The new Archbishop of New York, soon to be Cardinal Timothy Dolan, was asked during his first press conference why the Pope continues to appoint Irish Americans to the most important post in the American Catholic church. "It is an example of papal infallibility," he responded laughing, and the entire press corps laughed along. He followed up with a quip about how much he was looking forward to St. Patrick's Day. It was an important moment, showing that the new man in New York will be the opposite of his predecessor Edward Cardinal Egan who undoubtedly - if ever - cracked up a press conference in his life. While Egan may well have been a highly skilled administrator, he clearly lacked the common touch that his predecessor John Cardinal O'Connor and now Dolan appear to possess in spades. In any other city Egan might not have stood out for what he lacked rather than what he achieved, but New York is a tough town. In the media capital of the world the New York archbishop is covered extensively by the press. Every utterance he makes will make news. Egan never appeared comfortable in that role. Egan took over shortly before 9/11, and his response to that tragedy seemed cool and measured rather than the overwhelming, passionate concern that the time demanded. Unfairly or not, Egan never recovered from that searing first impression. He leaves office with a reputation as a brilliant administrator, but someone who lacked the common touch. Dolan promises to be totally different, though he may be hamstrung in one sense that Egan will still be around. In over 200 years the new archbishop in New York has never had to deal with a predecessor still on the earth rather than under it. The potential for crossed lines and mixed loyalties are evident. Dolan gives every sign, even at this early stage, that he will wield a very different crozier, in terms of the public image at least. In Milwaukee he took over from a scandal-scarred archbishop and turned public perception of the archdiocese around in a very short time. In New York he does not inherit a scandal, but he does know that there have been significant rumblings from ordinary priests about Egan for some considerable time, and that he was never the beloved figure that O'Connor became. Back then O'Connor and then New York City Mayor Ed Koch managed to create a working partnership, Jew and Catholic, that somehow captured the imagination of the city and the world. O'Connor, however, left the archdiocese in a large hole, and it fell to Egan to replenish the coffers while fighting off the sexual abuse scandals that have dominated the church during the last decade. There is clearly a large Irish aspect to the new archbishop. He attends the Milwaukee Irish Fest every year, the largest Irish festival in the U.S., and he celebrated Mass before a 14,000 congregation there last year. He fondly recalls Sister Bosco Daly, an Irish Sister of Mercy nun who taught him in St. Louis and who he still visits in Ireland. She says she will be front and center in the first pew at his inauguration. We wish the new archbishop well in his new role, especially at a time in a huge economic recession where the healing and helping aspect of the church has never been more needed. He has a tough task ahead.
The history behind “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”