In a funeral Mass replete with ancient traditions, Cardinal Edward Egan was remembered Tuesday at St. Patrick's Cathedral as a devoted churchman with an unwavering faith in Jesus Christ.
Egan, archbishop of the New York Archdiocese from 2000 to 2009 and one of the most visible church leaders in the United States, died Thursday of cardiac arrest. He was 82.
In his homily, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Egan's successor, told stories of Egan's love of the church.
"Visiting the priests' lot at one of our cemeteries, he once pointed out to me the inscription on one tombstone: Dilexit ecclesiam," Dolan said. "He liked it, not just because it was in Latin, but because of what it said: 'He loved the Church.'
" 'What a tribute,' he commented to me. A tribute, my friends, Edward Egan also merits, because dilexit ecclesiam, he loved the Church."
Dolan continued: "And so I call him a churchman, a term that cannot be reduced to describing a man who prefers brick-and-mortar, ledgers, and an aloof institution, but a man who sees in the Church, Jesus Christ, His Lord and Savior, alive in teaching, serving and sanctifying."Some 2,500 people packed the cathedral's pews, including six cardinals, four archbishops, 30 bishops and a number of New York politicians -- among them Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and former mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani.
Vera Barreto, an immigrant from India who lives in Astoria, paid her respects Tuesday. She said she especially liked the homilies Egan, who is of Irish descent, gave in which he talked about the Irish potato famine and the subsequent surge in Irish immigration. "His homilies were really, really good," she said.
Egan's tenure in New York came at a difficult time, encompassing the churchwide sexual-abuse scandal, major financial problems, declining church attendance, dwindling ranks of priests and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
One of the faithful Tuesday, Sister Chala Marie Hill, a nun with Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary based in Harlem, said Egan "was a wonderful leader for the church here in New York. I think God sent him to be with us and to lead us during a time of transition."
The Mass began about 1:30 p.m. with a procession, as long lines of priests arrived. Members of the FDNY and NYPD lined up inside the entrance to the cathedral as bagpipes and organ played and the choir sang "Introito."
Other music during the Mass included two of Egan's favorite composers, Schubert and Chopin. Renee Fleming of the New York Metropolitan Opera, sang "Ave Maria," and fellow opera star Matthew Polenzani sang "Panis Angelicus."
In his homily, Dolan noted he and Egan attended many funerals together, and Egan was not comfortable with eulogies.
"Oh, a eulogy would be so easy and natural . . . but, he'd have none of it, and simply want us to confess our faith in God, rather than our gratitude to him, our departed Cardinal," Dolan said. "See, when all is said and done, his 'pearl of great price' was, not his erudition, his love of music and art, his renown in canon law, his administrative acumen or distinctive preaching, his bishops' ring or cardinals' hat . . . but his faith in Jesus Christ, who, 'by dying, destroyed our death, and by rising restored our life.' "
Pope Francis sent a telegram to the archdiocese and Egan's family, which was read during the Mass by the pope's representative in the United States, the Most Reverend Carlo Maria Vigano. "I offer heartfelt condolences to you and to the faithful of the archdiocese," the note said.
As the Mass concluded, Egan's mahogany coffin was carried from near the gold altar down the middle aisle of the church to the main entrance, and then back up a side aisle to the altar area. Pallbearers then carried him into a crypt beneath the altar, where Egan was laid to rest along with other church luminaries.
They include his immediate predecessor, Cardinal John J. O'Connor -- the last archbishop laid to rest in St. Patrick's. O'Connor was archbishop from 1984 until his death in May 2000.
Tuesday morning, mourners lined up inside the church to pay final respects to Egan, who was wearing a white bishop's miter on his head and clasping a rosary in his hands as he lay reposing in his coffin before the altar. A crosier, or pastoral staff, stood beside the coffin.
Just before 11 a.m. Dolan came into the cathedral accompanied by Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia. Rigali said he and Egan were close friends who served in the Vatican in Rome together for about 20 years.
In an interview with Newsday, Rigali called Egan a "mentor" to Pope John Paul II when Egan was in Rome and was part of a small group of canon law experts whom the pope consulted for a major rewriting of the church's canon law.
"I certainly admired his great erudition and his great desire to proclaim the gospel," Rigali said of Egan.