Friday, March 6, 2015

+ Edward Cardinal Egan (April 2, 1932 - March 5, 2015)

Edward Cardinal Egan, New York's 12th Bishop, 9th Archbishop, and 7th Cardinal, and a good friend of the Paulist Fathers' "Mother Church" and of the Canonization Cause of Paulist Founder Isaac Hecker, died yesterday. Ordained a priest for Chicago in 1957, Egan was one of the six canonists chosen to review the new Code of Canon Law with Pope Saint John Paul II prior to its promulgation in 1983. From 1985 to 1988, he served as Auxiliary Bishop of New York and Vicar for Education. From 1988 to 2000, he was Bishop of Bridgeport, before returning to New York as Ordinary after the death of John Cardinal O'Connor. In 2001, he was created Cardinal Priest of SS. John and Paul (the same title held by his 3 immediate predecessors, Cardinals Spellman, Cooke, and O'Connor, and before them by Pope Pius XII as Cardinal Pacelli). He served as Archbishop of New York until his retirement in 2009 at age 77. 

I was Parochial Vicar at the Paulist "Mother Church" from August 1, 2000, through July 2010. So almost all my tenure at our New York parish coincided with his leadership of the archdiocese. The above photo shows Cardinal Egan preaching at Saint Paul the Apostle Church at the Mass for the Opening of the Canonization Cause of Servant of God Isaac Hecker on January 27, 2008. 

Cardinal Egan was a great friend of our New York parish and a great support to our ministry there, continuing to visit and celebrate Mass there on occasion even in his retirement. He was also very devoted to Servant of God Isaac Hecker, whom he famously lauded as "a man of the Church" in Catholic New York, prior to the opening of Hecker's Cause. His devotion to Hecker was obvious in his occasional private visits to the church to pray at Hecker's tomb. Like Hecker, he too had suffered severe childhood illness - in Egan's case polio, which left him with a life-long limp.

The first decade of the 21st century was a turbulent time. (What time isn't turbulent in New York?) On top of everything else, just a year into his (and my) term in New York, we all experienced the traumatic shock of the terrorist attack on that terrible Tuesday, September 11, 2001, an event that made the Church into one of the city's centers of mourning. (Indeed, I can well remember how Saint Patrick's Cathedral was quite literally draped in the traditional emblems of mourning for two sad months of seemingly non-stop funerals.) In that tragic time, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Cardinal Egan also served as relator at the October 2001 Synod of Bishops. Also at that synod was Argentina's Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio, who filled in as relator while Cardinal Egan was absent from Rome, having returned to New York to observe the Month's Mind for 9/11. Pope Francis' recent biographer Austen Ivereigh (The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope), has cited Egan's successor, Cardinal Dolan (Praying in Rome: Reflections on the Conclave and Electing Pope Francis, 2013) on how after that synod Egan apparently spoke "glowingly of this archbishop of Buenos Aires."

Towards the end of his tenure as Archbishop, Cardinal Egan got to preside over New York's bicentennial as a diocese in 2008 and that year also got to host Pope Benedict XVI's visit. Concelebrating Mass at Saint Patrick's Cathedral with the Pope was one of those really once-in-a-lifetime special occasions in this priest's life. 

As a personality, Cardinal Egan was sometimes unfairly compared to his media-star predecessor, Cardinal O'Connor. But every bishop - like every other individual - has his own personality, and Egan brought to New York his own distinctive gifts, which God's grace employed there effectively in the service of the Church.

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