Last month, I went to Rome to represent Our Sunday Visitor as Pope Benedict XVI formally invested 22 new cardinals, including American Cardinals Edwin O’Brien and Timothy Dolan. I learned some very important lessons.
By the way, OSV wanted to be represented because Cardinal Dolan is one of our most popular authors, and Cardinal O’Brien has been a friend since his days as secretary of communications of the Archdiocese of New York.
Cardinal O’Brien, the senior of the two, as a young priest was an assistant chaplain at the U.S. Military Academy. Cadets from that day, some high-ranking officers by now, were in Rome, remembering him as a wise pastor and superb example for young men.
During the Vietnam War, he worried that so many of the young men whom he served at West Point never returned from battle. So, he asked his archbishop if he could enlist as a military chaplain. As a chaplain, he went to Vietnam. More than a few stories were told of his extraordinary efforts to reach soldiers under fire or duress.
Back in New York, he became the archdiocese’s secretary of communications, having a leading role in founding the archdiocesan newspaper, Catholic New York. Then he became rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary at Dunwoodie, N.Y., and then rector of the North American College, the seminary in Rome for Americans.
Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed him auxiliary bishop of New York and then archbishop for the Military Services, USA. Responsible for the nation’s soldiers, Marines and sailors, as well as their chaplains, he served with great effectiveness.
Pope Benedict XVI named him archbishop of Baltimore, the country’s oldest diocese. There too he served with great effect until last fall when the pope named him to head the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the group of devoted Catholic men and women committed to the work of the Church, especially with attention to the Holy Land’s ancient shrines and loyal Christians.
Cardinal Dolan, from St. Louis, was first connected with Our Sunday Visitor while he was rector of the North American College. He wrote his first book for us about a decade ago, and he has continued to write.
After serving with great distinction in Rome, he served as auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, as archbishop of Milwaukee and now as archbishop of New York, and everywhere he has been acknowledged as a leader. A year and a half ago, the American bishops elected him president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In this role, he has made an impact and attained a national following.
So, what did I learn in Rome? The new cardinals are lessons in themselves, first of what is best in priests and bishops. Through their lives, they also teach the fact that nothing is more important in life than following Christ faithfully and without question because nothing, or no one, is more important than the Lord.
I delighted in learning two lessons at the North American College. First, its enrollment is the highest in many years. It is bursting at the seams. This is great news. Further good news is that the students I met are candidates for the priesthood of high caliber, taking preparation for Holy Orders seriously.
I learned from Pope Benedict, such a gentle pastor and a great mind!
Finally, I learned from so many people from all around the world, young and old, about the Catholic Church, so ancient and universal. For them it is, as it is or has been for untold numbers of people for 2,000 years, the one place to find the Lord, and in the Lord the place to find God’s peace and truth.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.