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Dolan brings a lot of St. Louis to New York

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 14, 2009 - Wednesday afternoon, Timothy Dolan -- who grew up in Ballwin and served 26 years as a priest of the St. Louis archdiocese -- will be installed at the archbishop of the New York. He has been the Milwaukee archbishop for seven years.

A variation of an old saying -- you can take the boy out of St. Louis but you can’t take St. Louis out of the boy -- sure held true Tuesday evening at Dolan’s installation vigil service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

In his brief homily from the high pulpit, a smiling Dolan mentioned the St Louis Cardinals –- and the Milwaukee team -- then teased that it would be tough to be a Mets fan.

The service began with the ancient rite of a newly appointed archbishop knocking on the bronze doors of the cathedral. He is only allowed in when the people accept him. He used this rite as the taking-off point of his sermon. Dolan took his listeners from the huge bronze doors on Fifth Avenue right back to his second grade classroom at Holy Infant Parish Grade School in Ballwin in the late 1950s.

A nun showed Dolan and his classmates a painting of Jesus knocking at the door of a house. Then, she quizzed the youngsters about was odd about the door.

Dolan boasted that his classmate -– Carolyn Carey -– was first to catch on and observe that the door was missing any door knob.

“Jesus cannot open up and barge in on His own. He patiently waits for us to open the door of our hearts and invite Him in to stay with us,” he recalled the nun saying to the class.

Dolan looked out into the cathedral’s front pew where his mother Shirley Dolan Yaeger of Washington, Mo., and his sisters and brothers were seated.

”That lesson alone, Mom, was worth all the sacrifices you and Dad made to send us five kids to Catholic school,” he said.

Dolan admitted that this winter he had had some trepidation about accepting the pope’s invitation to be archbishop of New York. He cited a string of reasons that he felt he might not be up to the challenges. With admiration, he listed all the Irish-Americans archbishops who had preceded him in the post and joked that when he strung their names together they sounded like “McNamara’s Band” -- a reference to a popular Irish-American song.

For a few brief minutes, Dolan had a chain on the front door of his heart, he said.

“But Jesus already had his sandal in the door,” he concluded. After trying to live out the nun’s lesson about opening the door to God, Dolan opened his heart to Jesus’ call and accepted the pope’s invitation to become New York’s archbishop. Dolan, in turn, encouraged his listeners to welcome God to their hearts.

After his homily, he beamed with a smile but wiped a few tears from his eyes.

The St. Louis native didn’t just talk about St. Louis. He chose people who had helped him in St. Louis to assist at the vigil service. Sister Mary Bosco Daly, that second grade teacher in Ballwin, was the only lay reader at the service. Now retired to her native Ireland, she also read at Dolan’s ordination as a bishop in St. Louis Cathedral Basilica in August 2001.

Dolan chose as his personal master of ceremonies his high school seminary locker mate Monsignor Dennis Delaney, a former rector of Kenrick Seminary in Shrewsbury and now director of the St. Louis Archdiocesan Cemeteries and pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish downtown. Delaney’s was more than a ceremonial role. The St. Louis priest combined liturgical expertise standing at Dolan’s right, holding prayer books for Dolan to read the marked passages of the day, with smaller assuring assistance like adjusting the incense in the censor so Dolan could get its smoke to waft just right. The St. Louis priest’s joy was nearly as evident as his high school pal’s.

New Yorkers got a glimpse of the warmth of this St. Louis native. In the formal recessional as cardinals and bishops left the vigil service, Dolan broke ranks, stopped at the front pew, gave his mother a kiss and a bear hug.

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer who is known for her coverage of religion.

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer based in St. Louis who has covered religion for many years. She also writes about cultural issues, including opera.

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