After nearly a year of scandal-ridden crisis, heaven in its infinite mercy has just given American Catholics a wonderful gift. It comes in the person of Timothy Michael Dolan, who by the grace of God and the mediation of Pope John Paul II was installed on August 28 as the tenth archbishop of Milwaukee. It is an inspired and inspiring choice that contains within its small compass all the elements essential to a renewal of faith and hope, not only in Milwaukee but throughout the Church in America.
At 52, Dolan is the youngest archbishop in the country, a man who personifies the best in the next generation of Church leaders. Although his résumé glows with academic honors and administrative achievement, such accomplishments are the least interesting things about him. What matters far more—it is apparent in his every word and gesture—is the passionate devotion he brings to his calling. This is a man on fire with apostolic zeal. The priesthood is for him not a burden but an invitation to holiness, one to which he has responded with unalloyed joy. You get the sense that he will not rest until he infects everyone else—priests and laity alike—with his own godly enthusiasm.
Dolan brings to his new office abundant personal charm. God has blessed him with a personality that lights up the world. His smile goes from ear to ear, and its warmth can be felt a block away. And as his family and friends will tell you, his laughter begins at sunrise and continues throughout the day until well after bedtime. It is simply impossible not to like this man, as even world-hardened reporters have come to discover.
In contrast to many of his peers, for whom the television camera is an alien, hostile presence, Archbishop Dolan is as comfortable speaking to a roomful of reporters as he would be in your living room. He fields their questions on the most delicate subjects with candor and self-effacing good humor, and when he doesn’t have an answer, he says so. To call this “media savvy” would be to cheapen its importance. Dolan’s refreshing lack of pretense springs from the fact that he is perfectly comfortable in his own skin—and in his vocation. You will not hear from him any of the formulaic pieties that many clerics seem to think bestow importance on their office.
Yet Dolan’s light touch and unfailing good humor should not be mistaken for want of intellectual or moral gravity. On the contrary: He is au courant with the major theological and philosophical issues of the day and, among other things, the author of a prize-winning doctoral dissertation in Church history. Few bishops have thought more deeply about or had more experience with the joys and ardors of priestly formation. Regarding the current sex-abuse scandal, Dolan understands that the solution lies where it always has—in the joyful acceptance of God’s message of salvation, in fidelity to Church teaching and priestly vows, in the practice of personal piety, and in special devotion to the Eucharist.
All this and more were readily apparent in Archbishop Dolan’s stirring installation homily, which should be posted in every church bulletin and read from every pulpit in the country. At once a passionate love letter to our Lord and an invitation to join what he called “an exhilarating adventure in fidelity,” Dolan’s sermon is unlike any other you will have heard from an American bishop in recent memory. He called on his flock to cast out into the deep, where “Jesus…beckons us to sanctity, heroic virtue, and pursuit of perfection…. We have the sacred responsibility to tell all…that we come from God and are destined to return to Him for all eternity, that God actually lives within us.”
But don’t take my word for it. Do yourself a favor and go to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Web site (www.archmil.org), where you will find the text of Archbishop Dolan’s homily. Better yet, if your computer has the capacity, download the audio and listen to it. You will be edified beyond your imagining, and you will give thanks for the gift of Timothy Michael Dolan, whose influence is going to be felt far beyond the See of Milwaukee for a long time to come. And while you’re at it, pray that he lives a hundred years.