ST. FRANCIS — While many local Catholics have mixed feelings as Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan prepares to leave Milwaukee to become archbishop of New York, perhaps none are as conflicted as the Milwaukee Dolan family.
For not only are they saying good-bye to an archbishop, but they are also bidding farewell to Uncle Tim or “UT” as he’s fondly known to his niece, Erin, and her friends.
While the 22-year-old graduate of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., said she’s immensely proud and happy for her uncle, she admitted, “I’m also sad, as he won’t be here anymore.”
Erin and her younger sister, Caitlin, daughters of Bob and Beth Dolan, members of St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield, were in high school when their uncle was appointed archbishop of Milwaukee.
“We were fortunate,” said Erin. “He’s a real family man and he’s very close to us, and when he got assigned to Milwaukee, we were in high school, old enough to develop a strong relationship that has definitely only gotten stronger as we’ve gotten older. We love him so much,” she said, adding, “He’s such a big part of our lives.”
Erin admitted that for months she’s heard rumors swirling that her uncle might be tapped for a larger role in the church, yet she said she wasn’t prepared for her emotions when Archbishop Dolan confirmed the rumors.
Erin and her parents were scheduled to have dinner with the archbishop and a family friend from St. Louis, Msgr, Dennis M. Delaney, last Thursday.
When the Dolans arrived at the archbishop’s residence prior to leaving for the restaurant, Archbishop Dolan encouraged them to come inside for a drink.
“We were all kind of chatting about nothing in particular, when he burst out, ‘I have to tell you, if I don’t say it, I am going to explode … the rumors are true, I am going to New York,’” Erin recalled of the announcement.
“I immediately started crying, as did my mom, and my dad got pretty emotional too,” said Erin of the gathering last Thursday evening. One of the reasons he broke the news, chuckled Bob, is that his brother needed a ride to the airport on Saturday when he flew to New York in anticipation of Monday morning’s announcement.
Three days later, Archbishop Dolan shared the news with his mother in equally “Dolan-esque” fashion. Speaking by phone from her home in Washington, Mo., Shirley Dolan described how her eldest son called her Sunday morning.
“Hi, mom, how are you? Do you want to know who is the new archbishop of New York?” he asked her. “I would love to know,” she responded, acknowledging that the weeks of suspense had been stressful.
“Well, you’re talking to him,” Archbishop Dolan told his mother, who said she was extremely proud, but not surprised.
During that phone conversation, Archbishop Dolan apologized to his mother for an incident a few years earlier.
Shirley had come to Milwaukee to visit her sons, and Archbishop Dolan took her to an event where she met a local politician who told Shirley he was so happy to have her son as archbishop.
Shirley responded, “Well, I’m happy he’s here, but I don’t think he’ll stay,” she said, echoing a comment she made after he was appointed in Milwaukee. “We know where he’s going next,” she predicted at the time. “He’ll be a cardinal.”
“Tim got so upset with me, he said, ‘Mom, you shouldn’t say that,’” she said, explaining that when he apologized Sunday, he told his mother apparently she was right.
Like the Milwaukee Dolans, however, Shirley has mixed feelings about her son leaving Wisconsin.
“I feel real bad for Milwaukee,” she said. “He loved Milwaukee and he kept saying that ‘they can leave me there.’ He really did like Milwaukee and I know he’s sad to leave. That’s what I hate for both Bob and Tim. It was nice for him to have family there as Tim hasn’t been in one place for very long.”
In fact, Bob said prior to Archbishop Dolan’s arrival in Milwaukee, it was 35 years since the brothers had lived in the same city.
“We would see each other two or three times a year,” before he became archbishop, said Bob, an independent video producer who is seven years younger than his brother. The six and a half years that Archbishop Dolan spent in Milwaukee “gave me a much greater understanding of who he is as a priest, and I have a great appreciation of how happy he is.”
Shirley, too, spoke of her son’s positive approach to life.
“It’s just a pleasure to know him and see how happy he is,” she said, during an interview which was briefly interrupted while Shirley watched a television report featuring the archbishop. “In today’s world, I don’t know a lot of people who are so happy with what they’ve decided to do with their lives.”
Unable to contain her pride, Shirley offered an example of “what a beautiful man he is.”
“I told him I am so very proud of you, but he said, I will never be as proud of anything as I am to be Bob and Shirley’s son,” she said, noting that Archbishop Dolan’s father died 32 years ago.
The entire Dolan family – Shirley, Archbishop Dolan’s four siblings, their spouses and 12 of her 13 grandchildren — plans to go to New York for Archbishop Dolan’s April 15 installation. One granddaughter is expecting a baby and won’t be able to travel.
While Erin has mixed feelings as her uncle leaves Milwaukee, she cherishes the lessons he’s left with her.
“Uncle Tim really is both m uncle and also my archbishop and I’m very lucky to see him in both roles,” she said. “Usually, when we were together, he was teaching me, even when I didn’t realize it,” she said of the uncle who helped her select a college, encouraged her to study in Rome and continually sends her reading material.
Perhaps the greatest lesson left with his niece is his joy, she said.
“I think he taught us that the most important thing is to be joyful in your faith, let that joy for Christ shine through, which is probably a lesson he has for a lot of people. I see it in private moments, too, which I’m lucky for. People call him gregarious and he’s larger than life, but he’s living the joy that the faith can bring to people, and he teaches you even when you don’t think he’s teaching you,” said Erin, a graduate of St. Luke School, Brookfield, and Catholic Memorial High School, Waukesha.
Even though he’ll be on the East Coast, Erin said she knows she and her uncle will remain close.
“He leaves us great voice mail messages. I always look forward to Uncle Tim voice mail,” she said.
She also expects a family tradition that developed during his years in Milwaukee to continue. The Milwaukee Dolans would always celebrate “Christmas Eve eve” on Dec. 23 with the archbishop.
“It was always just the five of us,” said Erin. “We’d have a nice dinner, presents, good Christmas music and a night of laughing, and he’s already said that even though he’s going to New York, he can’t break Christmas Eve eve.”
Erin added that while she alternates between sadness to see him leave and happiness for his new position, the overriding emotion is pride.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of him, as an uncle and as an archbishop. I know that New York will love him and embrace him as Milwaukee did,” she said.