A 'Thank You'
Nine years ago, His Holiness, Pope John Paul II appointed me Archbishop of New York to serve what I knew to be a most extraordinary community of faith. For in the late 1980s I had been an Auxiliary Bishop to His Eminence, John Cardinal O'Connor, and his vicar for Education as well. Thus, I was able right at the outset to work out in my mind and heart what I prayerfully hoped might be accomplished during my tenure as shepherd of the People of God in the Boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, and the Counties of Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster.
Now that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has accepted the resignation that I submitted to him two years ago in accordance with the norms of Canon Law, I look back over these nine wonderful years and prayerfully thank the Lord that my hopes have been fulfilled beyond all that I might have expected. Nor do I fail to understand why this is so. For as Archbishop of New York, I have been singularly blessed to work with and for the most gifted, supportive and generous men, women and children in all the world. As I step down, I wish to put in writing at least a brief word about them in our Archdiocesan newspaper, so that they might know how deep is my gratitude and how genuine is my affection in their regard.
On numerous occasions over the last nine years and at each celebration of our Bicentennial Anniversary in the 19 Vicariates of the Archdiocese, I have declared with pleasure that, in my judgment, the priests of our Archdiocese are the best in the nation, They are wise and disciplined men of God who willingly sacrifice themselves for the people whom they serve, and thus they have never ceased to be a source of both encouragement and pride for the Archbishop whom they so warmly received into their ranks nine years ago. To each of them, my sincere and heartfelt thanks.
Before my installation as Archbishop of New York in 2000, I had read several studies and reports about the excellence of the preparation of our permanent deacons and the magnificent service that they render to the Lord and His people. My experience with them in our parishes and institutions of charity, education and healthcare has confirmed all of this on countless occasions. How often I have asked at various Masses, celebrations and parish visitations: "What in the world would do we without the extraordinary blessing of our deacons!"
In the Archdiocese of New York, women and men in consecrated life enjoy an altogether unique place in the hearts of both the clergy and the laity. They have created and sustained numerous schools, hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, universities and charitable works with professional skill and manifest holiness. Over and again during my years as their Archbishop, I have asked myself if I have told them often enough how much I appreciate what they do and admire what they are.
A diocese, and an archdiocese as well, is first and foremost a community of men and women who embrace the Gospel, are made holy by the Sacraments and devotions of the Church, and do the works of justice and compassion in union with a successor of the Apostles. The largest component of that community is, of course, the laity, who in our Archdiocese are marvelously loyal, understanding and generous, as all of Greater New York saw them to be over the last nine years especially by their participation in our Bicentennial Celebration and Campaign, during the historic visit of the Holy Father to New York last April and throughout the years in which we realigned our parishes and schools. Never will I forget their incredible goodness.
We often hear and read that there is no community in the world as diverse as that in which the Archdiocese of New York lives and does its work. I have no doubt that this is true and hasten to add that it has been a singular blessing for all of the Catholic faithful. The various ethnic groups and the various religious denominations, whether Christian or Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, have all honored us by being our fast friends and enthusiastic collaborators in countless noble undertakings. There is no limit to the gratitude I feel toward them, and I know that the same is true of my fellow Catholics in every corner of the Archdiocese.
All of the men and women of faith and goodness mentioned above have made it possible for the Archdiocese of New York to grow and thrive in its many and varied institutions, agencies and programs. I would like to single out just a few.
Our parishes are spiritual families of faith, hope and love that have never ceased to amaze me as I visited them and prayed with them as their Archbishop. Somehow I believe that they know how deep are my esteem and affection for them. They are–and I have repeated this over and over during the last nine years–the true "center" of the Archdiocese. If they have grown stronger and closer to our Divine Lord and Savior during my tenure, nothing could make me happier.
All who know me realize how enthusiastic and uncompromising is my commitment to Catholic education on all levels. Our elementary schools, our high schools and the many institutions of Catholic higher learning that serve our community of faith have always been "the apple of my eye." They provide the best in academic training and the finest in spiritual formation to their students, and for this I shall never cease to praise and support them in any and every way that I can.
As Vicar for Education many years ago, I had the opportunity and pleasure of coming to know the excellence of our Archdiocesan Catechetical Office. Because of it, the faith is taught accurately and completely to thousands of children, youth and adults in our parishes; and its curricula, catechist formation and professional preparation for directors and coordinators of religious education are in the estimate of many, and certainly in mine, unmatched across the land. What a gift that office is for all of us in Christ!
The Archdiocese of New York counts among its most splendid achievements the extraordinary works of the over 90 agencies of Catholic Charities and numerous programs of charity in our parishes. Our elected officials and community leaders regularly and in one voice insist that they could not imagine the three Boroughs of the City of New York and the seven "Upper Counties" that we serve moving ahead as they should without the benefit of the talented and loving care of all associated with our Archdiocesan charities. Gladly do I join them in their respect and esteem.
Care for the aged, the physically impaired and the sick has always been a hallmark of the Archdiocese. Our hospitals, nursing homes and neighborhood clinics are praised and prized in every sector of the community. A plan has been developed and set in motion to make them ever more effective and ever more clearly a reflection of the Son of God Made Man who loved to comfort and cure all who came to Him afflicted in mind or body.
The Archdiocesan system for preparing young men for the priesthood includes St. Joseph's Seminary and St. John Neumann Residence and Hall in Yonkers and the "Cathedral Prep" Program in several of our Catholic high schools. The professors–priests, religious and laity–are among the most highly considered in North America; and the support staff is similarly outstanding. It is a most deeply appreciated gift from the Lord that this year we may have begun to "turn the corner" as regards priestly vocations. There were 15 young men studying for New York in our preparatory seminary, St. John Neumann Residence and Hall, last year: and there are 27 this year. There could be no more welcome news for me and my successor. For both of us have served on seminary faculties, and both pray daily and earnestly for more "laborers in the vineyard of the Lord."
All of our parishes and other Archdiocesan institutions depend greatly upon the guidance and counsel of the administrative offices of the Archdiocese to deal with such matters as finance, insurance, pensions, real estate, law and development. In my opinion, these offices are remarkable by any standard. Thanks to them, the Archdiocese is free of debt, fiscally secure, properly structured and looking forward into a bright future. I will miss working with the immensely effective staffs of these offices over the years that lie ahead.
There is much more that I could and should say. However, I fear I may have already worn out my welcome in the pages of this highly respected and growing Archdiocesan publication. Permit me to conclude by simply assuring the People of God of the Archdiocese of New York that I will never celebrate a Mass without mentioning them by name to the Lord. To have served as their bishop has been an honor and privilege beyond anything I might have ever imagined.
Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York