Before I head back to the cathedral…
So here’s what I wrote about Day Two of Cardinal Egan’s installation for the Journal News of June 20, 2000:
NEW YORK – Archbishop Edward M. Egan, distinguished canon lawyer and personal friend of Pope John Paul II, was better known in Rome than in America when he was introduced five weeks ago as the next leader of the New York Archdiocese.
How quickly things change.
Nearly 3,000 people filled St. Patrick’s Cathedral yesterday to witness Egan celebrate his first Mass as archbishop. The special Mass, honoring Egan‘s installation as New York’s ninth archbishop, was fit for a prince of a nearly 2,000-year-old church.
A 100-voice choir sang sacred hymns and St. Patrick’s majestic organ soared to announce Egan‘s presence at the end of a 45-minute procession into the cathedral. All eyes were on the new archbishop as he slowly walked up the main aisle, claimed the ornate bishop’s chair upon the altar and celebrated the Mass that is at the heart of Roman Catholic faith.
Egan, a native of Oak Park, Ill., who was ordained in 1958, succeeds Cardinal John J. O’Connor, who died May 3. O’Connor’s name was invoked several times during the joyous ceremony.
During his homily, Egan focused on the need for the 10-county Archdiocese of New York and its 2.4 million Catholics to come together in prayer and good works. He called on the faithful to fight discrimination, poverty and abortion.
” May we stand idly by while the being within the mother is killed, even though no one has ever been able to prove it has anything but an inalienable right to live? ” he asked, drawing sustained applause from the mostly invited guests in the pews.
Egan is concluding 12 years as bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport and is beginning his new job at the age of 68, when most men are readying for retirement, if not reveling in it.
He faces numerous pressing challenges, including how to minister to the growing number of Catholics from non-English speaking countries, and solutions for Catholic hospitals bleeding money. Other issues include inner-city churches that may need to be closed and how to reverse the declining number of priests.
But yesterday was about the archbishop’s arrival, not the work before him.
Egan actually became archbishop on Sunday, when he took canonical possession of the archdiocese through a simple legal ceremony required by canon law. Yesterday’s Mass was a liturgical celebration of his assumption of power.
” One of the earliest characteristics that makes a Christian community is the presence of the bishop, ” Christopher Bellitto, professor of church history at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, said before Mass. ” From the earliest days of the church, when there is not a bishop, there has been disorder, a lack of communion and confusion. When a bishop is named, you have social and religious peace. That is what today is about. ”
Among the many dignitaries to fill the front rows were: Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and her rival for U.S. Senate, Rep. Rick Lazio, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and other state and city officials.
Egan spent much of his early career in Rome and is considered theologically conservative. He has quickly developed a reputation in New York as being brainy, formal and reserved.
But he showed a bit of a personal touch just before yesterday’s closing procession when he introduced his 96-year-old first-grade teacher, Sister Mary Donatilla Ryan, a Dominican nun from River Forest, Ill.
” She always begins her letters, ‘Dear Father Eddie,’ ” Egan said, smiling broadly. ” They always contain suggestions and directives. ”
Ryan, a small, white-haired lady sitting about 20 pews back, stood up for an unexpected round of applause.
An elaborate procession featuring more than 800 priests, bishops, archbishops and eight cardinals led Egan into the cathedral. The cardinals included Cardinal William Baum of the Vatican and Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who gave the homily at O’Connor’s funeral Mass.
Among the bishops were several churchmen who were once considered front-runners to succeed O’Connor, including Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Newark, Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of the archdiocese of military services, and Bishop Henry Mansell of Buffalo.
Dozens of bishops represented every corner of the country, from Hartford to Tulsa, Green Bay to Great Falls.
When the procession concluded and Egan reached the altar, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, read a letter from John Paul II that nominated Egan for his new post.
”We exhort you, venerable brother, mindful of the greater authority which you have received, to renew your commitment to teach and guide the flock entrusted to your care, ” Montalvo read.
Montalvo then led Egan to the bishop’s chair, where Egan greeted dozens of church officials, lay leaders and representatives of other Christian churches and other religions. At first, guests climbed the three stairs to the cathedral, where Egan placed his hands on their shoulders to greet them. But then Egan left his new seat and descended to meet his guests.
Once the installation ceremony was complete, Egan, without delay, made the sign of the cross and began the celebration of the Mass. A nephew and namesake, Edward Michael Egan, brought up the bread and wine for communion.
Additionally, a niece, Mary Egan Hayes, gave the first reading, from Jeremiah 1: 4-9. The second reading, from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, was given in Spanish, signaling Egan‘s intention of reaching out to Hispanics, who represent about 40 percent of Catholics in the archdiocese.
In fact, prayers of intercession were said in nine languages, including Chinese, Creole and Slovak.
In his homily, Egan talked about his visits to the Basilica of Sts. John and Paul in Rome and referred to St. Patrick’s as a basilica. He also focused on the importance of Catholic education and noted a national poll that found many Catholics uncertain about the meaning of the bread and wine of communion.
” I do not know how valid that poll might have been, ” he said. ” But I do know we must be a prayerful people in the Archdiocese of New York – a Eucharistic prayerful people – if our basilica is to stand. And our basilica will thrive on prayer if the prayer is lived up to in works of charity.
”My prayer today, ” Egan said, ” is that a New Yorker can remove all doubt that faith is the foundation of our basilica. ”
After several priests distributed communion wafers, soprano Renee Fleming of the Metropolitan Opera, whom Egan referred to as ” a dear friend, ” sang a stirring rendition of ” Alleluia ” from Mozart’s ” Exultate Jubilate. ” Many worshipers looked spellbound by her performance.
As the service came to a close, Egan stepped down from the altar to follow the procession back to the cathedral‘s great doors. He walked slowly up the center aisle, stopping to shake hands, call out to friends and acknowledge applause. He seemed to want to give as many people as possible an opportunity to see their spiritual leader up close.
Then he walked out the great doors, clutching his crucifix in his right hand and the bishop’s staff in his left, and smiled at the thousands of parishioners, shoppers, tourists and others who strained for a glimpse of the new archbishop of New York.