Image: Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan
Allen Fredrickson  /  Reuters file
Milwaukee Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan has been named next archbishop of New York.
updated 2/23/2009 2:26:19 PM ET 2009-02-23T19:26:19

Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, a defender of Roman Catholic orthodoxy who led the elite seminary for U.S. priests, becoming known for his energy, wit and warmth, was named archbishop of New York on Monday.

The Vatican said Dolan would succeed Cardinal Edward Egan, 76, who is retiring as archbishop after nearly nine years. Dolan, 59, will be installed as archbishop on April 15.

Dolan delivered Holy Communion on Monday morning at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and later told reporters one of his major challenges would be to keep Catholics from leaving the church. He vowed to work to keep Catholic schools open and to be an active pastor in the community.

"The thing I'm good at is preaching about Jesus Christ and preaching the Gospel," he said. "It's going to be a major endeavor."

Speaking partially in Spanish, he also said he is eager to work with the city's growing Hispanic community.

The post is the most prominent in the American Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II called the job "archbishop of the capital of the world."

The archdiocese is the second-largest in the U.S., behind the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and serves 2.5 million parishioners in nearly 400 churches. It covers a region from Manhattan to the Catskill mountains, and includes a vast network of 10 colleges and universities, hundreds of schools and social service agencies, and nine hospitals that treat about 1 million people annually.

'I love you very much'
Dolan said he was sad about leaving Milwaukee but excited to be coming to New York.

"I pledge my life, my heart, my soul. And I can tell you already, very sincerely, that I love you very much," he said at the news conference. "I need so much your prayers and your support."

Egan welcomed Dolan at morning Mass at St. Patrick's. "I've known him many years," Egan said. "And I told him how I delighted I am to welcome this wonderful priest and bishop."

Parishioner Marian Roach was among those who attended the Mass.

"There's a fresh face, someone who will have to face the challenges we have today," she said. "It will be difficult for him. So we must have faith."

Dolan's selection continues a chain of Irish-American bishops that was broken only once in the history of the archdiocese, when French-born prelate John Dubois was appointed in 1826.

Born in St. Louis, Dolan began his path to the priesthood as a boy. He attended a seminary prep school in Missouri and was ordained in 1976. In 1985, he earned a doctorate in church history from The Catholic University of America.

Opponent of abortion
After working as a parish priest and professor, Dolan spent seven years as rector of the North American College in Rome, considered the West Point for U.S. priests, where he had studied for his own ordination years earlier.

He served briefly as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Louis before his 2002 appointment to Milwaukee, which serves about 675,000 parishioners and 211 churches.

Dolan is an outspoken opponent of abortion, comparing the moral urgency of the issue to ending slavery. However, he does not deny Holy Communion to Catholic lawmakers who support abortion rights, nor does he single them out publicly.

Egan, ordained in 1957, was bishop of the Bridgeport, Conn., diocese for 12 years before Pope John Paul II appointed him to lead the New York Archdiocese in 2000. He replaced the late Cardinal John O'Connor.

Facing an annual $20 million operating deficit, Egan closed or merged about two dozen parishes as the Catholic population shifted to the suburbs, where new schools were being planned. He said he wiped out the budget shortfall.

In the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he led worship in St. Patrick's for thousands of shaken New Yorkers. Last year, the cardinal hosted Pope Benedict XVI in his first U.S. visit as pontiff, an event marked by festive crowds.

But unlike many previous New York archbishops, Egan did not embrace the chance for a broad public role in the city.

Sent to Milwaukee after 'tragic situation'
Dolan was sent to Milwaukee to succeed Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who had abruptly retired after news broke that the archdiocese had paid a $450,000 settlement to a man claiming Weakland tried to sexually assault him. Weakland admitted an "inappropriate relationship" but denied abuse.

The Rev. Jim Connell, moderator of the Milwaukee Presbyteral Council, a panel of archdiocesan priests, said Dolan reached out to local clergy, distributing his e-mail and phone number, and calling them on their birthdays, the anniversary of their ordinations, or just to say hello.

A year after Dolan took the Milwaukee post, about a quarter of his priests signed a public letter saying that celibacy should be optional for future clergy. Dolan disagreed, but did so without apparent bitterness, emphasizing how much he appreciated the clergymen and their work.

Dolan began his path to the priesthood as a boy. A St. Louis native and the oldest of five children, Dolan has said he would set up cardboard boxes with sheets to make a play altar in the basement. He attended a seminary prep school in Missouri and by 1985, earned a doctorate in church history from The Catholic University of America.

After working as a parish priest and professor, Dolan spent seven years as rector of the North American College in Rome, considered the West Point for U.S. priests, where he had studied for his own ordination years earlier.

He served briefly as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Louis before his 2002 appointment to Milwaukee, which serves about 675,000 parishioners and 211 churches.

More on: Cardinal Edward Egan | Timothy M. Dolan

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