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Cardinal Edward Egan, former New York archbishop, dies at 82

Cardinal Edward Egan, former Archbishop of New York,

Cardinal Edward Egan, former Archbishop of New York, outside St. Patrick's Cathedral after celebrating his final Easter Mass as archbishop on April 12, 2009. Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

Cardinal Edward Egan, the retired archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York and a leading figure in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, died Thursday, the archdiocese said. He was 82.

Egan was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest at NYU Langone Medical Center at 2:20 p.m., the archdiocese said.

Egan had lunch with his secretary, the Rev. Douglas Crawford, in his residence at the Chapel of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, "and at the end of the lunch he simply let out a little groan and he slumped over and died," said Egan's successor, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Crawford gave Egan the sacrament of the sick in case there was a chance of recovery, and then he was rushed to the hospital, Dolan said.

"He loved this city. He obviously loved the Catholic family of New York with a particularly paternal care," he said. "He loved its priests, its sisters, and parishes and especially the people."

Dolan added, "What they'll miss most about Cardinal Egan would be his sense of faith and hope. Many people use the term 'rocklike.' "

Egan was appointed archbishop of New York in 2000 and was named cardinal the following year. He retired in May 2009. As archbishop of New York, he automatically became one of the most visible figures in the Catholic Church in the United States.

He served at a difficult time in the archdiocese's history, facing the churchwide sex-abuse scandal, major financial problems, declining church attendance, dwindling ranks of priests and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He also hosted Pope Benedict XVI during his historic visit to the city in April 2008.

In his first two years in New York, Egan eliminated a $20 million annual operating deficit. He went on to close 20 parishes -- an unpopular decision among some Catholics.

But supporters said he made the difficult decisions needed to keep the archdiocese afloat.

Egan was "a generous man who committed his life to serving others. His compassion was reflected in his deeds," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "Cardinal Egan spread love and knowledge, and brought comfort to countless New Yorkers and others across the country and the world who sought his guidance and counsel -- especially in the aftermath of 9/11."

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Egan "led his church through difficult times, and he helped lead New York City out of our darkest hour."

Bishop William Murphy, of the Rockville Centre diocese, said in a statement Egan was one of his college instructors and later a colleague at the Vatican. "When I came to this Diocese he welcomed me, counseled me and was a fast and steadfast friend and adviser, especially in my first years here on Long Island."

"It is with fond memories that I commend him to God and with great gratitude that he served the Church, and especially New York with, wisdom, dedication and devotion," he added.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Egan "had a powerful and positive impact on our state and the world that will continue to be felt for years to come. Throughout his life, Cardinal Egan encouraged others to devote themselves to the greater good."

"Cardinal Egan was deeply spiritual and a great intellectual, but at the same time very down-to-earth, compassionate and friendly," Sen. Charles Schumer said. "I was lucky to know him and New York was lucky to have him. May he rest in peace."

NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton also issued a statement praising Egan.

"In the days following September 11, 2001, Cardinal Egan stood with first responders and victims at the site of the World Trade Center Towers, offering comfort when it was most needed," Bratton wrote. "We are truly grateful for the knowledge and guidance that he shared with this city during his many years of service. He was an inspiration to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike and will be truly missed."

At 6-foot-4, with a deep voice and polished homilies, Egan was an imposing figure. He was fluent in Italian, French, Spanish and Latin, played classical piano and read physics. He contracted polio as a child but recovered, though in recent months his legs started to fail him, Dolan said.

Born on April 2, 1932, in Oak Park, Illinois, Egan was ordained as a priest in December 1957 in the Chicago archdiocese.

Nearly half of his career was spent in Rome as a student, teacher, canon lawyer and ecclesiastical judge. As bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, from 1988 to 2000, he reversed its debt, raising $45 million and closing or merging schools.

Egan was brought into New York in part "to help stabilize the financial situation," said the Rev. James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit magazine America. "He had to make very difficult decisions."

On the sexual-abuse scandal, though, he faced criticism for failing to quickly remove accused priests in Bridgeport and being slow to respond to the crisis in New York. Egan argued he handled the issue properly.

At St. Patrick's Cathedral Thursday, visitors voiced sadness. Jennifer Colon, 40, of Lynbrook, said, "I'm sure . . . all the Catholics will bind together and pray for his passing, for the angels to take him into heaven."

Arrangements have not been made, though Dolan said he expects a wake at St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Egan will be entombed beneath the altar.

With Matthew Chayes

and Alison Fox


Archbishop of New York,2000-2009

Bishop of Bridgeport,1988-2000

Auxiliary bishop and vicarfor education of the Archdiocese of New York, 1985-1988

Ordained a priestfor the Archdiocese of Chicago, 1957

Studied and worked in Romefor nearly half his five-decade career in the church

Fluent in Italian,Latin, French and Spanish

Eliminated a $20 millionannual operating deficit in New York archdiocese while closing 20 parishes

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