It is with great personal sadness that I write of the death of Edward Cardinal Egan. He was a fine bishop, a man who loved the Church, and he was very kind to me personally. I will remember him fondly, and I will miss him.
Cardinal Egan governed the Archdiocese during some of our most difficult hours. The combination of 9/11 and the sex abuse crisis were a terrible trial for our City and our Archdiocese. The dramatic social changes that were taking place in New York were also a serious challenge — the continued erosion of respect for human life and marriage, and the growing threats to religious liberty. Internally, the Archdiocese had to struggle — as we always do — with limited resources.
Cardinal Egan proved that he was up to the challenge. I worked very closely with him on pro-life issues and as Director of our Safe Environment Office, our effort to respond to the sex abuse crisis and to ensure the safety of children who were entrusted to our care. You could not have asked for a more committed, dedicated bishop. The Cardinal was keenly, directly, and urgently attentive to our child protection efforts. We were all learning from past mistakes, trying to heal wounds, dealing with the chaos of a decentralized institution, and striving to make things better for the present and future. With his backing, and in large part thanks to him, we made great strides.
I could tell dozens of stories about my interactions with the Cardinal. He was a tough overseer. He scrutinized everything, suggested improvements, and held people accountable. I can testify that when you had disappointed him, you would have a conversation that was difficult to forget. But he was also decisive and forward-thinking, and kept his goals in sight at all times. When you gave your best effort, you knew very clearly that he appreciated it. He served the Church whole-heartedly, and he recognized and honored others who did the same.
After he retired, I had several experiences with the Cardinal that really give a measure of the man he was. Just a few weeks ago, I spoke to him and asked him to celebrate Mass for our Inaugural Men’s Conference. He immediately and enthusiastically agreed, and he began thinking of themes for his homily so that he could make the event memorable for the men. He was particularly keen to preach about the courage to do what’s right, in the face of opposition. He was also happy that we were going to have the Eucharist and Confession at the center of our day. That says a lot to me. Even after such a distinguished career, he was always a priest, always interested in bringing the graces of the Sacraments to the People of God, and always eager to serve in whatever way he could, and always there to encourage us to follow the Gospel.
The other occasion was even more important to me. My mother passed away a few years ago. The day before the funeral, I was informed by my pastor that Cardinal Egan was going to come and preside at my mom’s funeral. I was thunderstruck. I would never have dreamed of asking him to do that, but he came forward of his own initiative. His presence at the funeral was a great honor, and it was personally comforting to me. He also gave a powerful and beautiful reflection at the end of Mass. I am still deeply moved in thinking of it. That also says a lot to me. He was a kind man, who cared about people and who wanted to bring them the comfort of Christ in times of sorrow.
When I heard about the Cardinal’s passing into eternal life, I was in Washington for meetings at the U.S. Bishops’ Conference. I was really torn about what to do — should I skip the meeting and come home for the funeral? In the end, I decided to stay at the meeting, put my own interests aside, and do my duty to the Church. I felt peace with that decision, and I think that the Cardinal’s intercession had a lot to do with that. He was always a Churchman, a man who served his beloved Church and who put duty to Her above all personal considerations. That’s one of the most important lessons I learned from him.
Requiem aeternam, Cardinal Egan. You were a good priest, a good bishop, and a good man.