The new Archbishop of Newark, Irish American Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, is incredibly close to Pope Francis, is considered a pastoral priest and has pledged to stand up to President-Elect Trump on behalf of the undocumented.
He is also a bodybuilder, a weightlifter and a beloved figure in Indianapolis where he was Archbishop before his surprise promotion.
Speaking to The New York Times he did not mince his words, reminding readers that Pope John XXIII has issued fake baptismal certificates to Jews during the Second World War. “We have to resist,” he insisted. “With public statements, and then, you do what you got to do.”
His proximity to Pope Francis and his similar profile has led some to speculate that he may be “papabile,” pope material in an era where Francis turned 80 this month.
The Irish-American Archbishop has clashed before with the anti-immigrant groups. Although he did not endorse a candidate in this year’s election, he denounced Trump for “appealing to the dark side of the divisive forces, to the unredeemed part of us.”
Last year as Archbishop of Indianapolis, he publicly denounced Mike Pence as Indiana Governor for stopping the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state. Tobin felt the Governor’s actions were not only immoral but illegal. He was proved right - at least with the regards the latter - as a Federal Judge overturned Pence’s actions and had the resettlement resume.
This Christmas will be the 64-year-old prelate’s last in Indiana; on January 6 he is to be installed as Archbishop of Newark and leader of the roughly 1.5 million Catholics that live in northeastern New Jersey.
“Sometimes I think Pope Francis sees a lot more in me than I see in myself,” he told journalists after news of his move broke last month.
The two men of cloth certainly on the face of it have a lot in common; both come from a strand of thinking within the Church that stresses service to the poor and seeks to place less emphasis on divisive social issues such as gay marriage and abortion.
And when the two met for the first time in 2005 they hit it off; bonding over a shared frustration at their conservative colleagues attempts to ban girls from being altar servers. Tobin even told an amused Cardinal Bergoglio - as Pope Francis was then known - that his mother admired him as a man who did both his own laundry and cooking.
The two stayed in intermittent touch and when Tobin traveled to the Vatican after he was made Archbishop of Indianapolis he was received warmly by his new boss. “I’ve been praying intensely for you since I heard what happened,” Pope Francis told him.
The two also share a modest personal style. A typical day for the most powerful Catholic priest in Indiana begins with prayers at 4 am, followed by the gym at 5.30 where he can deadlift 425 pounds - making him surely one of America’s strongest priests.
In the gym, the lads simply know him as “Joe” and for the first year, no one even knew he was a clergyman. Shaun Yeary, a salesman, recalled how he first got chatting to the 6 foot 3 Cardinal one day in the locker room. “I used to be a priest,” Tobin told him. “And now,” he whispered, “I’m the archbishop of Indianapolis.”
As a goodbye gift, Yeary and six of his other gym buddies bought him a framed picture of the eight of them. Tobin thought it wonderful and joked, “None of those Sopranos are going to mess with me. This is my crew.”
But even if he doesn’t look like a stereotypical Archbishop when he’s lifting down at the gym, Tobin’s backstory makes his career path seem a lot ordinary.
Born and baptized in Detroit, Michigan, Tobin is the eldest of 13 and his working-class neighborhood was filled with other large Irish, Polish or Eastern European families. Mass at his local Church was so well attended that there were 14 services on Sunday alone, catering for an estimated 20,000 parishioners.
Growing up his father was a huge influence on his life; Joseph Sr was a veteran, an employee of General Motors and he attended 6 am Mass daily.
“I idolized my dad,” Tobin said. “He was everything I think a man should be. He was strong, he played in the Orange Bowl as a freshman in Boston College. He lost his leg in World War II, so he never played football again. He had a quiet, unpretentious faith. He was chivalrous with women.”
His mother Marie is still alive, aged 93, and lives in Ontario. It was at her house that he received a call from the Vatican to tell him he was being made the secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life to boot.
“I turned white and started stuttering,” he recalled but he felt he could hardly say no to Pope.
Once he started he didn’t think much of it; tasked with rooting out the alleged secularization of America’s nuns he quickly realized that he was wasting his time. Most were doing good works and any transgressions were few and far between, he concluded.
Either way, his office was not up for the task. “It made as much sense as an ophthalmologist trying to do cataract surgery standing in center field in Yankee Stadium and pointing his laser gun up at the bleachers,” he admitted.
It made him a hero to many nuns but did not endear him to his superiors who sent him to Indianapolis as punishment. “I was kicked out and I’m grateful for it,” he freely admitted when he arrived.
But once there he greatly enjoyed his work, visiting parishes across the Hoosier State, tending to those on death row and baptizing a thousand souls each Easter.
Now packing his bag for troubled Newark he will minister to a flock which draws from some of the state’s poorest and wealthiest counties. The diocese’s outgoing Archbishop - his fellow Irish American John J. Myers - leaves under a dark cloud of criticism about his lifestyle and handling of a sexual assault case against a local priest.
And whilst Tobin isn’t liked by victims’ groups, he doesn’t attract their anger in the same way that Myers does. “Certainly there are worse bishops,” a spokesman for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said, “but that fact should comfort no one.”
It was said of Newark recently, “It seems to me it is a place that needs some serious healing.” With his common touch Cardinal Joseph Tobin from Detroit, Michigan may be just the man to do that.