Cardinal Edward Egan’s time as leader of one of the nation’s largest archdioceses was haunted by the unfolding child abuse scandal, shocked by the terror spectacle of Sept. 11, 2001, and troubled by a period of fiscal uncertainty and parish closings. But Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop emeritus, 12th bishop, ninth archbishop and seventh cardinal of the See of New York, steadied the archdiocese’s finances, managed increases in school and parish enrollments and walked with New Yorkers as they struggled to overcome an unprecedented trauma. He died of a heart attack on March 5 at the age of 82.
Pope Francis offered his condolences in a telegram to Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. “I join you in commending the late cardinal’s noble soul to God, the father of mercies,” the pope said, “with gratitude for his years of episcopal ministry…his distinguished service to the Apostolic See and his expert contribution to the revision of the church’s law in the years following the Second Vatican Council.”
For the Rev. Jonathan Morris, parish administrator of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in the Bronx and a media commentator, Cardinal Egan was the grandfatherly archbishop emeritus who welcomed him into a new role as a diocesan priest of New York. He worked closely with Cardinal Egan to develop Sirius Radio’s Catholic Channel.
Cardinal Egan did not always find the programs on the channel to his tastes, said Father Morris, “but he told me, don’t program it for what an old bishop likes, but think about the people who need to hear the Gospel in a way they can accept and be attracted to it.”
Cardinal John O’Conner was a difficult act for the former bishop of Bridgeport to follow, Father Morris said, “and he didn’t try to imitate him.” Instead, “he was an analytic and precise manager,” skills that served the archdiocese well, he said, and set it on a long-term path of fiscal health that freed his successor of a heavy burden.
America’s editor in chief, Matt Malone, S.J., commented, “New York has lost a good and holy pastor. America magazine has lost a true friend.” Father Malone added, “He ordained me a priest just before I took over as editor in chief. He opened doors for me in this city and elsewhere, always championing our work and all the ministries of the Jesuits. He was a quiet, but truly generous man.”
America’s church correspondent, Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., remembered in a post on the magazine’s website how the cardinal “may have had one of his greater moments as a churchman during 9-11 at ground zero.” She wrote, “On that September morning Cardinal Egan began days of ministry to workers, injured and deceased.... On the scene he risked contamination to the point that each night he had to get rid of all the clothes he wore—even his shoes.”
Just a few days after the attack, before hundreds of people crammed into St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a Mass of mourning, he had urged a level-headed response to a stunned and grieving nation. “I am sure that we will seek justice in this tragedy,” Cardinal Egan said, “as citizens of a nation under God in which hatred and desires for revenge must never have a part.”
Cardinal Egan was born on April 2, 1932, in Oak Park, Ill. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago on Dec. 15, 1957. In 1988 he was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport by Pope John Paul II. In 2000 he was appointed archbishop of New York and made a cardinal in 2001.
Like many in the U.S. church, Cardinal Egan struggled to come to terms with the sexual abuse crisis. His handling of cases in Bridgeport and New York was criticized, though he supported and helped implement the zero-tolerance policy that eventually became the official stance of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.