- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

NEW YORK | In his first days as head of the Roman Catholic Church in New York, Archbishop Timothy Dolan celebrated Mass in prison, talked baseball in the Yankees’ and Mets’ broadcast booths, visited the World Trade Center site and nibbled matzo at a symbolic Seder.

Everywhere he went, the cleric was quick with a smile, a joke and a hug.

To a youngster at the Seder he quipped, “I know you’d rather be in math class!” He told inmates at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility that he loves ministering to prisoners because, “You’re the only people who never leave Mass early.” He also obligingly autographed a Bible for an inmate.

Observers say the extroverted, media-savvy Archbishop Dolan is a good fit for the media capital of the world, and his arrival comes at a crucial time for the church. Archbishop Dolan’s job is the most visible Catholic post in the country, and he is taking on the high-profile job at a time when the church is struggling to recruit priests and to beef up attendance at Mass.

“He’s just a very friendly guy,” said the Rev. David O’Connell, president of the Catholic University of America. “He’s right out of central casting for this role.”

Archbishop Dolan, 59, was installed as head of the New York Archdiocese on April 15 after leading the Milwaukee Archdiocese since 2002.

He succeeds Cardinal Edward Egan, an austere figure who is hard to picture wearing a Mets jersey over his clerical garb.

Father O’Connell said that Cardinal Egan’s main priority had been to put the archdiocese’s finances in order.

“And he did,” he said. “He was not the glad-hander, and he was not the bon vivant. Now that that work has been done, the time has come for someone who can engage people, who can give people a sense of the joy of the Gospel.”

Like Cardinal Egan, Archbishop Dolan is a firm advocate for the church on hot-button topics such as abortion and an all-male, celibate priesthood.

He vowed at a news conference before his installation in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to fight efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in New York.

But he beamed as he greeted Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Gov. David A. Paterson and other elected officials who support gay marriage and abortion rights.

Those who know Archbishop Dolan say the private man matches the public persona.

“He always has that smile on his face,” said Julie Wolf, communications director for the Milwaukee Archdiocese. “He just enjoys being with people.”

The New York Archdiocese encompasses 2.5 million parishioners and nearly 400 churches in parts of New York City and its northern suburbs. It is the nation’s second-largest diocese after Los Angeles.

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