I am sad to report that Archbishop emeritus of New York, Cardinal Edward Michael Egan has passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest. He served the people of New York from 2000 – 2009 after the passing of John Cardinal O’ Connor and was succeeded by Cardinal Dolan.
***I will update this post as I learn more and will share my personal stories regarding him.
UPDATE 10:00 PM**
According to Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal Egan was having lunch today at around 2:00 PM and after the lunch, he groaned and collapsed dead. He was pronounced dead at NYU Langone Medical Center.
“Thank God he had a peaceful death, passing away right after lunch today, with the prayers and sacraments of his loyal priest secretary, Father Douglas Crawford, in his residence at the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.” – Cardinal Dolan
Edward Egan was born on April 2, in 1932 at Oak Park, Illinois. He was the third of four children born to Thomas and Genevieve Costello-Egan. Both parents worked. His dad worked as a sales manager and his mom as a teacher. Egan was of Irish descent but spoke Spanish, French, Italian and Latin. During the 1940s, Egan along with his brother contracted the disease polio which was rampant at the time. Despite this, he graduated in 1951 from Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary and was the student body president as well as the editor of the school’s newspaper and its yearbook. Egan would then begin his studies for the priesthood at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. There, he would earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and then was sent to the Pontifical North American College and Gregorian University in Rome to study Theology. After his studies, he was ordained by Archbishop Martin John O’ Connor on December 15 in the year 1957. Afterward, he continued his studies and earned a Licentiate of Sacred Theology. As a priest, he worked at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago and was an assistant at the chancery of the Archdiocese as well as the personal secretary of Cardinal Albert Gregory Meyer in the late 1950s.
Egan also worked as a chaplain at Wesley Memorial Hospital. In the 1960s, Egan pursued a doctoral degree in canon law and graduated summa cum laude in 1964. Afterward, he became the secretary of John Cardinal Cody. As a canon lawyer, he was instrumental in the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983 ordered by Saint John Paul II. In 1985, on April 1st, he was appointed auxiliary Bishop of New York and titular Bishop of Allegheny by Saint John Paul II and was ordained by Cardinal Bernardin Gantin along with Archbishop John Joseph O’Connor and Bishop John Richard Keating on May 22. As his episcopal motto, he chose the words from Ephesians 4:25 which reads, “In the Holiness of Truth.” As auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of New York, he assisted with Confirmations and was the Vicar for Education until 1988. He would then be named as Bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut in November of that year.
While in Bridgeport, he raised over $50 million for Catholic schools and brought in Hispanic priests
from South America to serve the Hispanic community in Bridgeport. While Bishop, the diocesan Catholic Charities was the most active and largest social service agency in the area. After the death of Cardinal O’ Connor of New York, Saint John Paul II named Egan Archbishop to New York on May 11, 2000. He was installed in June of that year on the 19th. A year later, he was named Cardinal by Saint John Paul II.
As Archbishop of New York, the Cardinal worked hard to bring more vocations. The number of Catholics grew over 200,000 while he was the Archbishop and there was an increase in ordinations. He made it a priority to have seminarians serve Mass with him at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and invited them to meet at the residence for lunch and discussions. He also founded the John Cardinal O’Connor residence for retired priests in the Bronx. In 2002, Saint John Paul II named Cardinal Egan to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.
Cardinal Egan helped New York get through the September 11 attacks. He was at the World Trade Center site with a group of priests administering the last rites and was caught in the commotion when the Towers fell. He was seen on television looking disoriented and in shock saying “God help us;” his clerical suit, face and hair full of the ashes of the towers. Egan would then coin the phrase, “Ground Hero” when describing what others called “Ground Zero.” In 2005, he would be in Rome to participate in the Conclave that elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy as Benedict XVI.
Unfortunately, not everything went smoothly with Cardinal Egan. After the media frenzy regarding the sexual abuse of minors by some priests, the Cardinal was accused of shifting priests around in order to avoid prosecution. However, he was found innocent of the charge. Despite this, he enforced a zero tolerance policy in the Archdiocese of New York before the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered and decided on such policy. The Cardinal also became unpopular with priests in the Archdiocese and some parishioners after he closed and merged parishes. In one meeting that I was present in, a priest (deceased now) Fr. Grange squared up to Cardinal Egan; visibly upset over claims that his parish (St. Jerome in Mott Haven, Bronx) was ignored.
In 2006, some priests held secret meetings and sent an anonymous letter to other priests and the Cardinal voicing their concerns at how he was running the Church of New York. Egan responded with a strongly worded letter criticizing the priests involved. This showed the internal conflict between the Archbishop and his priests. Cardinal Egan also made some controversial statements on celibacy which were interpreted as if he was suggesting that it should be optional. He later clarified what he meant by his comments and praise the discipline of celibacy. Rumors began to circulate that John Cardinal O’ Connor did not like Egan and even made a trip to Rome prior to his death to ask Saint John Paul II not to install him as Archbishop of New York. Egan had a reputation for being stern and business minded. This is why he was installed as Archbishop of New York. At the time, Cardinal O’ Connor spent too much money running programs in the Archdiocese, according to Cardinal Dolan. Egan was put in to balance the books and make the hard decisions (schools/parish closings). Naturally, this would have caused friction as people often do not like change. In 2009, the Cardinal had his first public health scare and was taken to St. Vincent’s hospital for stomach pains. He was then given a pacemaker a few days later.
Cardinal Egan was a stern, orthodox but kind man. He will be missed. I remember when I first saw him and heard him via the PA system at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and recall joking with other seminarians and servers that he sounded like Darth Vadar. He had a booming baritone voice that spoke firmly but with compassion. I met him personally on several occasions and served Mass with him prior to leaving New York City. He was always joking and on one occasion told my mother that she looks like my sister; complimenting her. Cardinal Dolan said today in an interview that while in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Egan pointed to a tomb covered by a square piece of marble and said, “this one is for me,” he then told Cardinal Dolan, “and these two are for you” joking about Dolan’s corpulent body and how it would need two tombs.
Here are two old personal photos I found: