By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Two days before Cardinal Timothy Dolan flew from New York to Iowa, the host of “Conversations with Cardinal Dolan” asked him about the Feb. 7 trip and what connections he had there.
Cardinal Dolan, one of America’s best known church leaders, said he accepted an invitation from his great friend, Father Bob Busher, and Bishop Thomas Zinkula of the Diocese of Davenport “to do a little promotion of their beautiful cathedral, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.”
Bishop Zinkula knew that the cardinal had just overseen renovation and restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and asked “could you come and promote us because we’re trying to do the same,” Cardinal Dolan said. “I said, ‘Bishop, count me in!’”
So, cathedral supporters booked Cardinal Dolan to preside at Mass followed by dinner, the “Red Dinner,” to be specific. The annual event celebrates the cathedral as the mother church of the diocese and has become an important fundraiser for the cathedral’s day to day maintenance. The new Sears Diocesan Hall symbolizes the crown jewel of the cathedral’s $7 million construction and renovation project.
Promotion of the big event, and the cardinal’s central role in it, began months in advance. But when the day arrived, Father Rich Adam, the cathedral’s rector, wondered whether it would happen. “School had been cancelled; the roads were terrible; there was sleet and rain.” The priest prayed, “God, it’s all yours. It’s up to you.”
God delivered Cardinal Dolan. He arrived by private jet at Elliott Aviation in Milan, Ill., accompanied by Will Moon, owner of Iowa 80 Truckstop, and his daughter, Sarah, and their company pilot. “He’s super personable,” Sarah Moon said of Cardinal Dolan. When we were at the airport in New York, it seemed like he knew people for 10 years, but he’d just met them.”
The cardinal got into a limo in Milan, just across the Mississippi River from Davenport, where his seminary roommate and friend of nearly 50 years, Fr. Busher, waited. “Most of the conversation was between the cardinal and Fr. Busher. They were talking about memories,” said Ed Schloemer, who served as chauffeur, driving a limo provided by his employer, Halligan-McCabe-DeVries Funeral Home.
The group arrived at Sacred Heart Cathedral for the 4 p.m. Mass at which Cardinal Dolan presided. He greeted the congregation of around 650 laity, clergy and women religious with his characteristic humor. “What a tremendous crowd on a bitter cold day in the middle of the week…. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we’d call this a two-collection crowd,” he quipped.
Cardinal Dolan recognized his concelebrants, Bishop Zinkula, Bishop Emeritus Martin Amos and Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines. The cardinal joked that he realized someone of “lesser proportion” than himself normally sits in the bishop’s chair. He also expressed appreciation for the priests, deacons and women religious in the congregation and gave credit to Fr. Busher, his dear friend, for having the dream for the renovation and remodeling of Sacred Heart Cathedral when he was rector.
The cardinal teased the Carmelite nuns in the congregation whose motherhouse is based in New York. “I don’t recall remember giving permission for you to be here,” he bantered. He was glad to know they’d be at dinner afterwards because they’d give a really good impression of the Rockettes, the famous precision dance company in New York.
Humor led to heartfelt reflections about the inspiration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for which the Davenport Diocese’s cathedral is named. The cardinal recalled learning a prayer in the second grade about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which he continues to pray daily. From his bishop’s chair in the newly renovated St. Patrick’s Cathedral, he now looks upon a stained glass window showing the apparition of Jesus receiving his sacred heart.
As a young priest in St. Louis, he accompanied a professor of mathematics on his journey to the Catholic Church. The math professor had many questions but struggled most with the dogma of the incarnation of Jesus. He thought it sounded too good to be true. One day, months into his faith formation classes, the professor noticed a painting the parish rectory’s entryway that depicted the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The professor asked what the picture showed. Cardinal Dolan said, “That’s Jesus.” “But he has a heart,” the professor responded. “Yes,” Cardinal Dolan said. The professor stared at the image for some time and then responded with awe, “Our God has a heart.” The professor entered the Catholic Church.
Fr. Busher, battling illness for some time, mustered all his strength to make it to Mass with his beloved buddy “Timmy” and the dinner afterwards. “This is my first outing in five months,” said Fr. Busher, who uses a walker and sat a front side pew for Mass. Cardinal Dolan walked down the stairs from the sanctuary to give Communion to his buddy, first. “I wiped the sweat from his brow,” Fr. Busher said.
Cardinal Dolan made 850 new best friends at the Red Dinner that followed the Votive Mass for the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He posed for countless photos and selfies with dinner guests at Rhythm City Convention Center in Davenport. Following dinner, served buffet style, Fr. Adam called out “Cardinal “Timmy, did you meet everybody?”
Bishop Zinklua introduced the cardinal who, quite frankly, seemed familiar to everyone present. “He’s a great guy. It’s an honor to have him here,” said Jeff O’Rourke of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, who attended the Red Dinner with his wife, Cindy. “He’s so easy-going and friendly,” Cindy said.
Cardinal Dolan’s talk focused humorously and seriously on why he’d come to Iowa, to the Diocese of Davenport, for Mass and the Red Dinner. First, “I’d do anything to get out of New York City,” he quipped. He’s felt plenty of heat in recent weeks concerning his approach to dealing with New York’s Catholic governor, who celebrated a victory in passage of a law that allows abortion throughout pregnancy.
The cardinal chose to focus instead on a celebration of faith and Catholicism in the heartland. “I’m a Midwesterner. I’m from St. Louis. I love the Diocese of Davenport,” he said. He knew the last several bishops of the diocese – the late Bishop Gerald O’Keefe, Bishop Emeritus William Franklin and Bishop Emeritus Martin Amos. And now he’d getting to know Bishop Zinkula.
Another “reason” for his visit: “I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States,” he joked. “I’ll be at the Iowa caucuses.” A more serious reason to visit: to see his great friend, Fr. Busher. They met Aug. 31, 1972, at a Dunkin’ Donuts in New York, just before heading to the Pontifical North American College in Rome where they were seminarians. “Since then, he’s been my best friend. He’s been a brother to me,” Cardinal Dolan said. He turned toward the table where his buddy sat and said, “Bob, it is a joy and an honor to be with you my brother.”
Still one more reason to visit: the cardinal said, he was happy to “participate in and support your Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.” He appreciated the vast support for the $170 million renovation and remodeling project of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and wanted to pay it forward in Davenport.
A cathedral is a “living, breathing reminder that God is with us,” the cardinal said. He recalled the brief visit of Pope Francis to New York City in 2015 and how surprised the Holy Father was to see St. Patrick Cathedral in the midst of the city. Cardinal Dolan said Pope Francis told him that’s where a cathedral should be, in the midst of everything.
That story led to another story, about a Protestant minister who asked a New York City cab driver to take him to Christ’s Church. The cabbie dropped off the minister in front of St. Patrick Cathedral. This isn’t Christ’s Church, the minister said. The cabbie responded: “All I know is this: In New York City, this is where he lives.” The point of that story, and several others the cardinal told: “in a cathedral, everyone is welcome.”
The Church, with a capital ‘C’ is the sinless spotless, beautiful pure bride of Christ,” Cardinal Dolan said. “The church with a small ‘c,’ is sinful – with you and me as members. So the church always needs purification. Is that not evident today folks? That the church needs purification, the church needs cleansing, the church needs renewal.” Renewal and repair is required of all Catholics — “from the pope to the cardinals to the bishops to the priests to the deacons to the sisters, to all of us – members of the bride of Christ,” Cardinal Dolan said.
When St. Francis of Assisi saw a vision of Jesus from the crucifix instructing Francis to “rebuild my Church,” Francis initially misunderstood Jesus to mean the physical structure. But Jesus wanted Francis to rebuild the Church with a capital “C”. “You have done both here in Davenport,” the cardinal said. “And that’s why I’m honored and grateful to be here this evening to say thank you for what you have done.”