Well its official, our beloved Archbishop Dolan is now officially Timothy Cardinal Dolan. I deeply admire Cardinal Dolan, and am thrilled that the rest of the world has had more exposure to the faith, intellect, and genuine goodness of this remarkable individual.
Over the past month, Cardinal Dolan has assumed center stage in a contentious moral and political debate. As President of the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), Cardinal Dolan has courageously championed our constitutional right of Freedom of Religion, – a right President Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius have attempted to trample via the recent HHS mandate forcing Catholic (and other religious) institutions to pay for or offer contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization without co-pay as a required component of “health” insurance. Through it all, Cardinal Dolan has demonstrated his unwavering commitment to the truths of our faith. His example of moral courage and authentic leadership is all the more illuminating when seen in contrast to the political shenanigans and posturing of Obama and his administration.
The kids and I have followed Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s trip to Rome for the consistory eagerly on EWTN, Facebook and Twitter. Our Archbishop Dolan, elevated to a cardinal! Amazing! Every Milwaukee Catholic has at least one favorite Cardinal Dolan story, and I have several.
Our family first crossed paths with this dynamic spiritual leader on August 18, 2002, at Irish Fest, in the Marcus Amphitheater, on Lake Michigan. Our new Archbishop celebrated Holy Mass to a packed crowd, just days before his official installation as Milwaukee’s tenth Archbishop. Sitting there with my then four young children (ages 9 mos., 2, 3, and 6), my husband and I were deeply impressed not only by our new Archbishop’s faith and intellect, but also absolutely charmed by his legendary wit. The electricity at that Mass was palpable; Archbishop Dolan’s love for Christ and Our Lady was as contagious as his humor. I bonded immediately as he confessed a fear of driving on Wisconsin’s winter roads- yep, we had an awesome Archbishop, with the same human trepidation I felt.
As the years passed, my esteem for Archbishop Dolan continued to grow. I watched with interest and admiration as he tackled the numerous challenges of the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Archbishop Dolan shares my love of the Basilica of Holy Hill, National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians. In fact, it was under his leadership that on November 19, 2006, this beautiful, historic church was elevated to the honor of being one of the less than 60 minor basilicas in the United States. The kids and I loved attending Archbishop Dolan’s Masses at Holy Hill. Over the years we had many opportunities to gain a first-hand appreciation of his deep abiding faith, and charismatic personality. We were there at Holy Hill when Archbishop Dolan consecrated the entire Milwaukee Archdiocese to Immaculate Heart of Mary. Over the years, I was impressed by Archbishop Dolan’s sincere devotion to the Blessed Mother. I loved how he used to call Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians “Our Lady’s House;” so simple, so profound, so true.
We were at Holy Hill in June of 2006. Archbishop Dolan’s Masses were usually packed, standing room only. This was no exception, however this Mass was different in another way. On June 6, 2006 a couple of troubled youths spray painted satanic symbols and graffiti all over Holy Hill; they desecrated the outdoor stations of the cross, even the very front door of the church. It cost approximately $33,000 to sandblast the stations and remove those hideous red marks. Soon after, Archbishop Dolan was there for Sunday Mass- I can still remember how his tremendous voice bellowed “Begone Satan” and with that he announced once and for all that Holy Hill forever belonged to Christ. I still get goosebumps when I think of his amazing, comforting presence that day. He took an angry, grieving congregation, and reminded us of the need to forgive, be healed and let Christ’s love be victorious. He was right – it was shortly after, on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel that it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI would elevate Holy Hill to the level of a minor Basilica.
I remember the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, 2008. We had just adopted our lovely little girl from Guatemala. Packed in a pew near the back, my seven kids and I waited for Archbishop Dolan’s blessing as he processed toward the altar. We were thrilled that he stopped for just a moment and squeezed the hand of our newest little daughter. It was a lovely Mass- the kids were mesmerized by our gentle, wise Archbishop. The best was yet to come. We were among the last to leave the Church. Remember this is July 16- it is hot in Wisconsin in July, and those vestments can’t be comfortable. Archbishop Dolan graciously stood in the doorway of Holy Hill, conversing with the faithful, and extending his blessing, smiling as if he had nothing else to do, and that each recipient of his blessing was a close friend. As my little brood of seven lined up to kiss his ring, and ask for a blessing, my eldest son (then 12 years old) announced that he aspired to be a Carmelite priest. Archbishop Dolan extended a hand toward him, pointed, and in that signature booming voice announced, “I want to ordain you!” Kenny’s feet barely touched the ground- he was absolutely overwhelmed. Archbishop Dolan continued to chat with him, they conversed about homeschooling, and faith; and then he blessed us. Kenny has carried that moment with him ever since. That solitary exchange provided invaluable support for the budding vocation of a certain young man. As Archbishop Dolan took him seriously, I too began to look at his aspirations with fresh eyes, and a new earnestness.
A year later, we were back at Holy Hill. It was a whirlwind weekend. Our newest daughter had just arrived from Ethiopia a mere 18 –hours before. It was Laetare Sunday, and Archbishop Dolan’s last Mass at Holy Hill before moving to New York. He concelebrated a lovely, yet bitter-sweet Mass. Once again, Archbishop Dolan spoke of being at home in “Mary’s House.” He joked about resembling a bottle of Pepto-Bismol in his rose-pink vestments. God had spoiled us. He had given Milwaukee Catholics a tremendous gift, but now it was time to share it with the rest of the world. After Mass, our family stood in line in the Shrine Chapel to get one last word, one last blessing. Archbishop Dolan smiled as he saw Kenny, he called him by name, and asked: “How’s school Kenny, do you still like your teacher?” Kenny stammered that he was homeschooled. Archbishop Dolan, nodded and said, “I know, do you still like your teacher?” Kenny nodded. Amazingly, he reiterated to Kenny, “I want to ordain you!” We were floored. Undoubtedly this holy man of God had crossed paths with thousands of folks in the past year, grasped their hands, heard their stories, and prayed with them; yet he remembered this young man, and his dreams. What a remarkable individual. The Archbishop proceeded to blessed us. We explained that our new little girl had just arrived from Ethiopia. Archbishop Dolan scooped up all 13lbs of our little princess, held her close and again blessed us all. He is an amazing man. It is a privilege to have received his blessing.
May Our Dear Lord continue to bless Timothy Cardinal Dolan, and may he in turn continue to bless all whose lives he touches.
Ad Jesum per Mariam