My Brother, Cardinal Dolan
Bob Dolan Gives Insight Into the Archbishop of New York
In 2012, Time magazine placed a cardinal of the Catholic Church on its list of “100 Most Influential People in the World.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had emerged as the voice of conscience rights against health-care legislation that would force Catholic organizations to pay for employees’ contraception.
Currently serving as archbishop of New York, he will vote in the upcoming conclave to elect our next pope. His name is even being mentioned as papabile, meaning he is a likely candidate for pope.
For a personal insight into the man, his brother, Bob Dolan, a media professional for more than 30 years, offers a new book, Life Lessons From My Life With My Brother, Timothy Cardinal Dolan (Tau Publishing). Bob Dolan declined comment about the conclave. He spoke about the book and life with his famous brother.
The mainstream media has covered your brother extensively. Much of their treatment of him seems to come from a showbiz angle. There is a certain “star power” that comes with the office of cardinal of New York. They talk about him as if he were a politician, summarizing his effectiveness based on his personality. What side of your brother do you want readers to know through this book?
When most people speak of Cardinal Dolan, they usually begin with praise for his sense of humor or his approachability or his ability to make everyone feel warm and welcome and wanted. However, while all of that is certainly true, I want people to know of his devout side; his unshakeable prayer life; his immeasurable love of Jesus; the joy he feels by following Christ. Once one gets closer to Cardinal Dolan, these things are evident and very real.
You remark a lot about your role as little brother. You say, “Following Tim in school at Holy Infant was like following Claude Monet in art school.” Even now as an adult, with many accomplishments of your own — a family, your work in radio and TV — you look up to your big brother. Was this due to him? Or you? Or was it something in your family culture that enabled you to develop your enviable relationship with him?
I have always looked up to my older brother. I still do. Of course I am proud of whatever I’ve been able to accomplish in both my personal and professional life, but I believe it pales in comparison to what he has done and continues to do on a daily basis; he literally changes people’s lives. I have absolutely no problem admitting that.
Cardinal Dolan said, “Saints give proof that a happy, holy life can be led.” Tell me about that.
I am frequently asked if my brother is as happy and joyful as he presents himself to be. People wonder, “What’s he really like?” They ask me because they know, obviously, I’ve seen him in private times as well as public occasions. And my response is always the same: What you see is what he is; in public or private, he is as happy and as joyful a person as I have ever known. He is constantly making those around him feel welcome and wanted and appreciated. He is constantly telling a funny story, and then he is the first one to lead the laughter. And the reason for such joy is his comfort level in his love for Christ. He is not afraid or ashamed to admit it; his one true source of joy is Jesus, and all good and happy things in his life come from Jesus.
I like Cardinal Dolan’s phrase “adventure in fidelity.” Can you explain?
I first heard of my brother’s call for all of us to join him in “an adventure in fidelity” in his homily at his installation Mass in 2002 as archbishop of Milwaukee, Wis. My interpretation is that, while all of us are sinners, we are still called by Christ to follow him by living a life of holiness and sacrifice. This journey is an "adventure" because, like all adventures, it will be full of surprises and successes and failures, but the journey and the adventure is worthwhile if we keep our eyes on Christ.
Throughout your book, there is a lot of brotherly camaraderie. You show a very human, very approachable side. Does the cardinal have an ascetic or penitential side? For example, St. Philip Neri was famous for his jokes and fun, but he lived on bread and water and disciplined himself.
Cardinal Dolan most certainly has a penitential side; usually, it is a private side: at least an hour of daily prayer in his chapel, constant visits to the Blessed Sacrament, weekly confession and difficult sacrifice during Lent.
You bravely talk about the problems in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee (where you reside) before Archbishop Dolan took the appointment as archbishop there. His predecessor admitted shredding reports of clerical sex abuse and shuffling abusers into new parishes. People said Archbishop Dolan was “the right man at the right time.” What did he do to heal the archdiocese?
I think he did several things upon his arrival in Milwaukee to assist in the healing process. One, he didn’t run from the scandal; he didn’t pretend it never happened; he didn’t assume that Milwaukee Catholics were not hurting. He went from parish to parish and addressed the congregations, apologizing for the scandal and the sins, but reassuring all of us that our faith in Jesus should not be affected. This [evil] has nothing to do with Jesus’ love for all of us, he told us, so it should have nothing to do with our love for Jesus. Also, he publicly met with victims of clerical sexual abuse and heard their sad stories, often embracing them and crying with them. He got it. They knew he cared. They knew he loved them.
The part where your brother offered you a chance to meet and greet Pope John Paul II and you gave it to your wife, Beth, was gallant. Were you taught gallantry at home?
Well, we did indeed learn gallantry from our mom and dad; I think many parents in that generation taught their sons the importance and value of gallantry. However, when speaking of that specific act of allowing my wife the honor of meeting Pope John Paul II, I don’t see the gallantry; I only see it as giving that honor to someone I love who was more deserving of such an honor. I don’t see it as a gallant or heroic act — only as an act of love. Besides, I was afraid I’d trip walking up the steps to meet him.
You end the book with Pope Benedict XVI’s charge to the newly consecrated cardinals, “May your mission in the Church and the world always be in Christ alone, responding to his logic and not that of the world, and may it be illuminated by faith and animated by charity, which comes to us from the glorious cross of Our Lord.” Cardinal Dolan has been a leader in criticizing the Health and Human Services’ mandate. Tell me about that in light of Pope Benedict’s charge.
I’m not sure how to equate the Pope’s charge to last year’s College of Cardinals to my brother’s role in the HHS fight, but I can say this: Taking the leadership role on HHS is not something Cardinal Dolan sought because it would generate headlines and increase his profile; rather, it was done because it was the right thing to do, and it is what he has been called to do as cardinal of New York. He will not compromise, and he will not waver. And by the prayers and efforts of so many other people involved in this fight, he finds great strength.
Tell me something that your brother taught you that you think about or use every day.
Finally, an easy question! Every time I am with my brother, I see acts of kindness and compassion to those less fortunate. He is constantly visiting or calling someone who is sick or grieving. I see him talk to the homeless and make them laugh or smile. I see him issue lunch or dinner invitations to those who feel they’ve been left at the side of the road. He lives “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me.” It’s a great lesson he has shown me; too often, I fail, but I am constantly aware of how I, and the rest of us, should treat the less fortunate.
What would he say that you have taught him?
I don't know! I’d hate to speak for him. I can’t imagine him learning very much from me. Perhaps I’ve shown him how much I value a good marriage and raising children who love their faith and contribute to society and how important such a role is, not only in our Catholic Church, but in society in general.
Susie Lloyd writes from Whitehall, Pennsylvania.