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New leader eager to meet stalwarts of the archdiocese

of the Journal Sentinel staffLast Updated: June 25, 2002Blending expressions of faith with Irish wit, Milwaukee's gregarious new archbishop-elect let it be known Tuesday that his top priority would be to get out among the "meat and potato" Catholics who are the heart of the church.

New Milwaukee Archbishop

Photo/David Joles
The next archbishop of Milwaukee, Timothy M. Dolan (right), and retired Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland greet each other Tuesday at a news conference at the Cousins Center in St. Francis.

Photo/David Joles
Timothy Dolan let it be known Tuesday that he doesn't like convenient labels.

The Dolan File

  • Born: Feb. 6, 1950, in St. Louis.

  • Ordained: June 19, 1976, by Edward T. O'Meara, then auxiliary bishop of St. Louis.

  • Education: St. Louis Preparatory Seminary in Shrewsbury, Mo.; bachelor's degree, Cardinal Glennon College in Shrewsbury; master's degrees, Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome and Catholic University in Washington, D.C.; doctorate, Catholic University.


  • Associate pastor at Immacolata Parish in Richmond Heights, Mo.

  • Served at two other St. Louis-area parishes.

  • From 1987 to 1992, he was secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C.

  • In 1992, he became vice rector of the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis.

  • In 1994, he became rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

  • In June 2001, he was named auxiliary bishop of St. Louis.

Photo/Elizabeth Flores
Maureen Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel celebrates the selection of a new archbishop of Milwaukee by decorating St. Patrick's Catholic Church in the Town of Erin in Washington County. Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel and others are fighting former Archbishop Weakland's decision to merge St. Patrick's with St. Kilian in Hartford.


" We think he's Catholic. He seems interested in building up the Catholic Church. That should be a refreshing change in what we have

- Al Szews,
Weakland critic and Milwaukee chapter president of Catholics United for the Faith

"  I don't think it is with glee. "

- Terry Ryan,
member of Voices of the Faithful, on how liberals would accept Dolan

"  I think he can give us some balance that has been lost over these last few months. "

- Tim Kitzke,
pastor, Three Holy Women

"My first major challenge is to get to know the folks," said Dolan, who quipped that in St. Louis he visited so many school events, fish fries and bingo games that he nearly had to be chained to his desk.

"I always say that the strength of any diocese, and it's certainly true of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, is what I would call the meat and potato Catholics. These are just the faithful men and women who love the Lord, who love their church, who want to raise their kids in the faith. This is the heart and soul of the church."

The man who will be installed Aug. 28 in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist as the new leader of the 10-county archdiocese's nearly 690,000 Catholics and nearly 440 diocesan priests sees the archdiocese as simply a large parish.

He's been an associate pastor and seminary rector in Rome and St. Louis. He's been in recent months the point man handling sexual abuse allegations for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. And, for the past 10 months, he's been an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis.

But he's never been the pastor in charge.

Where he ultimately will try to lead his flock is a matter of intense interest for Catholics at every point on the theological spectrum.

Hand-picked by the hierarchy in the United States and Rome, and appointed Tuesday by Pope John Paul II, the 52-year-old Dolan is more conservative than the man he is replacing. Former Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland was seen as one of the nation's leading liberal intellectuals in an increasingly conservative church.

Weakland retired amid revelations that the archdiocese paid $450,000 to Paul Marcoux, a man who claimed that Weakland sexually assaulted him more than 20 years ago when Marcoux was a theology student at Marquette University.

Dolan, who has a doctorate in church history and a licentiate in sacred theology, is no academic slouch. But he let it be known during a morning news conference at the Cousins Center in St. Francis that he doesn't abide by convenient labels and a paint-by-the-numbers approach to doing ideological portraits.

Asked what it will be like to succeed the liberal Weakland, the ample archbishop-elect said, "You're asking maybe if there's any difference between Archbishop Weakland and me? And there is, a big one. About 50 pounds, right off the bat."

Dolan went on to say that he has been described as a man without ideologies, who doesn't put much trust in labels of liberal and conservative. He is a man, he said, who loves his church, Jesus Christ, his people and his priesthood.

"So, are there going to be differences between Archbishop Weakland and me?" Dolan asked rhetorically. "I suppose so, just as there were between Archbishop Cousins and Archbishop Weakland. But he's a man I respect a lot, and I would say that we share the same faith, we share the same deep commitment. So just those kind of vocabularies and those kind of titles as liberal and conservative, they don't cut much mustard with me."

Weakland, who had praised Dolan's selection moments earlier as "a very wise and a good choice at this moment of history for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee," was sitting a few feet away from Dolan with Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba.

Father Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit weekly magazine America and an expert on the Vatican, recalled that Dolan had called for happy and holy priests to attract more men to the priesthood while speaking at a vocations conference.

"If he comes to Milwaukee and he wants to make his priests happy and holy, I think they will like that, and the people will like that," Reese said. "He seems to have a pastoral orientation, and if he comes and listens to the people, I think he'll work out very well."

Father Robert Wild, president of Marquette University, said that he was optimistic.

"I would presume he would be more conservative, in the sense that this is the tenor of the kinds of appointments that have been made . . . but to me the major issue is if he is open to people and in touch with the real concerns of real people, if he has a pastoral understanding. I think that's going to carry him a long way no matter where he falls on the spectrum."

While Dolan's brother priests might worry about his views at first, Frank Malloy, pastor at St. Luke's in Brookfield, said those concerns should soon melt away.

"Once they meet him, I don't think it will be a problem," Malloy said. "He is a very understanding fellow."

Al Szews, a longtime critic of Weakland's and the Milwaukee chapter president of Catholics United for the Faith, a group that others call conservative and members describe as orthodox, said their members were "especially grateful" for Dolan's appointment.

"We think he's Catholic," Szews said. "He seems interested in building up the Catholic Church. That should be a refreshing change in what we have seen."

Szews said he expects that some priests will leave the church as a result of Dolan's appointment.

"There will be some who fall by the wayside," Szews said. "These are priests who have become accustomed in the last 25 years to a way of life not conducive to priestly lives. You had an archbishop that forced priests out of the rectories. Men who are supposed to be living a chaste life were plied with the biggest salary schedule in the country. The emphasis has been on letting the priests find themselves rather than priests serving God by serving man. You have priests openly engaging in homosexual and heterosexual liaisons."

Likewise, Maureen Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel, who fought Weakland's plan to close St. Patrick Church in Erin, said she and members of her church preservation group were "thrilled" with Dolan's appointment.

Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel said she was frustrated with the lack of response her group got with Weakland in their efforts to meet with him and challenge his decision to close their church. She said she was hopeful that Dolan would be more responsive.

"I'm confident we have the right man for the job," she said.

Not everyone was as enthusiastic. Terry Ryan, a member of Voices of the Faithful, a group encouraging the empowerment of laity in the church, said she was disappointed that the people were not consulted on their preference for a new archbishop.

"It was just imposed by Rome," she said.

Asked how she thought Dolan would be accepted by the more liberal members of the diocese, Ryan said, "I don't think it is with glee."

Bryan Massingale, a theologian who teaches ethics at St. Francis Seminary, said he would reserve judgment until he could get to know Dolan. Still, he said, he was impressed with Dolan's "upbeat personality and sense of infectious energy."

"That's something that's really needed here now," Massingale said.

Tim Kitzke, pastor of Three Holy Women, said he hoped people would not judge Dolan on ideological lines. "Instead of putting on labels, it's time to gather together," he said. "Let's give this guy some breathing room."

Kitzke said he was looking at Dolan's faith, not his politics.

"I think he can give us some balance that has been lost over these last few months," Kitzke said. "I'm excited about moving on to the next phase. There is some real healing that still needs to be done, and to do that we need time. Now we have a fresh vantage."

Dolan said that he hoped his appointment would be an occasion of spiritual renewal and commitment for himself and for the archdiocese. The church in southeastern Wisconsin and across the nation has experienced a lot of pain in recent months, he said.

"About all I can do - but boy I want to do with all the exuberance that I can - is through my words and actions to be a man of hope," he said.

Dolan said he supported the pope's view that no one who has sexually abused a child or youth should be permitted to remain in ministry. And he pledged to carry out the new national policy on sexual abuse that the U.S. bishops adopted on June 15 in Dallas.

Later, he said that he had learned four things from his recent months handling sexual abuse allegations for the Archdiocese of St. Louis: It is not possible to exaggerate the pain of the victims; church leaders can never say "I'm sorry" enough; be honest, open and upfront; and mean it with every fiber of your being when you say that your primary goal is to protect children.

One clue to Dolan's broader approach to ministry came through as he described in an interview the influence on him of Holy Infant Parish, the small-town parish outside of St. Louis in which he grew up.

"That parish was so cohesive, so supportive," he said. "It was the center of our lives. We were blessed with Irish nuns, nuns who came from Ireland. Great priests. And I've often thought my goal as a priest is to re-create that beautiful, happy, sustaining environment of the parish where I was raised."

Dolan, who was ordained in 1976, is finally getting his chance.