church circles and in the politic sphere.
A quote under the heading “Spellman the Power Broker” was most fitting. “There is no question that Francis Cardinal Spellman was the most influential U.S. Catholic cleric on both the national and international stages in the history of the nation. Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower took his calls and sought his advice, and he carried out delicate diplomatic missions for them. As he traveled the world visiting our troops as military vicar, doors of foreign leaders were always open to him.”
With all his travels, it was amazing that Cardinal Spellman was able to accomplish as much as he did within the archdiocese. “In the two decades after the war, he opened 32 new parishes and razed and rebuilt 24 old ones. The number of parochial grammar schools grew from 214 to 254; high schools from 32 to 48.” Yes, it was a very different time in the Archdiocese of New York and in the U.S. Church.
The chapters on Cardinals Egan and Dolan had the benefit of in-person interviews that brought an added dimension to the issues written about in them. Marlin, who considered Cardinal Egan a close friend, was able to bring out some details of the cardinal’s role in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 of which I was not aware.
Marlin said that Cardinal Dolan, as a Church historian, had a fine appreciation for the work the authors were doing to shine a light on his service and that of his nine predecessors as Archbishop of New York.
“He was a great source of information,” said Marlin, who cited the cardinal’s availability for several hours of interviews as well as his cooperation in opening the archdiocesan archives for their research.
“I’m most grateful for the doors he opened and for spending a great deal of time with us.”