July 4, 2002
June in New York
"What's it like?" a priest from my hometown inquired when we ran into each other on Madison Avenue in Manhattan on the afternoon of July 1st.
"What's what like?" I asked.
"Being Archbishop of New York," he replied. "You've been here for two years. What do you do? Is it all meetings, budgets, press releases and that kind of thing?"
"Not at all," I fired back. "It's great. I have never felt more a priest."
"Give me a break," he groaned. "I bet they never let you out of the office."
"I'll take that bet," I announced. "If I can find time, I will send you my schedule for this past June. You will be surprised."
I put the schedule together that night and was surprised myself.
Here is "what it's like." Here is why I feel so blessed to be the bishop in this magnificent community of faith.
This is an archdiocese of good and holy priests. In June I had the pleasure of sharing lunch and two-hour meetings with six groups of 20 to 40 priests from the 19 ecclesiastical regions or "vicariates" of the archdiocese, and as well the joy of celebrating Mass and sharing lunch with priests of the archdiocese who reached the age of 75 this year. In addition, on June 5 I had the honor of presiding at the funeral of one of our retired auxiliary bishops, The Most Reverend James P. Mahoney, from whom I learned much about the Lord and His Church during my visits to the bishop's room at Calvary Hospital prior to his death.
From each of these events I came away inspired and encouraged by the strength and dedication of these outstanding men of God. And I have never hesitated to tell them so.
This is an archdiocese that cares deeply about the religious and academic formation of its young people. Thus, on June 1st I found myself celebrating Mass for and rejoicing with 19 catechists and directors of religious education who received master's degrees from the Institute of Religious Studies of the archdiocese. Similarly, on the evening of June 4th I participated in a reception for 40 principals and master teachers from schools of the archdiocese who had just completed a year-long program of specialized training in teacher formation. Finally, on June 6th I traveled to the Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt to celebrate Mass for 150 catechists of the archdiocese who were receiving special recognition for their work in parish catechetical programs.
Small wonder that, after spending many years of my life as a teacher in the classroom, I count my assignment here in New York a unique and wonderful gift.
This is an archdiocese enriched day after day, year after year, by women and men religious of extraordinary preparation and unlimited commitment to their work. This was brought home to me with great power this past June on two occasions in particular. The first was June 8th when I ordained to the priesthood a deacon of the Maryknoll Fathers who will be bringing the Gospel to China and who told me over and again how earnestly he looks forward to this challenging assignment. The second was the consecration of a chapel in Sullivan County for the Monastic Family of Bethlehem and of the Assumption of the Virgin on June 24th. These nuns are contemplatives who live in separate hermitages and spend their entire day in prayer. The ceremony was a spiritual experience of the highest order.
Could I be anything but inspired by such religious women and men? Could I dare to be anything but grateful for the grace of knowing them and the privilege of serving the Lord with them?
This is an archdiocese of 414 splendid parishes, one of which is our Cathedral. At least twice a month I offer the 10:15 a.m. Mass on Sunday for two to three thousand New Yorkers and visitors. Each ceremony is carefully planned by the excellent cathedral staff and fervently prayed by the various congregations. And this is true, not only of the regularly scheduled liturgies but also of the multitude of special Masses requested each year. In June I had a part in many such Masses, for example, on June 9th for hundreds of men, women, and children who had been received into the Church in parishes throughout the archdiocese, on June 16th for thousands who came to celebrate the canonization in Rome of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, and on June 26th for 150 members of the Order of Malta from dioceses across the East coast of our nation.
It is no exaggeration to say that St. Patrick's is an authentic treasure of the archdiocese. How honored I am to call it "my" Cathedral.
The other 413 parishes are treasures no less, a fact that was brought home with particular force on three occasions this past June. The first was on June 2nd at St. John the Evangelist parish in White Plains. The parishioners were celebrating the 150th anniversary of the original parish church. And what a parish family they are! The Mass was prayed in English, Spanish, and French with hymns in those languages and the language of Kerala in India as well. It is no exaggeration to speak of this parish as a beautiful reflection of the Church Universal. Moreover, it is served by a totally dedicated pastor, Msgr. Neil Graham, and wonderful priests, religious and lay leaders, who have recently concluded a million-dollar campaign to renew their splendid church and expand their outstanding parish school. At the conclusion of the Mass we gathered on the lawn for photographs, conversation, and plenty to eat and drink. I hated to leave, for I sensed that I was truly in the midst of the Lord's own people.
The second occasion was on June 16th when I had a visitation to St. Charles parish on Staten Island. As all New Yorkers know, there is something very special about "The Island," that is often summed up in a single word - "friendship." As soon I got out of the car, I knew I was part of the family. Children from the parish school and the parish catechetical program lined the sidewalk. I was embraced, kissed, patted on the back, and photographed over and over. The pastor, Msgr. Thomas J. Gaffney, and the parish staff could not have been more enthusiastic and attentive. Everything was in perfect order for a devout, inspiring Mass, during which I spoke about St. Charles Borromeo, who in the mid-l500s made parish visitation his primary work in the immense Archdiocese of Milan in Italy. Everyone seemed to know the saint's story just as everyone knew the responses of the congregation at Mass and recited them with impressive clarity and devotion. The deacon from the archdiocesan seminary in Dunwoodie who is serving at St. Charles this summer is a very fortunate young man, I told myself as I watched him at the altar and with the parishioners after Mass. In this sector of the Lord's vineyard he will learn much, and all of it will be a blessing for him and those whom he serves over the years to come.
The third parish occasion was on June 23rd in Piermont, in Rockland County, where St. John the Baptist parish was celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding. I had not been in the area of the archdiocese before and was very much taken by its physical beauty. The parish church and rectory are situated but a few yards from the mighty Hudson. It is a magnificent setting for a most welcoming community. After the Mass, I blessed an elegant new baptismal font, a huge quilt whose panels reflect the principal historical events and societies of the parish, a charming garden with a statue of the Blessed Virgin donated by the St. Anne Court 866 of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, and a towering yardarm commemorating the thousands of young women and men sent to fight in World War II from the pier jutting out into the river from the parish property, many never to return. The pastor, Msgr. John T. Mulligan, spoke poignantly of all of this at the conclusion of the Mass. One could see in the eyes of his congregation how highly they esteem him and all that he and they have accomplished together. Once again I was sorry to leave.
"What's it like?" my friend asked me. On the last day of June in Battery Park, as I celebrated Mass for the Puerto Rican community of New York in honor of their patron, St. John the Baptist, a fitting answer came to me in Spanish: "Maravilloso!"
Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York