Anecdotes of an Archbishop

When Pope Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Timothy Dolan to replace Cardinal Egan in NY I rejoiced and danced a virtual jig, writing:

Like an uncommunicative, nearly moribund patient who suddenly takes a huge cleansing breath and declares, “kindly don’t build the casket just yet, if you please, and do you have a bit of Jameson’s for my coffee,” the See of New York rattled back to vibrant life with the naming a feisty and outgoing Irishman in the mold of O’ Connor and of Cardinal Cooke, before him.

In reading some of the memories shared by the people of Milwaukee, whom Dolan has served, you’ll understand why. He holds his arms wide open, and not just to Catholics:

Dolan knows that is his strength. An admirer of the late John Paul II, who was revered for his pastoral presence, he is most at home mingling with the flock.

“I don’t have many people who are going to come up to say, ‘I remember the sermon you gave’ or ‘We were at that committee meeting with you,’ ” Dolan said in a recent interview. “What they will say is ‘Remember my little girl – you visited her in the hospital?’ or ‘You were at Grandpa’s wake.’ ”

“It’s one person at a time,” Dolan said, quoting the late Mother Teresa. “That’s where you’re going to win souls. That’s what it’s all about.”

Many recalled Dolan’s personal touches, how accessible he was to those in need.

Patrick Kobelinski was 27 and newly married when he died of colon cancer in April 2004. During a visit to his hospital room, the archbishop had offered a blessing and given his phone number and e-mail address.

“It meant the world to us,” said Kobelinski’s mother, Marnie Kobelinski of Pewaukee, her voice breaking. “It’s a memory we’ll have forever, of something beautiful during such a difficult time.”

Rabbi Isaac Nathan Lerer was already unconscious when Dolan, his friend, arrived at his bedside in late February. The archbishop removed his purple zucchetto and lay it next to the rabbi’s kippah, said daughter Chavee Lerer.

“He said, ‘Look, Isaac, I have a hat just like yours,’ ” she said.

Dolan took her father’s hand and prayed for him, then asked for his prayers when he was with the Lord. His son, Rabbi Gil-Ezer Lerer, later told the archbishop that his father had predicted he would be named to the New York post.

Tim Semo first spoke with Dolan in 2003, shortly after Semo’s wife, Sue, died in a horseback riding accident while on vacation in Brazil.

Sue, who was Lutheran, had worked at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Menomonee Falls, and the archbishop called her husband to offer his condolences.

“It was very humbling for me; it just blew me away,” said Semo, who is Catholic but at the time had not received the sacrament of confirmation.

Semo struggled in his faith in the months after his wife’s death. One thing that strengthened it, he said, was deciding to be confirmed, along with his brother-in-law Chris Jensen. Dolan concelebrated the Mass during which they were to be confirmed, and Jensen – who was weak from battling cancer – passed out during the archbishop’s homily.

Afterward, Dolan approached the men, saying: “I’ve had people fall asleep during my sermons, but never pass out.”

Semo said the response buoyed his brother-in-law.

“Chris told that story up until the day he died,” he said.

Note: Cardinal Egan has been unwell, and could probably use a few extra prayers, if you have them.

Also, Sarah K has written that my Luminous Mysteries Podcast has a problem, so I will try to re-work it without having to re-record it. Thanks for the heads up, Sarah. It’s fixed, now.

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