'Friends of Tim' join Dolan in Rome, as he prepares to become a cardinal
Friday morning in Rome, the Vatican broke tradition at the day of prayer to welcome the 22 men who will become cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church. The normal procedure is to invite a veteran cardinal as the day's welcoming keynoter.
Instead, a Maplewood native, one of the 22 cardinals-elect, opened the day.
Church historian Timothy Michael Dolan made church history.
Dolan, 62, who is the New York archbishop and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is known for his moving, down-to-earth wisdom. He addressed the cardinals about how church leaders might help those seeking God in a fast-changing secular age, the new evangelism.
Speaking in Italian, he was the from-the-heart ebullient Dolan. He recalled that in the mid-1970s when he was a seminarian in Rome, he went to hear what he thought would be dour advice from the Vatican official in charge of clergy administration.
Dolan recalled the cardinal saying, " 'Seminarians: do me and the church a big favor. When you walk the streets of Rome, smile!' So, the missionary, the evangelist, must be a person of joy. Joy is the infallible sign of God's presence."
In Rome this week, Dolan is evoking joy in a remarkable throng of pilgrims who are there to see him elevated to cardinal. "Friends-of-Tim" from St. Louis, New York, Milwaukee, Washington, Ireland, Switzerland and Italy have been attending a Roman pilgrimage, he arranged. Since Tuesday, Dolan has celebrated daily Masses at Rome's major basilicas and joined his friends for one typical Roman meal each day. Many report ending their encounters with strangers with the line "any friend of Tim's is a friend of mine" and hugs.
"It is so easy to make friends with this huge group. Every one is so open, there is just a wonderful spirit; and of course, we are so happy to be in this beautiful city," said the Rev. John Johnson, pastor of St. James Parish in the Dogtown neighborhood of St. Louis, in a telephone interview from Rome. He's been a good friend-of-Tim since they both were posted at Immaculata Parish in Richmond Heights in 1979. Johnson has witnessed many moments in his friend's meteoric rise to become one of the most influential Catholics in the world.
Saturday morning at St. Peter's Basilica, Johnson will be part of what organizers' ticket counters say is 1,000 Friends of Tim who watch witness Pope Benedict XVI give Dolan the symbols of the office of cardinal: a red biretta, more popularly called the red hat, and a gold ring.
In his keynote to all cardinals Friday, Dolan talked about the significance of the color red. He said, "The red biretta (means) you must be willing to conduct yourselves with fortitude even to the shedding of your blood for the growth of the Christian faith, the peace and tranquility of the People of God, and the freedom and spread of the Holy Roman Church."
The pope was in his audience, and Dolan looked in his direction when he said: "Holy Father, can you omit (the conferral rite words) 'to the shedding of your blood' when you present me with the biretta?
"Of course not! We are but 'scarlet audio-visual aids' for all of our brothers and sisters, also called to be ready to suffer and die for Jesus," Dolan said.
Dolan's friends will join the cheering supporters of 21 other bishops receiving their red hats, including archbishops of Hong Kong, Berlin, Prague, Toronto and Florence. The only other American getting a red hat is Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien. He was archbishop for the U.S. military archdiocese worldwide, then Baltimore's archbishop and now has been assigned to the Vatican post of pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
Dolan has spent the week at the North American College, the U.S. Bishops residential seminary overlooking St. Peter's Square from the top of Janiculum Hill. Wednesday morning he followed his tradition in Rome, walking down the very steep Janiculum to St. Peter's Basilica and slipping into a confessional.
"Near the tomb of St. Peter, I can hear Jesus ask Him three times: 'Simon, do you love me?' and then examine my conscience to see how I have failed to love the Lord and take care of his sheep," Dolan wrote in his weekly blog entry. He stressed that he goes to confession about twice a month back in New York but near Peter's tomb it's a special grace.
All St. Louis parishes that he has ever been associated with have members or former members cheering him on. As a kindergartener, he entered then brand new, Holy Infant Parish in Ballwin, and as a new priest said his first Mass there in 1976. His first assignment was at Immaculata parish in Richmond Heights and then at Little Flower also in Richmond Heights. He was in residence at Our Lady of Sorrows in South City in 2001 at the time he was ordained a bishop at the St. Louis Cathedral and served here as an auxiliary bishops. Before becoming New York archbishop three years ago this month, he served as Milwaukee archbishop for seven years.
"He was so loved in St. Louis and in Milwaukee where he had a quiet house overlooking the lake that I didn't quite know if he'd like New York," said Lois Radcliffe Milford of Glendale, who is his godmother and his aunt (sister of his mother Shirley Dolan). "'But, he told me, 'Aunt Lois I get a surge of excitement every time I step outside the front door.' Of course, he hugs the trash man, and he hugs Tim back."
Milford said she was delighted that so many New Yorkers are returning Dolan's affection by spending Mardi Gras weekend in Rome with their archbishop.
"There are 700 New Yorkers here," said the Rev. Brian Emmett McWeeney in a telephone interview from Rome. McWeeney is the New York archdiocese's director of adult formation, a new department begun by Dolan, and pastoral administrator of St. Michael's parish in Manhattan whose borders, the priests explains, "include Macy's and Madison Square Garden."
Having observed the super-energetic Dolan since his installation at St. Patrick's Cathedral and seeing that Dolan always has time for his priests, all his efforts to be a warm pilgrimage host this week do not surprise the New Yorker.
"Many asked him to sign the beautiful programs for our Rome pilgrimage," McWeeney said. Since Tuesday many have eaten either lunch or dinner at a friends-of-Tim gathering in hotel banquet halls, each of which seat about 300 persons. Dolan visits each during each meal.
"He makes the rounds at them all," McWeeney said.
Dolan is a great believer that pilgrimages to places were holy people lived and died can help stir the faith and change lives. Pilgrims themselves bond and help each other strengthen their beliefs. He's led youth to the Papal World Youth days around the world and was the American TV commentator for the Denver World Youth Day in 1993.
While rector of the North America College from 1994 to 2001 he pressed visitors to be sure they did more than museum hop and dine at typical Roman trattorias. He'd urge them to pray at the Sistine Chapel and at his favorite historic churches with links to the apostles and key Catholic saints.
In late January, he led about 50 of his New York priests on an annual retreat/pilgrimage to Galilee and Jerusalem. Last year he took about 50 priests for a pilgrimage/retreat in Rome and the previous year lead them to Ars, France, where the model of a saintly pastor, John Vianney, served.
Since Tuesday, Dolan has been the chief celebrant at a daily special Mass for his friends and family. "We've had about 80 priests con-celebrating with Tim, priests from St. Louis, New York, Milwaukee, Washington and also places Tim has not lived: Philadelphia, Ireland and other places," said Johnson, the pastor of St. James parish.
Dolan's family and friends were invited to participate at his daily Masses. His mother, Shirley Radcliffe Dolan, and his brother Robert Dolan bore the gifts of bread and wine to him at Tuesday's Mass.
Dolan, who holds a Ph.D. in church history from Catholic University, in Washington, D.C., sprinkled history in his reflections at Mass on each day's assigned scripture readings, often telling them what to look at in various churches.
"It's wonderful, I'm excited to bring all the church history, all those stories back to my students," said Diane Everitt a teacher at Villa Duchesne in Frontenac in a telephone interview from Rome. She barely knew Dolan when she arrived Tuesday but felt affection for him. Her traveling companions, her mother and her mother's friends know him well. Everitt had heard that Dolan's never met a stranger and is witnessing that this week.
"He's an ebullient man, the image of a priest who shows his great love for his work," McWeeney said. "But anyone who does not take him seriously is making a great error."
Three generations of Dolans, his mother, brothers and about 13 first cousins on his dad's side and their children are gathering for a mini-family reunion Friday night in a Roman restaurant. They live in St. Louis; Milwaukee; Washington, D.C., Geneva, and Switzerland and are excited about seeing each other. With his busy schedule as head pilgrim, keynoter, and new cardinal, Dolan's family was resigned to brief time with him, said first cousin Mary Ellen Noonan Koenig (her husband is the Washington correspondent for the Beacon.)
watching at 2:30 a.m.
Plenty of St. Louisans including relatives, classmates and former parishioners wanted to be there but will watch the ceremony live-streamed by the Vatican. It's at 2:30 a.m. Saturday, St. Louis time.
Dolan's godmother Lois Radcliffe Milford of Glendale said, "I cried when I realized I couldn't go."
As she watches the pope put the ring on his finger, Milford said she will be smiling with the memory of the little, grade-school altar boy, who, in fourth grade or so, used to invite her into the basement of his family's home where he set up an altar and would pretend to say Mass.
"We had to be very prayerful and take stale bread as if it were consecrated Holy Communion," she recalled with a laugh. "When he spent a Saturday night at our house he wouldn't sit in just any pew, we had to up front, so he could see everything. He'd say he wanted to be a priest someone day."
Milford said worries that her godson does not get enough rest, because he rarely refused a request for help or an invitation. His best quiet time is his morning mediation, she said, and saying the rosary when his driver takes him around. His godmother prays for him daily. She watched him battle last week for what she sees as freedom of religion issues over the insurance for sterilization and birth control. Her heart aches for him knowing that for the rest of his life he'll have to deal with the fallout from clerical sex abuse crimes against children.
Next weekend, Milford and her daughters, Christine Hoffmeyer of Crestwood and Mimi Milford of St. Louis, and members of the Dolan side of the family will stay with him at his New York rectory and attend his Saturday afternoon Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
"Tim's so happy but humble about this," she said. "I can't wait to see him in his red robes."
Patricia Rice is a freelance writer who has long covered religion. To reach her, contact Beacon features and commentary editor Donna Korando.