Remembering Cardinal O’Connor — 10 years after his death

It’s hard to believe, but May 3 will be the 10th anniversary of the death of Cardinal John O’Connor.

O’Connor had been an outspoken and sometimes controversial figure, but his death was mourned by all of New York.

tjndc5-5b23gjbn63d6uqtmk3i_layoutOver four days, 150,000 people filed past his body in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pay their respects.

Over 3,000 mourners filled the cathedral for the Funeral Mass, with thousands more outside listening to a broadcast of the service.

President Clinton and Hillary were there. Al Gore and Tipper, too. George H.W. Bush sat with O’Connor’s family.

I remember the roar that rose through St. Patrick’s when the homilist declared “What a great legacy he left us in his consistent reminder that the church must always be unambiguously pro-life.” (The homilist was Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who had little idea that his world would come down two years later…)

Certainly, a big part of O’Connor’s legacy was his strong opposition to abortion. He started the Sisters of Life religious order to promote the church’s pro-life teachings.

tjndc5-5b1xm9on8c1176tizgqo_layoutLater this month, on Saturday, March 27, the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York will hold an all-day conference “honoring the legacy of Cardinal O’Connor” at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

Archbishop Dolan will get things started with his talk: “Cardinal O’Connor: Priest and Churchman for Our Times.”

Also scheduled to speak: Helen Alvare, a professor at the George Mason University School of Law; Father Charles Connor, historian for the Diocese of Scranton; and Mother Agnes Mary, superior general of the Sisters of Life.

The admission fee is $25, including lunch.

For info: www.flrl.org or 212-371-1011, ext. 3195.

Looking back at Egan’s installation

Way back in June of 2000, I attended the two-day installation of Archbishop Edward Egan at St. Patrick’s.

It’s a cliche, but true: It seems like just yesterday.

The way things were set up then, Egan took “canonical possession” of the archdiocese on the first day and celebrated Mass the second day.

This time around, Archbishop Dolan will take part in a Solemn Vespers service today. But he will take charge tomorrow at the Mass of Installation.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote for the June 19th Journal News about Day One of Egan’s installation (the article I write tonight will likely be quite similar):

NEW YORK – A bishop’s miter placed on his head, a shepherd’s staff now in his hand, Archbishop Edward M. Egan yesterday walked slowly across the altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and stopped in front of the great chair from which Cardinal John J. O’Connor presided.

He hesitated briefly before finally sitting back in the cathedra. A burst of applause rose from the pews. A new era for the Roman Catholic church in New York had begun.

Egan, 68, officially took charge of the Archdiocese of New York, becoming its ninth archbishop and 12th overall leader. Before 2,400 mostly invited guests, he became the spiritual leader of the archdiocese’s 2.4 million Catholics and the unofficial leader of Catholicism in America.

In a mostly low-key legal ceremony, Egan took ” canonical possession ” of the archdiocese, succeeding the beloved O’Connor, who died May 3. A far more elaborate installation ceremony will take place at the cathedral today, featuring a 45-minute procession with at least eight cardinals and the appearance of numerous politicians and dignitaries.

Egan, the outgoing bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, was humble and deeply appreciative of his new assignment. During a sharply focused homily, his first as archbishop, he talked about his affection for the archdiocese, where he served as an auxiliary bishop from 1985 to 1988.

” Throughout the 3 1/2 years, I was continuously captivated by the wonder and goodness of this great archdiocese, ” he said in a slow, measured cadence. ” There was hardly a day when I was not genuinely inspired. ”

The ceremony began at 3:45 p.m. with a procession of 11 tall banners. The first proclaimed ” Unus Dominus, Una Fides, Unum Baptisma (One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism). ” Then students carried banners for each of the archdiocese’s 10 counties, inspiring applause from worshipers in the pews.

” This is really a privilege, ” Margaret Anthony, 18, of Brewster, one of three students who carried Putnam County’s banner, said just before the ceremony. ” I didn’t understand how important this was until now. ”

” It’s a honor to represent your county at something like this, ” said Kristen Ragazzo, 17, of Brewster.

” It’s history, really, ” Anthony added.

Soon after the procession ended, Egan appeared at the cathedral‘s great doors in flowing white vestments and spectators strained their necks for a glimpse. In accordance with church tradition, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the papal nuncio in the United States, formally presented Egan to Bishop Robert Brucato, the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

” On behalf of the people of the Archdiocese of New York, I welcome you to this cathedral and this archdiocese, ” Brucato said.

Bishop Patrick Sheridan, vicar general of the archdiocese, then presented Egan with a crucifix. And Monsignor Anthony Dalla Villa, rector of St. Patrick’s, presented him with a sprinkler of holy water.

Egan blessed himself and those in the rear of the cathedral and then, as the cathedral organ swelled, began to walk slowly up the main aisle. Applause rippled forward from the back of the cathedral like a wave. Egan, smiling broadly, bowed to one side and then the other, and stopped several times so that everyone could see him.

When Egan reached the altar, he stood and faced the pews, his hands clasped in front of him. He did not move, except to wipe perspiration from his brow, as Montalvo praised his commitment to the church and read a letter of appointment from Pope John Paul II.

” Archbishop Egan is called by God to continue the work of the great archbishops who have come before, ” Montalvo said.

Monsignor Edward O’Connell, the chancellor and notary of the archdiocese, then showed the appointment papers to the veteran priests who make up the archdiocese’s Board of Consultors and stamped the documents with the seal of the archdiocese.

Montalvo presented Egan with his miter and crosier, the bishop’s staff, and the transition was over.

Despite several enthusiastic ovations, ticket holders for yesterday’s ceremony were generally respectful and quiet, perhaps trying to figure out what to make of Egan, who is largely unknown in New York, outside of the archdiocese’s headquarters.

Then again, O’Connor, coming from Scranton, Pa., was a mysterious figure when he was appointed to replace Cardinal Terence Cooke.

” Archbishop Egan has spent much of his time in Rome, so he has quite a background, ” said Sister Joan Clark, director of pastoral care and counseling for St. Dominick’s Home in Blauvelt. ” In Bridgeport, he really made his place in financial circles, so he may be able to get people to contribute more money here. But, hopefully, he will also bring the pastoral service that the church needs. The people want a listener and a responder. ”

Egan, a native of Oak Park, Ill., used most of his homily to tell a story that connected his former diocese in Connecticut with his new one.

During his years as an auxiliary bishop in New York, he said, he visited a parish in the Highbridge section of the Bronx to ordain deacons in the presence of Mother Teresa. But just before the Mass was over, a bloodied and beaten man ran into the church seeking refuge.

He described how Mother Teresa and several other nuns attended to the man.

” Never in my life had I seen anything like the way he was treated, ” Egan said. ” It was everything that Jesus Christ would want. ”

Another man at the parish that day was similarly affected and, offering to drive Egan home, promised to help the church some day. That man, Jon Bokron, would later enter St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers and become a priest in the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Bokron was ordained in 1991 and died from leukemia in 1993.

Egan concluded his homily by telling Hispanic worshippers, in Spanish, how much he appreciates Latino language, culture and music. Hispanics make up about 40 percent of Catholics in the archdiocese.

Afterward, Egan joined clergy and representatives of Catholic organizations and orders for a private reception at the archdiocese’s headquarters.

St. Patrick’s was not full on a rainy Father’s Day, so several hundred people without tickets were invited inside to fill the pews and stand along the sides of the cathedral. Tourists with thick shopping bags, teen-agers in frayed shorts and a young mother with an infant on her back were among those surprised to witness Egan‘s historic installation.

”Now he’s getting a taste of the real New York, ” one guest said.