Thousands of people filled the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast yesterday to say goodbye to Cardinal James A. Hickey, a champion of the poor who served 20 years as the Archbishop of Washington.
About 2,000 politicians, emissaries from Rome, family and friends attended the solemn funeral Mass in the basilica’s Upper Church.
The service started with a 15-minute procession of six cardinals, 13 archbishops, 35 bishops, 250 priests and deacons filing past the mahogany casket draped in a white pall. The Knights of Columbus, dressed in colorful capes and plumed headgear, served as honor guards during the service that lasted about 2 hours.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, accompanied by his wife, Diane, attended the service, as did Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and U.S. Sen Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat.
“It’s a sad day for Catholics and the archdiocese,” Mr. Steele said. “I worked on some committees for the poor with Cardinal Hickey, and to work with him was an honor. I mourn [his passing] as a Catholic and wish him much peace.”
Cardinal Hickey died Oct. 24 at age 84. He began his religious career working with immigrants in the Midwest and ended it ministering to powerful Catholics and the poor in the metropolitan area. He retired in 2000.
“What do you say when you want to say farewell to a great pastor and a most dedicated shepherd, to a man who was always perfectly prepared, whether he was preaching a homily or giving a talk or making a statement?” asked Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington and the principal celebrant of yesterday’s Mass.
Cardinal McCarrick also said Cardinal Hickey’s personality included the determination “to do it right the first time.”
“In preparing his talks, [Cardinal Hickey] always knew what he wanted to say,” Cardinal McCarrick said. “He always said it clearly and with love.”
Cardinal McCarrick, who was at the bedside of Cardinal Hickey when he died at the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Northeast, said that Cardinal Hickey was not an avid seeker of the public eye, nor a man who enjoyed walking in the corridors of power.
“He was not a leader who sought to involve his people in contention or controversy, but he made an impact among us such as few bishops have done,” he said. “In his 20 years of steady, loving, dedicated and extraordinary humble service, he reminded us who we were as children of God and heirs of heaven.”
Cardinal Hickey was interred after a private service yesterday afternoon at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest, site of President John F. Kennedy’s funeral Mass on Nov. 25, 1963.
The cardinal had asked to be clothed in the vestments he wore when he was ordained a bishop in 1967. He also requested that his late mother’s rosary and a prayer card he kept as a memento from his 1946 ordination be included in his casket.
On one finger was a ring given to him by Pope John Paul II, when he was elevated to the College of Cardinals on June 28, 1988.
After the Mass ended, several speakers, many of whom were ordained by Cardinal Hickey or served as his priest-secretaries or cared for him when his health started to decline, shared humorous and poignant stories with the congregation.
Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., recalled the time he was Cardinal Hickey’s scheduler and was being quizzed about upcoming events while driving back from an engagement. Bishop Lori said the cardinal’s questions were clear and precise.
“My answers were fuzzy, sparse and preoccupying,” he said.
During the drive, Bishop Lori passed a police cruiser a little too fast and the officer stopped them.
When the officer approached the car, “Cardinal Hickey said, ‘book him,’ but the officer let me off with a warning,” Bishop Lori said with a smile.
Mr. Williams said he was befriended by Cardinal Hickey during his first term as mayor. He said there were only three ways of answering him when he called to make sure there would be affordable housing in the District.
“Yes, Your Eminence. Yes, Cardinal Hickey. Yes, Sir.”