Between 1965 and 1967, when Thomas Hammer drove from 84th Street and Oklahoma Avenue to De Sales Preparatory Seminary, he picked up three classmates. Two of them would be ordained priests in 1975 and one in 1976, but the one who rode the 76th Street bus to Oklahoma Avenue and got a ride in Hammer’s 1963 Volkswagen would eventually be ordained a bishop, and as of this past Saturday, become a member of the College of Cardinals.

YearbookCardinal James Harvey’s yearbook photo“Little did I realize that my co-pilot would be a cardinal,” said Hammer, an associate professor at the Marquette University School of Law. Laughing, he added, “If I had known, I would have driven more safely.”

In September 1963, Hammer and the  future Cardinal Harvey were among the approximately 186 boys who comprised the first freshmen class at the newly-named, newly-opened archdiocesan seminary. Describing the cardinal as his “close friend in high school,” Hammer noted the two were on student council, worked on the school newspaper and were librarians. They also became involved in what was known as the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, i.e., CCD.

“He and I actually took special night classes to learn how to be teachers, and we did that while in high school,” the Gesu parishioner said.

Hammer is not surprised by his friend’s rise in church ranks.

“He is such a natural leader and was so talented – such an effusive personality – you just knew that he was going to have a successful career,” he said. “Once the archdiocese sent him to Rome to study, and the Vatican kept him in Rome, it was clear to me he was going to have a wonderful career in leadership over there.”

‘Very genuine person’

Fr. Chuck Keefe was part of that carpool; in the 1970-71 academic year, he and the future cardinal were roommates – “a great guy to live with,” Fr. Keefe said – during their senior year at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary College.

“He was brilliant, one of those guys who was so well put together, for the most part,” said Fr. Keefe, director of pastoral care at Milwaukee Catholic Home. “He’d have his term papers finished within a month of their assignment and then would be bugging other classmates, ‘Got your term papers done yet, got your term papers done yet?’” (See related story, Page 11)

How dedicated was seminarian Harvey to his studies?

“If we were off having coffee, he’d be at his desk,” Fr. Keefe said. Eventually, classmates would lure him away from his studies, but not without effort.

“To get him to do it, we’d have to take his chair, which was on wheels, and lock the door, and say, ‘All right, Jim, you’ve studied enough; it’s time to have some fun,’” Fr. Keefe recalled, noting that once they got their class’s eventual valedictorian out of his room, he enjoyed it.

The priest, who exchanges Christmas cards with the cardinal and looks him up when he’s in Rome, describes him as a “very warm, very genuine person,” void of pretensions. 

Friend, neighbor, classmate

Mike Doyle’s perspective on Cardinal Harvey goes back further than most. Both grew up in the neighborhood surrounding the now closed St. John de Nepomuc Parish at 38th Street and Keefe Avenue on Milwaukee’s north side. They attended the parish elementary school, De Sales Preparatory Seminary for four years of high school and their first two years of college, and Saint Francis Seminary for their last two years of college. 

Recalling their childhood, Doyle, vice president for mission and ethics, mission integration, for Mercy Health Plans in St. Louis, said, “We actually would play priest – interesting when you think of where Jim is now. We’d set up altars in our homes. We would take the role of priest at Mass. You could see that the priests in that parish were role models for us.”

Something else that Doyle and his high school classmates could see was the future cardinal’s “keen intellect.”

“We saw him grow as a scholar. He really enjoyed the whole learning experience. You could sense with him he had this real skill of being a great student and intellectual capacity to want to learn more. We recognized that in him,” he said.

Doyle, an only child, noted that his family and the Harvey family were close, and that he “grew up with Jim’s brothers and sisters.”

“We would always get together with the Harveys before Midnight Mass,” he recalled. “The ritual was that we would always join them on Christmas Eve. It was nice, as we stayed in connection with them. Even when they moved on (to St. Sebastian Parish), we still had that connection.”

Doyle misses that connection.

“I wish we were connected more. The last time I was with him was at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops (1985). I was doing a project in video production in Rome,” he said, adding that the cardinal “offered great hospitality.”

With “Jim from the neighborhood” becoming a cardinal, Doyle praises what he saw when the two were growing up.

“He has great dedication of service to the church,” he said.

‘Doing what is best for the church’

Ask those who went to school with him about Cardinal Harvey and each will respond, “You should talk to Curt.” “Curt” is Fr. Curt Frederick. They are two of the 17 from that first De Sales Prep freshmen class to be ordained priests for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Fr. Frederick, pastor of St. Joseph Parish and St. John Neumann Parish, Waukesha, who worked on the high school newspaper and yearbook with his friend, recalled what a good student the cardinal was.

“He was always studious,” he said. “He always took that very, very seriously. Whatever he’s done, he’s applied himself with all that he has.”

Fr. Frederick termed Cardinal Harvey “a very, very loyal son of the church. He believes wherever he is, that’s where God wants him.”

He said after Pope Benedict XVI announced then-Archbishop Harvey’s elevation to the College of Cardinals on Oct. 24, the priest, who said he didn’t think his friend expected the appointment, told the cardinal, “I don’t know what this means in your life.”

“Jim replied, ‘I don’t know either yet. It was very good of the pope, and kind of the pope, to consider me.’”

Fr. Frederick said the cardinal’s commitment is exemplified in something that happened early in his diplomatic service.

“He went to the Dominican Republic as chargé d’affaires to the papal nuncio. Something happened to the nuncio. Jim stepped up to make sure things continued to get done. He did what he needed to do; he just applies himself. He doesn’t look for the favor or the edge. That’s who he is,” the priest said.

Wherever and however Cardinal Harvey has been asked to serve, the priest said the cardinal has no personal agenda.

“The best thing Jim has always tried to do is what is best for the church in the position he served. He wouldn’t be any different,” Fr. Frederick said. “As a cardinal, he will do what is best for the faith and betterment of church.”

While service to the church is the friends’ vocation, and the cardinal remains interested in what is happening in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, the two don’t “talk shop.”

“Our friendship is not about church business. We respect each other and enjoy each other’s company,” Fr. Frederick said. “When we get together, I’m not the parish priest and he’s not the cardinal.” They meet during the latter’s annual summer visit to the Milwaukee area, and keep in touch throughout the year.

“I consider myself fortunate to have him as a friend,” the priest added.

‘Not at all pretentious’

Fr. Jim Kimla learned how intent his high school and college classmate is about not calling attention to himself when the priest was in Rome at a Mass celebrated by the pope.

“As they were leaving – Jim is always behind the pope in procession – as they walked by, I called out, ‘Archbishop Harvey! Archbishop Harvey!’ I knew he heard me, but he put his head down so that he would not draw attention to himself. He just looked down to the floor. He never calls attention to himself,” the pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Wauwatosa, said.

Fr. Kimla noted that when the two get together, the cardinal does not mention the pope.

“He is very discreet. If you start asking about pope, he hedges,” the priest said. “He will not talk about the daily schedule of the pope.”

Fr. Kimla recalled that then-Archbishop Harvey was in Milwaukee in July 2009 when Pope Benedict slipped and broke his wrist while on vacation.

“He tried to call to see if there was anything he could do, but he couldn’t get through. That’s all he said – ‘I couldn’t get through,’” the priest recalled, adding, “He realizes that his business is the pope’s business. He never talks about the pope.”

While the cardinal is focused on his work for the Holy Father, Fr. Kimla noted his friend is “not at all pretentious.”

“He has a dry sense of humor and uses it quite often when you’re just in an informal situation,” the priest said. “He’s very humorous.”

‘Salt of the earth’

While the man he refers to as “‘Jimmy,’ a north sider like me” is now Cardinal Harvey, Fr. Dennis Lewis considers him the same person he knew in high school and college.

“Even more so,” said Fr. Lewis, administrator of St. Michael Parish and St. Rose Parish, Milwaukee. “Given what he’s done and where he is, who he’s next to, he’s still a salt of the earth kind of person.”

He added, “He’s a person who still puts his shoes on one at a time. No airs about him at all.”

Fr. Lewis recalled that while in high school, the future cardinal was “notorious” for his knowledge about priests of the archdiocese.

“He took a great interest in the clergy. How many guys know where people are assigned? Their assignments and histories. Jimmy knew this stuff in high school,” the priest said.

Fr. Lewis is proud of what his classmate has accomplished.

“He is a good spokesman for the American church,” he said.

‘He’s done Milwaukee proud’

The only member of Cardinal Harvey’s ordination class who can relate to him as an episcopal peer is Bishop Joseph Perry, a Milwaukee priest and an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago since 1998.

When the bishop visits the cardinal in Rome, “We talk about church things and church matters.”

Bishop Perry said he and others who visit the Milwaukeean at the Holy See find him the “consummate host.”

“He’s a very warm individual; he almost appears to be laid back in a sense. One of the most friendly people you’d ever want to meet,” the bishop said. “I’m always amazed at his connections, his memory of names, events and dates. He’s very sharp, as though he’s living right next door to you. He’s taken that upon himself, that kind of role.”

Asked about the cardinal’s steel-like public persona, Bishop Perry said, “He’s a diplomat. That asks for not only an interior, but an exterior.” He added that since the cardinal is always in the background, “people hardly know the details that are placed on his desk day to day.”

The bishop said Cardinal Harvey “has not hidden himself in the Vatican archives” and that he has kept his American and Milwaukee connections.

“He’s done Milwaukee proud; his service in Rome has been absolutely stellar,” said the bishop, noting that the cardinal is the only American to ever hold the position of prefect of the papal household. “He has served extremely well.

“You can imagine the extreme pressures associated with that job, arranging appointments with Holy Father with heads of state and bishops around the world. It’s a high profile position.”

Bishop Perry added, “The Vatican has trusted him and he has never disappointed them. I’d like to think that’s why he landed that position.”