“It’s good to be home.”
It was a phrase Cardinal Timothy Dolan would repeat several times Thursday morning during a Fourth of July holiday Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Washington.
As in the past, Catholics from a wide area came to Lourdes to celebrate Mass with Dolan, the charismatic archbishop of New York, who is considered the top Catholic in this country and one of the world’s most influential prelates.
He has been called “America’s Pope.” Time magazine named Dolan one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” for 2012.
Dolan grew up and attended the seminary in St. Louis but members of his family, including his mother Shirley, live in Washington and are members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.
He returns here frequently to see them and preside over weddings and baptisms of family members. He has given the commencement address at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School. When he is in town, he usually celebrates Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes.
While he is not a native of Washington, local Catholics claim him as one of their own. A large contingent of area Catholics traveled to Rome in January of 2012 to witness his appointment to the College of Cardinals.
Wherever Dolan goes to say Mass or give a speech he draws a crowd. He has a magnetic personality and is considered a “people-person.”
In an interview on “60 Minutes” the jovial Dolan was shown drinking beer and smoking cigars. His self-deprecating, folksy style has endeared him to millions of Catholics who view him as a regular guy and someone they can relate to on personal level. He regularly pokes fun at himself about his weight.
“What weighs on me the most,” he said in an interview last year, “is the caricature of the Catholic Church as crabby, nay-saying, down in the dumps, discouraging, on the run. And I’m thinking if there is anything that should be upbeat, affirming, positive, joyful, it should be people of faith.”
“People are drawn to him, they are drawn to his message, his down-to-earth personality and his humor, the Rev. Michael Boehm, the pastor at our Lady of Lourdes, said. “We love having him, we are fortunate that he comes to visit here and celebrate Mass with us.”
Dolan’s personality and quick wit were on display Thursday. He complimented the choir which was comprised of members of both Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Francis Borgia, Washington’s two Catholic churches.
“How about the choir, don’t they sound great,” Dolan joked during Mass. “It took the choir to bring St. Francis Borgia and Our Lady of Lourdes together. It’s kind of like the Yankees and the Mets.”
Dolan recognized his classmate from the seminary, the Rev. Joseph Wormek, the newly appointed associate pastor at St. Francis Borgia, during the service.
“Stand up, Joe,” Dolan said. “Joe and I were classmates in the seminary, we got out in ’76 — that’s 1976, not 1776.”
Dolan opened up the Mass by observing he was at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Madison Avenue in Washington, Mo., and that his regular church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City is also located on Madison Avenue.
“I’d rather be here,” he observed.
Dolan infused his homily with patriotic themes and mentioned he will be presiding at a special outdoor Mass commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg this weekend. He discussed how religion influenced President Lincoln and our country’s other leaders at critical times in our history.
Dolan doesn’t stand on formality when he celebrate Mass. He will point to people he knows during the service and wink at them or give them the “thumbs-up” sign. He takes his red cardinal hat off regularly and places it on whomever is around him, especially kids.
Dolan followed his usual custom Thursday of sticking around after Mass to greet people, give hugs and pose for pictures. The lines were long.
“He is amazing,” Kay Scheible, an Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner, said after Mass. “He is just so personable, what a great way to start the Fourth of July holiday.
“We are blessed that he wasn’t made pope,” Mary Jane Marquart said after Mass. “Because if he had, he wouldn’t be able to come back here.”
Dolan concluded the Mass with a closing prayer that ended with “God Bless the United States of America and God Bless Washington, Mo.”