Even though the late Cardinal Edward Egan was the former head of the Archdiocese of New York, he was a very popular figure in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Whenever he visited, he flattered the Church in Brooklyn and Queens with lavish praise and the people here responded with love and thanksgiving.
His last public appearance here was when he presided at the dedication of St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral in Prospect Heights last spring. He had an immediate attraction to the church’s statue of his patron saint, Edward the Confessor, of which there are not too many.
In fact when he was sent an honorarium for his presence at the dedication, he returned it and asked that it be used for the care of the statue of St. Edward.
That evening, he was in his jovial Irish witty mood. He spoke in superlatives about the leadership and the presbyterate of the Diocese of Brooklyn and he promised to keep coming back to Brooklyn as long as we kept inviting him.
In the summer of 2013, he was in Bay Ridge at Our Lady of Angels Church for the episcopal ordinations of Bishops Raymond Chappetto and Paul Sanchez. We had an opportunity to personally chat with the cardinal prior to the ceremony. He told us how much he appreciated the work of the DeSales Media Group and he singled out our daily news show, Currents, for its coverage of Catholic events. Naturally, we were flattered to have such an important viewer. On occasion, we reached out to him for a comment on the show. He would readily comply, even though he was not known for his accessibility to the press. We knew we had a friend in Cardinal Egan.
I first met Cardinal Egan when he was a newly appointed auxiliary bishop of New York. I was invited to a Communion-breakfast in Manhattan and found myself sitting on the dais next to the bishop. We talked about mutual acquaintances in Brooklyn – diocesan priests he knew from his days at North American College in Rome. We also chatted about that afternoon’s Giants’ football game that he was going to attend.
Whenever I heard someone say that they thought the cardinal was a bit aloof, I would chuckle and remember our conversation that morning. “He’s just a regular guy,” I would respond.
At the same time, he could be a no-nonsense representative of Church teaching. Called to testify before the N.Y.C. Board of Education about proposed sex education proposals that would make contraceptives available to high school students, he challenged the Board to reject such permissive, destructive behavior. “Try a little Western civilization,” was his recommendation.
While he was very relaxed in one-on-one meeting, it was clear that Bishop Egan was no ordinary bishop. When he was appointed bishop of Bridgeport, all the whispers were that no one would be surprised to see him return one day as the archbishop of New York.
And so he did in 2000. Destiny ruled that he would be the religious leader to help get the city through the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. He also had the challenge of having to be the one who would make necessary changes that would bring the archdiocese back to financial stability.
Cardinal Edward Egan was the right man for the times that he was appointed to lead. While we watched from across the river that separates the two Sees, we always admired his courage at being a real Catholic New Yorker.