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They Went West

September 27, 2007

They Went West

This article continues the story of the Archdiocese of New York, as we prepare to celebrate our 200th Anniversary.

We had been seminarians together in high school and college before I went to Rome to complete my studies for the priesthood. Hence, I readily accepted an invitation to join them to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their priestly ordination.

The celebration took the form of a Mass at the major seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago, followed by a luncheon to which relatives and friends of the jubilarians had been invited. Francis Cardinal George, the Archbishop of Chicago, spoke at the luncheon, as did two of the jubilarians and I; and all present had a marvelous time, laughing, reminiscing and rejoicing in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which we had shared.

For me the celebration was by no means a totally Chicago affair. For throughout the flight to Chicago on Friday morning, Friday at the seminary, and the flight back to New York on Saturday, I kept reminding myself of the key role New York had played in the creation and development of the Archdiocese of Chicago when, as one writer put it, "New York went West."

It all started with a New Yorker who was ordained a priest in New York by Bishop Dubois of New York and consecrated a bishop in New York by Archbishop Hughes of New York. His name was Bishop William Quarter. He had served for 14 years as a pastor in New York City and in 1844 was named to head the newly established Diocese of Chicago.

It was he who obtained from the State legislature the charter for the University of St. Mary of the Lake that later became St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, where the 50th anniversary of my classmates' ordination was celebrated. Moreover, it was in New York that he begged and obtained the funds to buy land for the university and construct the first building on it. Though he died only four years after his appointment, he is commonly considered by historians to be one of the authentic heroes of the Catholic Church in the Midwest.

In 1903, the People of God in Chicago were experiencing extraordinary difficulties because of conflicts among various immigrant groups and rather bitter controversies among the clergy, one of which resulted in the excommunication of a popular pastor. A new broom was clearly needed; and it was found in the State of New York in the person of the Bishop of Buffalo, James Edward Quigley.

It was he who opened the first minor seminary for the Church of Chicago, which later became known as Quigley Preparatory Seminary, the high school seminary that my classmates and I attended. He brought peace and order to what had become the Archdiocese of Chicago; he laid the foundations for Chicago's two Catholic universities, Loyola and De Paul; and—perhaps most importantly—he championed the establishment of the Catholic Church Extension Society, which in the estimate of many is in large measure responsible for the growth and even the survival of the Catholic Church in the South and Southwest. Like Bishop Quarter, he was clearly one of the Midwest's greatest Churchmen.

All, however, would easily concede that even Archbishop Quigley was outshone by a clergyman born in Manhattan who became the first Cardinal West of the Appalachian Mountains, George Cardinal Mundelein. His accomplishments are far too numerous to recount here, though I need to note that it was he who built the major seminary where the anniversary celebration of my classmates took place, an institution that is officially called "St. Mary of the Lake" but universally known as "Mundelein." It is a magnificent collection of colonial-style buildings situated around a lake on what was originally 1,000 acres. Few prelates in the history of the Church in the United States thought in bigger terms and dreamed more grandiose dreams than he. He joins Bishop Quarter and Archbishop Quigley as New Yorkers at their best, and Chicagoans at their best as well.

My Friday in Chicago was all about priests and seminaries, and the rest of the weekend to a great extent followed suit. On the Thursday night before my Friday morning flight, I attended the St. Joseph Seminary Dinner, an annual event at our seminary in Yonkers. The honorees for the evening were Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and an alumnus of St. Joseph's, and Mr. Angelo Martinelli, the former Mayor of Yonkers, and his wife, Carol, both of whom have for years been generous supporters of the seminaries of the Archdiocese. In his remarks before the dinner, the new rector of St. Joseph's Seminary, Bishop Gerald T. Walsh, addressed the packed dining room about our seminary system and the crucial importance of its being known to and sustained by the Catholic faithful. His words were powerful, and all were deeply moved.

Midway through the seminary dinner, I had to leave for Manhattan to attend the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund Dinner at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Five friends of the fund, including myself, were honored. When Msgr. Wallace A. Harris, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo parish in Harlem, introduced me, he spoke of the need for more African-American vocations and the excellence of our archdiocesan seminaries; and when it came my turn to speak, I warmly endorsed his every word. Nor was there any doubt from the response of the guests that seminaries and priestly vocations were on the minds and in the hearts of all in the ballroom.

The following Sunday at noon I offered Mass at St. John the Baptist parish near Madison Square Garden. The church was packed in the pews and in the aisles too with hundreds of Catholics devoted to St. Padre Pio on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of his canonization. It was a beautiful, prayerful liturgy followed by an abundant buffet luncheon for all who had been at the Mass. After I finished moving from table to table to greet the people, the pastor, Father Bernard M. Maloney, O.F.M. Cap., took me aside. He wanted me to meet five young New Yorkers who were studying for the priesthood in the seminary of the Capuchin Fathers. I shook hands with each of them and was proud to hear them tell from which parishes they came and how happy they were in their vocations.

As I got into my car to go home to look at Friday's mail and write this article, I had a feeling that the three New York clergymen who "went West" to serve in Chicago—Bishop Quarter, Archbishop Quigley and Cardinal Mundelein—were smiling from their places in heaven. I might even have heard them saying, "Work for vocations in New York with all the energy you can muster." And if I did, I assured them I would.


Edward Cardinal Egan
Archbishop of New York

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