Dolan named New York Archbishop

February 23, 2009 9:26:33 PM PST
Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, a defender of Roman Catholic orthodoxy known for his energy, wit and warmth, was named archbishop of New York on Monday and pledged "my life, my heart, my soul" to his new parishioners. The Vatican said Dolan would succeed Cardinal Edward Egan, 76, who is retiring as archbishop after nearly nine years. Dolan, 59, will be installed as archbishop on April 15.

Dolan delivered Holy Communion on Monday morning at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and later told reporters one of his major challenges would be to keep Catholics from leaving the church. He vowed to work to keep Catholic schools open and to be an active pastor in the community.

"The thing I'm good at is preaching about Jesus Christ and preaching the Gospel," he said. "It's going to be a major endeavor."

Speaking partially in Spanish, he also said he is eager to work with the city's growing Hispanic community.

He also fielded questions about the Vatican's relationship with the Jewish community, whose members were outraged when Pope Benedict XVI recently reinstated an ultraconservative bishop who questioned the extent of the Holocaust.

Dolan said he and Egan had spent about 45 minutes Monday talking to Jewish and Greek Orthodox leaders. He went on to praise the diversity of his new assignment.

"The archdiocese of New York seems to be almost a microcosm of the church universal. It also seems to be a microcosm of the world," he said. "I love that the fact that we call ourselves Catholic, which just means all-embracing."

The New York archbishop post is the most prominent in the American Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II called it "archbishop of the capital of the world." The archdiocese is the second-largest in the U.S., behind the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and serves 2.5 million parishioners in nearly 400 churches.

Like his predecessors, Dolan is expected to be elevated to cardinal to reflect the importance of the big-city post.

Dolan said he was sad about leaving Milwaukee but excited to be coming to New York.

"I pledge my life, my heart, my soul. And I can tell you already, very sincerely, that I love you very much," he said at the news conference. "I need so much your prayers and your support."

Egan welcomed Dolan at morning Mass at St. Patrick's. "I've known him many years," Egan said. "And I told him how I delighted I am to welcome this wonderful priest and bishop."

Parishioner Marian Roach was among those who attended the Mass.

"There's a fresh face, someone who will have to face the challenges we have today," she said. "It will be difficult for him. So we must have faith."

Dolan's selection continues a chain of Irish-American bishops that was broken only once in the history of the archdiocese, when French-born prelate John Dubois was appointed in 1826.

Born in St. Louis, Dolan began his path to the priesthood as a boy. He attended a seminary prep school in Missouri and was ordained in 1976. In 1985, he earned a doctorate in church history from The Catholic University of America.

After working as a parish priest and professor, Dolan spent seven years as rector of the North American College in Rome, considered the West Point for U.S. priests, where he had studied for his own ordination years earlier.

He served briefly as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Louis before his 2002 appointment to Milwaukee, which serves about 675,000 parishioners and 211 churches.

Dolan is an outspoken opponent of abortion, comparing the moral urgency of the issue to ending slavery. However, he does not deny Holy Communion to Catholic lawmakers who support abortion rights, nor does he single them out publicly.

When asked about abortion at the news conference, he said Catholics "have to speak up for the most defenseless in our society, especially when it comes to defending the culture of life."

Egan, ordained in 1957, was bishop of the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese for 12 years before Pope John Paul II appointed him to lead the New York Archdiocese in 2000. He replaced the late Cardinal John O'Connor.

Facing an annual $20 million operating deficit, Egan closed or merged about two dozen parishes as the Catholic population shifted to the suburbs, where new schools were being planned. He said he wiped out the budget shortfall.

In the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he led worship in St. Patrick's for thousands of shaken New Yorkers. Last year, the cardinal hosted Pope Benedict XVI in his first U.S. visit as pontiff, an event marked by festive crowds.

But unlike many previous New York archbishops, Egan did not embrace the chance for a broad public role in the city.