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Egan steps into O’Connor’s Irish slippers

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

Bishop Edward Egan, the newly appointed head of the New York archdiocese, is a second-generation Irish American and a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians who has lent his discreet support to local Irish concerns.

Appointed just eight days after Cardinal John O’Connor died, Egan continues a tradition of Irish-American leaders in the country’s third-largest archdiocese, which covers 2.4 million Catholics.

Most of Egan’s 11 predecessor’s were of Irish heritage; Egan’s grandfather was from County Mayo, a Bridgeport diocese spokesman said.

During his time at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Cardinal O’Connor used his position to call upon Northern Ireland’s leaders when they visited New York. During his term, the cardinal meet with both nationalist and Unionists officials, and often used his influence to call for peaceful negotiation.

Those who know the bishop say Egan is also in tune with the complexities of Northern politics, and Irish American organizations in Bridgeport, the bishop’s last posting, said he is involved in the local Irish-American community.

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"If he can lend his support to anything he will," said Marge Sheehan, a friend of the bishop and past president of the state LAOH.

A member of a local AOH division since his arrival in Connecticut 12 years ago, Egan has overseen St. Patrick’s Day Masses and other Irish cultural events, said Marty Fox, local AOH leader and treasurer to the Gaelic American Club in Fairfield.

Skilled in financial and organizational management, Egan is widely credited for raising millions of dollars for local Catholic education and welfare for retired religious officials. He oversaw the regionalization of the area’s schooling, a controversial but highly praised move that won him credits with his congregation.

"Bridgeport’s loss is New York’s gain," said Dave Howe, who is also involved in the Gaelic American Club. "He came into this town and made all sorts of major changes. I’m sure he’ll do the same in New York. It’s like having a mayor."

A canon lawyer who worked in Rome for more than a decade, Egan is widely also seen as the successor to O’Connor’s conservative agenda on abortion and homosexuality. Few see him stepping beyond church doctrine on those issues.

For the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, which for the past decade has fought a legal battle to be included in the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day parade, is treating Egan’s appointment cautiously as a new opportunity.

The group criticized O’Connor for siding with the AOH on the issue of inclusive parades and St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been the scene of several guerrilla demonstrations against the exclusion of gays.

While the ILGO has yet to meet formally on Egan’s arrival, his appointment has potential to bring about dialogue, said Ann Duggan, an ILGO spokesperson.

"It’s a new person, stepping into a new role," she said. "We’re confident things will change."

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