On April 15th, American Papist blogger Thomas Peters reported that Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan took New York by storm. Anybody from Milwaukee could have told you he’d do that. In 2002, he took us by storm, albeit in a bit more subtle way. But we’ve been enraptured by him since and are deeply grieving the loss. So, forgive me if I somewhat resentfully remark, “Good for you, New York.”
Granted, we here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have no idea what lies ahead for us. Perhaps there’s another archbishop out there for us that will fill the huge void left by Timothy M. Dolan. Truly, there’s no one who can take his place exactly and so we’ll have to work hard to open our minds and hearts to our new archbishop when he arrives.
In the mean time, we need to savor the memories, learn the lessons, and follow the example of our former shepherd.
We need to remember and emulate the way he literally embraced everyone around him. I remember one time lovingly joking that, “My greatest fear in life is that, when Archbishop Dolan hugs me, I won’t make it back out alive.” That would make more sense to folks who know that I’m a mere 5’2″ to the Archbishop’s more towering form. Actually, I love his hugs. I love the way he gathers folks in around him. He has a way of giving a genuine, chaste, and fatherly embrace and looking into your eyes that lets you know he loves you and sees the Christ in you. Milwaukee, we need to embrace those around us, look into their eyes, and let them know we love them and see the Christ in them.
We need to remember and emulate his generosity. He gives of himself, not his office. When I shyly asked him to write the Foreword for “When’s God Gonna Show Up?”, he immediately and graciously honored my request. Not only that, but he wrote an astoundlingly flattering Foreword that left me speechless and feeling oh-so small. I probably should be smacked for this, but I sent back a request that he tone it down because I wasn’t sure I could live up to it. His somewhat joking response was, “What I have written, I have written.” Then he turned around and wrote the Foreword for “Ecce Mater Tua — Behold, Your Mother” in the same gracious and caring way. Milwaukee, we need to give of ourselves — not our office — to benefit others.
We need to remember and emulate how unassuming he is. We had the extreme honor of twice having him to the Fenelon Clan Abode for supper and a gathering of some of our young adult and seminarian friends. He was so relaxed, so joyful and down to earth that he seemed like a happy dad sitting down for a meal with his family. He impressed the young folk with his fatherly kindness and realness. He was sincerely interested in everything each one had to say. I, on the other hand, was mortified when he rose from the table, walked into my kitchen, reached into my shamefully messy cabinet, grabbed the dish soap and began to wash my dishes! I cannot describe the humbling feeling of having my archbishop wash my dishes. Yet, he did it in a way that was so plain and natural that you’d think it was perfectly normal. The young folk still talk about the supreme example he set for them. Milwaukee, we need to be unassuming, grab the dish soap, and plainly, naturally, start washing other people’s dishes.
We need to remember and emulate his attention to detail. This one is more difficult, and I believe it’s a gift not everyone has innately. I know I don’t, but I’d like to have it. Archbishop Dolan has the remarkable ability to capture and retain details about people he’s met, worked with, and received correspondence from. He can look at a face and make a connection just as any good father strives to stay connected with his children. Milwaukee, we need to pay attention to and strive to retain the details of the other people in our lives.
We need to remember and emulate his dependence on God and not his own resources. I’ve heard him admit his imperfections. I’ve heard him admit that he doesn’t always know all the answers (although I might beg to differ with his assessment). I’ve heard him admit that he struggles with worry over his archdiocese, that he, too, has sleepless nights. Yet I’ve also heard him admit that in those struggles, he turns to God for guidance and strenght and to our Blessed Mother for intercession and comfort. Milwaukee, we need to depend on God and our Blessed Mother and not solely on our own resources.
Archbishop Dolan made a significant impact on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, one that won’t easily be forgotten. If I dare, I would say that the best sign of gratitude we can offer him is to emulate the example he set for us to the best of our abilities. New York, I hope you’ll do the same.