The new guy…in Yonkers

Observations from evening prayers at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers:

1. Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Cardinal Egan, upon pulling up in front of the seminary, were greeted by Bishop Gerald Walsh — the rector (center) — and Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone.

Also on hand was the Rev. Luke Sweeney (left), an Irvington native and vocations director for the Archdiocese of New York. Sweeney was a seminarian at the North American College in Rome when Dolan was rector there.

3. When Dolan entered the main lobby and received a long ovation from seminarians, faculty and guests, he looked like he had just walked into a surprise party — grinning ear to ear. I mean, this was after a full day of meetings and congratulatory phone calls.

4. Speaking of which, Dolan said that he got a phone call from President Obama just before leaving NYC for Yonkers. “I said ‘Thank you, Mr. President. I need those prayers.’ He said, ‘I need your prayers, too.’ ” He also got calls from Mike Bloomberg, Gov. Paterson and others.

5. This was Dolan’s first visit to Dunwoodie. During the vespers service, he talked about the seminary’s worldwide reputation.

6. Dolan said he’s never spent more than a couple of days in New York.

7. During vespers, Egan expanded on his role in Dolan’s rise. Egan explained that when he was chairman of the North American College, he sought out the best possible rector. He heard about Dolan and went to St. Louis to recruit him.

8. In the lobby, Egan and Dolan talked about the pressing need for more seminarians. Egan suggested that each current seminarian recruit four more. Dolan responded: “If you get more than four, I’ll ordain you early.” More applause…

9. Dolan said he will be spending most of the next month in Milwaukee, where he is still in charge. Ash Wednesday is, after all, Wednesday, and there is much for an archbishop to do.

10. The choir loft at the seminary was filled with more than two dozen reporters and cameramen. Several reporters were doing live reports for their 5 p.m. broadcasts while the service was going on. Not too much interruption, though.

11. Addressing the seminarians, Dolan said that after a long, packed day of excitement, the one thing that stood out from the rest was…Mass. “That is the most important thing that I ever do,” he said.

12. Tomorrow, Dolan may take part in a Milwaukee tradition for “Fat Tuesday:” eating jelly rolls made of fat and grease. He hopes his doctor won’t object.

13. Although it’s been announced that he will be installed on April 15, Dolan will actually take “canonical possession” of the archdiocese at a special service at St. Patrick’s on April 14. On the 15th, he will be installed and celebrate Mass.

14. One more: Dolan was off to the cafeteria for dinner with the seminarians. Penne vodka and chicken marsala.

And there you go.

Monsignor William Smith had a way with words

Anytime I called Monsignor William Smith, which I did many times over the years, I knew that he wouldn’t say much. But I knew he would get right to the point and that all his words would count.

Talking to me about the late Mother Teresa in 2003, he said: “She was very nice, very proper, very much like the pope, with that Slavic dedication toward pursuing a goal, but she could be blunt, and I wouldn’t say she was a sentimental lady.”

I loved that: “I wouldn’t say she was a sentimental lady.”

When I talked to him in 2005 about the pope’s concerns about religious relativism, Smith said that there are core Christian beliefs — “the golden oldies” he called them — that cannot be ignored. “This does not sit well with people who have a secular notion of academic freedom,” he said.

When we talked at St. Joseph’s Seminary in 2001 about cloning, stem cell research and other areas of scientific “progress,” Smith said: “People tend to see progress as inevitable. No one has accused America of being very philosophical. We are a pragmatic, basically utilitarian people. If it works, it works. But Pope Paul VI said that all progress is ambivalent. Something can be invented for good, but then be used in other ways.”

I’ve lost one of my favorite sources on “moral” matters. Smith died Saturday at the age of 69 from pneumonia. I last saw him at Cardinal Dulles’ funeral a few weeks ago and could see that he was not well (I thought the same thing that day about Father Richard John Neuhaus, and he died on Jan. 8).

Smith was the professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary since 1971. I understand that he was the longest serving faculty member in the history of the seminary. He taught a good number of the priests serving in New York today.

He grew up in Yonkers and, after a few stop-overs elsewhere, stayed in Yonkers.

He was smart, honest, funny (in a really, really dry way) and very modest. He always looked to me to be completely at home shuffling through the vast (and, today, mostly empty) halls of the seminary. He was not a guy who was looking for attention — even though he was interviewed many times about abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research and all those issues that cause great angst in the public square.

He probably came across as dour to people who didn’t know him. He was unapologetic about being an orthodox Catholic and often said that many people who describe themselves as Catholic are not really getting the job done. But he was really a warm fellow who liked to talk to people about whatever was on their minds.

Smith was a heavy smoker, probably one reason that he had a deep, deep voice.

I once asked him whether smoking, which could cut down his life span, was an affront to the natural processes of life that the Catholic Church — and he — holds dear. I thought it was a question worth asking, but I was a little nervous to ask him. He looked down and took a deep breath. I could tell he had wrestled with this question before. Then he answered. “Maybe,” he said.

Smith advised archbishops and Vatican officials on moral questions. But he never, to my knowledge, wrote a book for either an academic or popular audience. He seemed quite content with whatever audience he had.

When I called him about cloning in 1997, he delivered this beauty: “It’s ironic that people have spent years trying to have sex without having babies. Now, they want to have babies without sex.”

He said that sort of thing without a chuckle.

Your chance to visit Dunwoodie

Never been to St. Joseph’s Seminary in the Dunwoodie neighborhood of Yonkers but curious about it?

The famous Catholic training ground for (fewer and fewer) priests will hold an open house this Sunday for “the people and parishes” of the archdiocese.

tjndc5-5ipf5e12zxwvbglg6di_layout.jpgIt will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. on All Souls Day.

The afternoon will feature: tours of the main floor led by seminarians; presentations on life at the seminary; tours of the seminary’s 42 acres; and a peak at the papal chair (pictured) used by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI during their stops in Dunwoodie.

Adortion of the Blessed Sacrament will be available all afternoon in the chapel.

And Bishop Gerald Walsh, rector of the seminary, will lead Solemn Evening Prayer at 4 p.m. in the chapel.

Also on hand will be Father Luke Sweeney, director of vocations for the archdiocese, and Father Luis Saldana, assistant director for Hispanic vocations and rector of the St. John Neumann minor seminary.

tjndc5-5ipf5gtkipgw3zxf6di_layout.jpg“This open house is for everyone — young and old, married and single, and for priests who would like to bring people by,” Sweeney tells Catholic New York.

If you’ve never been there, the seminary is a magnificent building. The chapel was just refurbished for Benedict’s visit.

In the main hallway, you can see graduation pictures of each class of priests going back decades. The pictures alone give you a real sense of Catholic history in New York.