PROVIDENCE — On Sunday, May 15, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York City, delivered a special presentation at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul as part of the Diocese of Providence’s 150th anniversary celebration.
Hundreds were in attendance for the major event, which was co-sponsored by the diocese and the Portsmouth Institute for Faith and Culture, including laypeople, clergy and religious, and Catholic school students clad in their school uniforms.
Greeting guests at the door of the cathedral were a group of student ambassadors from Bishop Hendricken High School.
One of those students, freshman Evan Franchina, anxiously awaited the cardinal’s talk.
“[I was told that] Cardinal Dolan is a very dynamic personality, a great speaker, and he’s done, so far, a lot with Jewish-Catholic relations, and I feel like that’s something I’m really open to, and willing to listen to,” Franchina said.
Other Catholic Schools were represented including close to forty students from The Prout School who made the trip to Providence to join Cathedral Organist Philip Faraone in song and to listen to Cardinal Dolan’s important message at the 150-anniversary celebration event.
Cardinal Dolan, who is well-known for his many books and articles explaining and defending the faith, as well as for his frequent appearances on television and radio, did not disappoint.
During his presentation, he combined in his usual fashion theological depth with wit and humor.
“Folks, it is a real honor and joy to be here,” Cardinal Dolan said. “And congratulations, beloved Diocese of Providence. Now, take it from this guy from a diocese down the shore that’s been around 44 years longer than you have, you don’t look bad for 150 years.”
The night’s events began with the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, which also included a short reflection from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin.
“Your Eminence, we are so thankful for your presence with us this evening,” Bishop Tobin began. “We are so proud of Cardinal Dolan. He’s been a friend and such an outstanding leader for the Church in the Archdiocese of New York and throughout the United States in many ways and for many days.”
“But the truth is,” Bishop Tobin continued, “His Eminence is not our most important guest this evening. Our most important guest is our Lord Jesus Christ, present with us in this moment in the Blessed Sacrament. We shouldn’t be surprised by that at all. For from the very beginning of the Church, from the Apostolic era, Jesus has been present to His Church in the Eucharist.”
“In every land, saints and sinners, martyrs and missionaries, religious and royalty, peasants and popes, they have all been nourished by the same Eucharist,” the bishop said.
The theme of the Presence of Jesus to His Church being the central part of Catholic life was later repeated by Cardinal Dolan.
After Adoration and Benediction, Cardinal Dolan was introduced by Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, who noted that the cardinal’s episcopal motto is “Ad Quem Ibimus,” “To Whom Shall We Go?” based on the words of St. Peter in John 6:68.
“After all of Jesus’ other disciples left Him after hearing the Bread of Life Discourse, only the Apostles remained,” Bishop Evans said.
“St. Peter, speaking on behalf of the other Apostles, said, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
Commenting on this, Bishop Evans stated, “May I suggest that Cardinal Dolan’s ministry has been to assist others to echo Peter’s response, to discover in Jesus of Nazareth the Alpha and the Omega, the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
“He has done so unapologetically, but humbly,” Bishop Evans continued, going on to provide a brief summary of the cardinal’s life, ministry and ecclesial career.
Cardinal Dolan, 72, began his ministry in 1976 when he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Over the course of his career, then Father Dolan would work as a parish priest, as well as serving with the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., and as a spiritual director at the local seminary.
Besides his various ecclesial roles, he also served a series of academic roles, including as rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome and adjunct professor of theology at St. Louis University.
In 2001, he was consecrated as the Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis, a position he served in for a little over a year until he was appointed as the Archbishop of Milwaukee. In 2009, he was appointed as the 14th Archbishop of New York, and in 2012 he was elevated by Pope Benedict XVI to the dignity of cardinal.
He also served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the chairman of the USCCB’s Pro-Life Committee.
Cardinal Dolan’s presentation, which was labeled “Silver and Gold I Have Not” — a reference to the words said by St. Peter as he healed the crippled man in Acts 3:6 (“I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, walk”) — focused on what he saw as the core qualities of the Church in Apostolic times, which he claimed need to be emphasized in our time to help the Church through its current crisis.
He specifically saw nine key qualities as defining the New Testament Church, with the first being a strong emphasis on Christ’s continuing presence with His Church.
Another quality of the Church in Apostolic times was a strong dedication to, and a deep knowledge of, moral right and wrong. This included, he noted, not only a devotion to obeying Jewish religious law, but also a strong emphasis on helping the poor, defending marriage, pursuing virtue, and defending the dignity of every human life.
Cardinal Dolan went on to say that these qualities do not define the Church in some bygone era, but rather still apply to the Church to this day. It is these qualities, he affirmed, that should be at the center of the Christian life.
He noted that many in the Church today unfortunately remain too focused on the Church as she existed in her former glory, at the height of its material prosperity and cultural and moral influence.
“A danger today, I’m afraid,” Cardinal Dolan said, “comes from looking at the Church we knew years back, and lamenting that a lot of that is no longer there.”
He used as an example an anecdote from shortly after his appointment as the Archbishop of New York: while being shown around town by a local deacon from another diocese in New York, the deacon frequently took the time to point out places where closed down or defunct Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, seminaries and orphanages once stood.
He concluded by affirming that there are two attitudes one could take: the first is to see the vigor of the Church as something tied with influence, wealth and cultural vibrancy; the second is to see the vitality of the Church as something tied primarily to its devotion to Christ.
“Is all this a curse, that silver and gold we don’t have?” the cardinal asked. “I’d suggest the opposite,” he proclaimed.
“Yes, silver and gold we don’t have, but we still have the greatest treasure of them all, that pearl of great price. What we do have we give, Jesus Christ. He’s the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow,” he said.
“All those celebrated buildings, structures, institutions, numbers, clout, were a means to an end, right, the end being to give us and the world Jesus Christ.”
Cardinal Dolan’s speech was followed by a reception in the cathedral hall, where he mingled joyfully among the attendants.
Seminarian Adam Habershaw said he enjoyed the cardinal’s presentation.
“I thought the points that he made were great,” Habershaw said. “We’re not a Church about having silver or gold, we’re a Church that’s all about having Jesus and having the Holy Spirit dwell within us, and going out, like we’re commanded, to go and baptize in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and to go and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the rest of the world.”
Father John A. Kiley, a senior priest who serves as the ecumenical officer for the diocese, said that Cardinal Dolan’s observations were spot on.
“What he said was true,” Father Kiley said. “There was a time when the Church was, materially, very prosperous, very visible, very wealthy. And times have changed…but, as he said, ‘Silver and gold I have not, but what I have I give you, Jesus Christ.’ We still have that.”
“I thought it was very powerful,” said Richard Dujardin, a retired journalist. “He was able to lift up the diocese. … It was actually very inspirational.”
Bishop Tobin said the cardinal really “hit the nail on the head” with his presentation.
“We’re certainly very pleased by his presence tonight, and greatly honored, and I think his presentation was perfect for this moment in the history of the Diocese.”