ST. FRANCIS – Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan knew why he wasn’t going to be the next archbishop of New York.

“I had been as realistic as possible in firmly believing that there was not a chance of this at all. I meant it when I said, ‘No, I’m too young, I don’t know Spanish, Milwaukee is way too important, and besides that, selfishly, I want to stay. I have as much chance of going to New York as the Brewers do of going to the World Series.’”


Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan carries a monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament around Cathedral Park in Milwaukee in October 2005. The procession began and ended at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and was held to mark the closing of the Year of the Eucharist. (Catholic Herald photo by Sam Lucero)

The archbishop received a call from Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, in which he stated, “Our Holy Father has appointed you archbishop of New York.” Ten days later, the Holy See made the appointment public.

Archbishop Dolan recalled a “sense of peace and serenity” upon hearing the news.

“I have never asked to go anywhere, I have never asked to leave anywhere,” the archbishop told your Catholic Herald Feb. 24. “This is my approach to things: ‘Here I am Lord, I come to do your will. You must know me better than I know myself.’”

Initially, the only ones to whom Archbishop Dolan could speak about it were his confessor, Cardinal Justin Rigali and God.

According to the archbishop, his conversations with the Supreme Being were along the lines, “‘Lord, you know me better than I know myself. I don’t have to share with you how I feel because you know. But I keep making acts of faith. Lord, you never call a person to do something without giving him or her the grace to do it.’”

End of speculation

The announcement ended rumors that had begun April 2, 2007 when Cardinal Edward Egan, then-archbishop of New York, turned 75. Besides finding himself in a no-win situation no matter how he responded to the speculation, Archbishop Dolan said the talk created a greater problem.

“When it goes on for too long, it gives your all important apostolic work a tentativeness that you don’t want,” he said. “Those not apt to cooperate with you will say, ‘We’ll wait him out.’ Those who are enthusiastically with you might be tempted to say, ‘What’s the use? He’s going anyway.’ So it can weigh on you.”

When interviewed by your Catholic Herald on the fifth anniversary of his installation as archbishop of Milwaukee, Archbishop Dolan spoke about the frustration of “what the church should be doing and we’re not.” It’s a concern he carries with him.

“Bishops have got to be realistic. We’ve got big problems and I’m not talking about money problems. I’m talking about people not going to Mass anymore, our young people not getting married,” he said. “Those who describe themselves as former Catholics are the second largest religious group in the U.S.”

Explaining the depth of his frustration, Archbishop Dolan continued, “I’m supposed to be promoting the greatest message of all which is salvation. It’s like when you know you’ve got the best product around and people just aren’t responding. And we do have the best product around. We have salvation, we have grace, we have Jesus Christ, the greatest person of all, our Savior, and it bothers me why can’t we promote that more.”


Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan dons a cap and apron as he helps volunteers serve dinner at the St. Vincent de Paul meal program in Milwaukee in 2004. In addition to dishing out corn in the meal line, Dolan led a prayer for volunteers before the meal began and visited with the men, women and children who turned out for the free meal. (Catholic Herald photo by Sam Lucero)

Advice for successor

As a bishop who has been transferred to another diocese, Archbishop Dolan will have input into who is appointed his successor (See Page 4). And, if his successor is open to it, the archbishop has some advice to share with him.

“Don’t believe ‘the book’ on Milwaukee,” he said, referring to reports bishops receive about the dioceses to which they are appointed. “Had I allowed myself to believe the caricature of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee I would have been in a straight jacket before I got here (in 2002). I simply said, ‘I hope they give me a chance and I need to give them a chance.’”

That caricature, he said, depicted the clergy of the archdiocese as “defiant, independent and left wing.”

Archbishop Dolan said that what he found were “some of the most loyal, hard working, generous priests around – priests who love the church. Are they unafraid to ask some tough questions? You bet they are. Are they unreluctant to let you know if they think you made a wrong decision? Yes, and I’m glad that they are.”

He added, “Common sense realism radiates from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“I would say to my successor: ‘Trust your priests and people because they are resilient. They’ve got good Midwestern common sense. Listen to them; get to know them because they’re going to lead you well.’”

Archbishop Dolan said his successor would do well to “be with the people.”

“People are gracious in telling me what they remember. ‘We remember when you sat next to us at the fish fry’ or ‘You visited my mom in the hospital.’ Every parish priest knows the importance of being with his people. It’s the same for bishops,” he said.

Reiterating his first pastoral priority, the archbishop said it is “critical” to seek ye first the kingdom of God.

“First and foremost they want you to be a pastor, be a spiritual leader, to talk about Jesus,” he said.

While comparisons are made from one bishop to his successor, Archbishop Dolan said the comparison should be made by applying the theory of substance and accidence.

“In substance, every bishop is the same: We believe in the Triune God, the second person of which became incarnate, our Savior; we believe in the teachings of the church, the catechism, sacred Scripture, the documents of Vatican II and magisterium. We take an oath of loyalty to our Holy Father,” he said.

Regarding accidence, i.e., those things that do not affect the substance, the archbishop’s advice is simple.

“Go with your gut. Trust what you’ve got and use it,” he said.

As his transition from Milwaukee to New York continues, the archbishop admitted to an early “sense of nervousness, awe, and a bit of trepidation” but that has subsided.

“It has been anything but paralyzing,” he said. “Monday (the day of the announcement) was exhilarating.”

Come October, World Series tickets could be on sale at Miller Park.