By Judy O’Gorman Alvarez
WHEN HIS EMINENCE Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, was elevated to the College of Cardinals last month by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, more than 1,000 well wishers from across the U.S. traveled to Rome to witness his investiture and share in the celebration. Among the group of family, close friends, and parishioners, was Rev. John T. Folchetti, pastor of the Church of St. Leo the Great in Lincroft, a longtime friend of Cardinal Dolan. Dolan, originally from St. Louis, Missouri, was the Archbishop of Milwaukee before he came east to New York. In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI named him Archbishop of New York. Folchetti has been pastor of St. Leo the Great since 2009. He has served as chaplain and a teacher at Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft for 22 years and as weekend assistant at St. Rose of Lima, Freehold for 27 years. It was the early 1970s when the two young seminarians – Folchetti from the Diocese of Brooklyn and Dolan from the Archdiocese of St. Louis – studied at the Pontifical North American College at Vatican City. Two years ahead of Dolan, Folchetti (called Father John by parishioners) became the younger seminarian’s mentor.
Father John has fond memories of the time when the two young Americans—far from home and living abroad for the first time–prepared to dedicate their lives to their faith. “We enjoyed the food—of course!” says Father John. “The great local restaurants, the flea markets, everything.” As they took in the sites of Rome– the Fount of Trevi, the Piazza Navona–they also visited neighboring towns. Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis and a three-hour drive from Rome, was one of their favorite places.
“We would visit Station Churches, where, every day during Lent, the faithful gather at different churches [throughout Rome] for Mass or prayer services,” says Father John.
After ordination, the two remained friends and when Cardinal Dolan became Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis, Father John attended his ordination. Cardinal Dolan went on to become Archbishop of Milwaukee, and Father John was there when Dolan received the Pallium, a symbol of his office as an archbishop, from His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Basilica inVatican City.
Father John says the cardinal faces the same concerns all priests face nowadays: evangelization (spreading the Gospel); strengthening priesthood and faith; strengthening family life; increasing vocations to religious life; and clarifying misinterpretations of Church teachings, among other issues. “It can be a challenge,” he says.
“He’s a great man,” Father John says of his friend, adding that he understands why Dolan is so popular with his people. “He’s endearing, personable and has a great sense of humor. What I cherish most from our days together in Rome is his sense of humor.” He says Dolan’s good-natured teasing –from those days of seminary life to their current positions some 40 years later–has stayed with him.
The question on many Americans’ minds is could the new American cardinal one day be the first American Pope? “Well, I’ve said before that if he steps onto that balcony, I will pass out,” jokes Father John. “The ultimate decision of who will be Pope is made by the Holy Spirit.”
Father John says the cardinal reminds him of Pope John XXIII. “The Church needs someone knowledgeable, personable and friendly and not afraid of challenges,” he says. “Someone like him, who is willing to dialogue yet firm in his faith. There are so many who are considered, but I think it is a possibility.”
Pressing concerns and busy schedules keep the friends from seeing each other often, but Father John was pleased to spend New Year’s Eve in Manhattan with the Cardinal-elect (as he was at the time). In addition to running the Archdiocese of New York, which comprises about 480 parishes, Dolan is the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Father John has asked the new cardinal what he should call him. “Despite our friendship, I never want to show disrespect for him or his office,” he explains. “Shall I call you Your Eminence?” With a good-natured chuckle, His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan, one of the most influential and powerful men in New York, said: “Ah, call me what you always called me.”
So when the phone rings—often on a Sunday afternoon, after Masses have been celebrated and the workweek has not yet started—Father John will answer his phone and hear: “Hey John. Tim here.”