April 12, 2007

Our Bicentennial

Two hundred years young! That is how I would describe the Archdiocese of New York as we begin our Bicentennial Celebration. We are blessed with great parishes, excellent schools, outstanding catechetical programs, a splendid Catholic Charities operation, increasing numbers of seminarians, a new radio channel operating 24/7, the largest Catholic newspaper in the nation, a new Catholic healthcare system, and even an expansion of Catholic cemeteries. And all of this is being serviced by dedicated priests, devoted religious and gifted laity who consider themselves blessed to be assisting in the spiritual development of this extraordinary community of faith. I have no doubt that Pope Pius VII, who created the Diocese of New York in April of 1808, would be very pleased indeed. What started out as an ecclesiastical jurisdiction to cover all of the State of New York and half of the State of New Jersey with a total population of perhaps 14,000 (the estimate of Reverend Anthony Kohlmann, S.J., the first Vicar General) has been over two centuries "realigned" to include the Boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island in the City of New York, and the seven counties North of the City, namely, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester. Its population grows each year and is now in the area of 2.5 million.

In July of 1850, we became an Archdiocese under the leadership of His Excellency, The Most Reverend John Joseph Hughes, who 22 years later was succeeded by the first Cardinal of New York, His Eminence, John Cardinal McCloskey. When Archbishop Hughes was installed in the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral, there were around 200,000 Catholics in the entire State of New York and only eight churches in the City. The growth from that time forward has, of course, been beyond anything anyone might have imagined.

Catholics of the Archdiocese have contributed mightily to the expansion and esteem of the Church throughout the United States and across the world. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Neumann and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini all started their work for the Lord in what is now the Archdiocese of New York. The same can be said of others who we hope will one day be canonized, such as Pierre Toussaint, Reverend Felix Varela, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Reverend Isaac Hecker, Dorothy Day and His Eminence, Terence Cardinal Cooke. To all of these we should add the names of extraordinary members of the clergy, religious and laity whose lives and achievements were intimately bound up with the Archdiocese, among them, Sister Mary Irene Fitzgibbon, S.C.; Reverends Anthony Walsh and Thomas Price, M.M.; Mother M. Angeline Teresa, O. Carm.; Msgr. Thomas S. Preston; Reverend John C. Drumgoole; Governor Alfred E. Smith; Catherine de Hueck Doherty; Reverend Patrick J. Duffy; Reverend John LaFarge, S.J.; Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen; and Their Eminences Francis Cardinal Spellman and John Cardinal O’Connor. Small wonder that we are going to spend an entire year celebrating our 200th birthday.

The celebration will include an impressive series of Bicentennial events and a crucially important Bicentennial Campaign. On April 15, 2007, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we will have an opening Mass at 2 o’clock in the afternoon; and on April 8, 2008, we will have a closing Mass in Radio City Music Hall at an hour yet to be set. In between, there will be 19 special Bicentennial Masses in the 19 vicariates of the Archdiocese. At all of these liturgies, I will be joined by our bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity for what I know will be deeply felt prayers of gratitude to the Lord who has so richly blessed this Archdiocese of ours.

In addition, there will be special liturgies for religious, deacons, seminarians and various ethnic communities. Scheduled as well are convocations on religious studies, spirituality, catechetics, and academic life in both Catholic and non-Catholic universities, along with contests sponsored by the Archdiocesan Education Office for essays, artwork and films, and exhibits concerning the history of the Archdiocese in several locations including the Museum of The City of New York, the Historical Society of Rockland County and St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. Finally, a variety of concerts are being planned by choirs and choral groups from one end of the Archdiocese to the other.

Accompanying all of this is a Bicentennial Campaign in two sections. The first is being conducted in our parishes, which have been working on it for several months to raise funds, 80 percent of which will remain in the parishes to put their facilities in excellent condition and provide for future expansion, and 20 percent of which will be set aside for needy parishes with a committee of pastors identifying where the needs lie.

The second section of the Campaign is being carried out under the auspices of the Archdiocesan Development Office and aims at establishing foundations for our schools, our charities, our seminaries and our retired priests and religious. Both sections of the Campaign, which is entitled "Through Faith We Grow," are doing very well. Their success, aided by the prayers of the entire Catholic community, will ensure a bright future for this beloved Archdiocese of ours.

Oe hundred years ago, the Archdiocese celebrated its Centennial during the week of April 26 to May 2, 1908. A Solemn Pontifical Mass was offered in St. Patrick’s Cathedral with His Eminence, Michael Cardinal Logue, the Primate of Ireland, as celebrant. The preacher was His Eminence, James Cardinal Gibbons, of Baltimore. The population of the Archdiocese was then less than half of what it is today. Each parish was directed to have a special Centennial Mass on Sunday, April 26th; and a fund-raising campaign was initiated that eliminated the debt on St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which at the time stood at $850,000.

On my desk as I write this article, there is an elegant medal that was struck for the centennial. On one side is an image of His Eminence, John Cardinal Farley, the Archbishop in 1908, and his episcopal predecessors. On the other side is an image of St. Patrick’s Cathedral with St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on the left and the first German national parish of the Archdiocese, St. Nicholas, on the right. Both the medal and a stunning set of vestments used by Cardinal Farley in all of his important liturgies will be on display in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday, April 15th, for the Mass opening the Bicentennial. From their places in heaven, I am confident that Cardinal Farley, Cardinal Logue, Cardinal Gibbons and untold millions of Catholics of the Archdiocese of New York from its earliest days forward will be united with us in prayer, as certainly will be St. Patrick, the Patron of the Archdiocese and our Cathedral. May they join us in all of our liturgies and celebrations throughout the year that lies ahead.


With prayerful best wishes, may I remain
Very truly yours in Christ,
Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York