Despite the heavy rainfall and low temperatures, about 1,200 people gathered at the Basilica of Holy Hill in Hubertus on Saturday, April 28, to celebrate Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan’s Mass of Thanksgiving.Dolan52Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan distributes Communion during Mass at Holy Hill last Saturday. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

A steady hum of excited chatter filled the church, and grew louder as the cardinal made a special stop before Mass to the side chapel where people with disabilities viewed the celebration on monitors, and again as he greeted people down the center aisle of the upper church. Cameras clicked nonstop as he flashed his smile, shared his greetings, hugs and firm handshakes.

The cardinal, who made his first public appearance in his former archdiocese since his elevation to the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 18, shared a message of gratitude – and his red biretta – with the “shepherds” as he called people in the pews.

“It means a lot to my brother priests and bishops, it means a lot to me when you so thoughtfully tell us, or tell me that I’ve been a good shepherd to you. Thanks for saying that. I hope so – I tried. …” he said, noting that he learned during his seven years as archbishop of Milwaukee how to be a pastor. “You all have been very good shepherds to me as well.”

Cardinal Dolan said a lot has changed since his appointment as archbishop of New York Feb. 23, 2009, including his name – to “Timothy Cardinal Tebow,” he joked, adding he’d do the signature pose of New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow, but wouldn’t be able to get back up.

Eliciting laughter from the crowd, Cardinal Dolan said that while his name, hair and waistline may have changed, one thing remained the same.

“One thing has not changed at all, and that’s my love for you and this wondeful Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and my deep gratitude, my gratitude for your loyalty and your friendship,” he said. “You stood with me those seven happy years and you’ve not forgotten me these past three, and I return as a grateful friend. It’s no wonder, I hope you’re not surprised that I wanted to come back to pray with you at Mass on this beloved holy hill.”

Cardinal Dolan said the announcement of his elevation to cardinal Jan. 6, and the red hat he received at the consistory, were “not about one Timothy Dolan at all; it was about Jesus Christ and his church and a summons to serve him and her better.”

Biretta on Miller Park?Dolan20Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan asks visitors who are eager to greet him to allow him a few moments to pray to the Virgin Mary prior to a Mass of Thanksgiving at Holy Hill on Saturday, April 28. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

The biretta, a tribute to the New York Archdiocese that the cardinal would put atop the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, is also for Milwaukee, he said.

“This is as well a tribute to you of this Archdiocese of Milwaukee, for the man who knelt before the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Basilica on Feb. 23 to be made a cardinal was, yes, a St. Louisan, sure, now a New Yorker, but also a very proud and grateful Milwaukeean,” he said. And, if he could, he’d put his red hat on Milwaukee’s landmarks, too – the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower and home plate at Miller Park, “as long as the roof doesn’t leak anymore, all right?”

“If I could, I’d put this red hat on you, Archbishop Jerome Listecki, who is shepherding this archdiocese brilliantly with zeal and love and realism and hope,” Cardinal Dolan said, before adding, “Archbishop Listecki, if I could, I’d put this red hat on you, but being a Chicagoan, you’d probably keep it, right?”

He acknowledged and thanked everyone for their company, including Wisconsin bishops Donald J. Hying of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, William P. Callahan of the La Cross Diocese and David L. Ricken of the Green Bay Diocese; Carmelite fathers and brothers; priests; religious sisters; deacons; seminarians; Knights of Columbus; Knights of Malta; Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre; archdiocesan staff; family; and civic leaders, including Gov. Scott Walker, Congressmen Paul Ryan and Jim Sensenbrenner, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clark and former Gov. Tommy Thompson and his former secretary of administration, James Klauser.

“Even the rain could not dampen our joy. …” Cardinal Dolan said, pointing to the about 900 listening from the pews, shrine chapel and seats lining the walls of the upper church, and the about 300 viewing Mass on a large video LED screen from within the lower church, St. Therese Chapel.

“Just to see you again brings a smile to my face and such happy memories and hear me, please, say that I love you all very much and I’m so grateful for your good company this afternoon,” he said.

Some waited for 10 hours or more

Some of the people in attendance waited 10 or more hours for their seats in church, arriving close to the time the basilica grounds opened at 5 a.m. Upon arrival, they were directed to seating in a heated tent, where they waited for red wristband distribution to begin at 1 p.m. for anyone with a disability and 1:30 p.m. for the general public. A wristband was the required “golden ticket,” as one attendee called it, granting entry into the church. While people could attend the regularly scheduled 6 and 11 a.m. Masses, the churches were cleared and closed at 12:15 p.m. in preparation for Cardinal Dolan’s Mass of Thanksgiving.

By 12:30 p.m., nearly all of the 510 chairs in the tent were occupied with many people donning hats and raincoats, their drenched umbrellas sitting next to their backpacks and bags. A shuttle transported people from their cars in the lower parking lots to the tent, where many talked, read books and used cell phones and iPads to pass the time outside and inside the church after being seated hours before Mass began.

Weather likely affected crowd size

Randy Nohl, coordinator of lay formation in the archdiocesan John Paul II Center, said that while the archdiocese prepared to seat about 2,000 people, the overflow seating outside the lower church and in the tent, with another large video LED screen, were not used.

“I think the weather kept the crowd a little smaller,” he wrote in an email to your Catholic Herald. “It was nice that the basilica was so full and the lower level was a great location for the overflow crowd.” He estimated about 300 people viewed Mass in the lower church that had room for 400 to 500 people.

“Even though we did not use the tent for the Mass, it worked out great for people waiting to get into the basilica,” Nohl wrote. “No one had to wait outside, which was fantastic given the weather.”

Media advisories sent prior to the event said the archdiocese anticipated large crowds and expected to reach the “maximum capacity attendance.”

Julie Wolf, communications director for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, said the archdiocese didn’t know what to expect in terms of the number of people who would attend the event, but she also said the weather was probably to blame for the empty seats.

Wolf said the archdiocese was happy that Fox 6 offered live Mass coverage on digital Channel 6.2 for people unable to attend. Coverage was also available through Relevant Radio 100.1 FM, Time-Warner Cable Channel 986, Charter Cable Channel 967 and in a live Internet stream at and

The event, which the archdiocese and the Carmelites had been planning since about mid-February, went “relatively smoothly,” and they were happy with the turnout, Wolf said.

“I think you can tell that the atmosphere is just joyful and the air is full of energy,” she said “and you can tell that the people here truly want to be here.”

At the end of Mass, Cardinal Dolan offered his love and prayers and gratitude to all of the people in attendance and watching on television, inviting them to visit him for Mass at St. Patrick Church in New York, before adding, “and just know I meant it, you’ve got a permanent place in my heart.”