A new breed of archbishops

Writing in response to the appointment of Francis Joseph Spellman in 1939 (and using Manhattan to represent the whole archdiocese), the editor of the Catholic World noted:

New York is what it is reputed to be, a cosmos, a world on a narrow and not very long island….

In a manner of speaking he [Spellman or any archbishop of New York] becomes the leader of the world, or at least of a world: and I hope I may say without undue exuberance that he has a greater opportunity to battle evil and to amplify good than any other one man except the Holy Father. There is no see in Christendom with such potentialities as New York.

This may make the archbishop seem rather too much like Gotham’s Batman, a fanciful comparison some in the media have made when Cardinal Dolan’s ecclesiastical cape, his ferraiolo, flares out in the wind like wings. But there are, in fact, few other religious leaders in New York who have had or are likely to have the moral influence of its Catholic archbishop. How could he not wield such influence in a state of nearly twenty million souls, of whom about 15 percent are Roman Catholic? Whether this influence is currently waxing or waning is a matter for debate.

For many years, becoming the ordinary in New York usually involved earier service in the diocese or archdiocese—a kind of apprenticeship. For instance, consider this sequence: Bishop John Dubois was the early champion of the future Archbishop John Hughes, who served as the former’s coadjutor bishop, as Cardinal John McCloskey would receive his first episcopal appointment as Archbishop Hughes’ coadjutor. Archbishop Michael Corrigan would likewise serve as McCloskey’s coadjutor before becoming the ordinary, as Corrigan’s right hand, the future Cardinal John Farley, would serve as Corrigan’s coadjutor. Cardinal Patrick Hayes was the penultimate native New Yorker to head the archdiocese, and he had served with Farley at a Lower East Side church before becoming an auxiliary bishop for the five years prior to his being named archbishop. Then came the change.

Cardinal Francis Spellman was born in Massachusetts and had not served in New York prior to his elevation to the see in 1939. His old friend Eugenio Pacelli sent him to New York when Pacelli became Pope Pius XII. Spellman’s successor, Cardinal Terence Cooke, was a native-born New Yorker—the last to become archbishop— and served in various roles in the archdiocese, including chancellor and auxiliary bishop. Subsequent archbishops—O’Connor, Egan, and Dolan—were born else- where, although Egan and O’Connor did have previous experience in New York: Egan as an auxiliary bishop and O’Connor as an auxiliary bishop of the Military Vicariate of the United States, which, until his appointment as archbishop of New York, counted New York as its home base. (The rechristened Archdiocese for Military Services is now based in Washington, D.C.) And here we do not address the number of secretaries and administrators who have served under the archbishops and have gone on to head up other dioceses.

Why the change? It seems clear that personality, education, and achievement now trump local experience. – from the Preface of Sons of St. Patrick: A History of the Archbishops of New York, from Dagger John to Timmytown (2017)