St. Patrick's Cathedral swelled with song, applause and emotion today as a standing-room-only congregation witnessed the installation of Archbishop Timothy Dolan as the spiritual leader of New York's 2.5 million Catholics.
The beaming Irishman stepped to the altar as only the 10th Archbishop in the history of the New York Archdiocese and offered his "admiration, deep appreciation and unflagging love" to the priests of New York.
And while the cheerful 59-year-old leader previously charmed worshippers in Milwaukee by sharing his everyman's love of beers, brats and baseball, Dolan told his New York congregation that he'll maintain his strict defense of conservative church doctrine, earning several ovations along the way.
His nearly 30-minute homily included a pro-life mention about his commitment to preserve the "sanctity of human life, from every tiny baby in the womb."At a news conference earlier in the day, Dolan told reporters he'll work with the state's other Roman Catholic bishops to defeat legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage.
"You'll find I don't shy away from those things," he said. "I wouldn't sidestep them. You could expect me to articulate that with all the clarity ... I can muster."
The last ovation Dolan earned brought the congregation to its feet when he urged attendees "to believe that from Staten Island to Sullivan County, from the Bowery, to the Bronx, to Newburgh, from White Plains to Poughkeepsie ... He is walking right alongside us."
Early in the speech, he offered a touching moment to the day when he acknowledged his mother in attendance.
"My dear family, when I told Mom that Pope Benedict XVI had appointed me Archbishop of New York, I remarked, 'Mom, whatever God gives me in life, His greatest gift to me is that I am Bob and Shirley Dolan's son,'" he said, setting up for a zinger. "I mean that. And I'm so glad Mom is here this afternoon. I was a little worried Mom might not make it. She found out there was a sale on at Macy's."
The Archdiocese of New York is the nation's second-largest diocese after Los Angeles, yet it is considered the most prominent seat in American Catholicism.
Dolan's predecessors include Cardinal Francis Spellman, who was so influential that his residence was dubbed "the powerhouse." Cardinal John O'Connor was the most forceful Catholic voice in the national debates of his era, especially on abortion.
Dolan succeeds New York Cardinal Edward Egan, 77, who is retiring after nine years.
The archdiocese covers a region with 2.5 million parishioners in about 400 churches and an annual budget estimated to be at least half a billion dollars.
Its vast Catholic service network includes 10 colleges and universities, hundreds of schools and aid agencies, and nine hospitals that treat about a million people annually.
Dolan faces challenges identical to those for bishops nationwide: strengthening the finances of Catholic schools and parishes as Catholics move from urban areas to the suburbs, boosting the low rate of Mass attendance, and serving a growing number of Latinos and other immigrants.
Dolan said the American church has always been a shelter for newcomers. But he said Catholicism has become a "settled, accepted religion."
He said he wanted to revive "a sense of energetic solicitude for the Catholic people."