By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Someone asked Father Bob Busher, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Wilton, whether Cardinal Timothy Dolan would ever come to this small Iowa community of 2,808 people.
“With his schedule, it would take a miracle,” replied the priest, a longtime friend of the cardinal.
Fr. Busher shared that exchange with 245 people at Mass in the Wilton church Sept. 19. Then he turned toward Cardinal Dolan, who was smiling broadly and seated in the presider’s chair. “Well, this evening I have become a strong believer in miracles,” Fr. Busher said. People in the pews cheered.
He made that comment during a Mass infused with thanksgiving, friendship and laughter, and the appreciation of a parish that kept Cardinal Dolan’s visit a secret for six weeks before his arrival.
“Father wanted to keep it quiet. He thought it could get overwhelming,” parishioner Mick Gruemmer explained. Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York, is among the most influential Catholics in the world.
The cardinal said a headline in the New York press announced that he was going to Iowa to campaign. “I lost an election in the Sistine Chapel about a year-and-a-half ago,” Cardinal Dolan wisecracked. “I have as much chance of being pope as Father Bob and I have of being on the cover of Sports Illustrated — the swimsuit edition,” the cardinal declared. People in the pews roared with laughter.
Cardinal Dolan’s visit to Wilton had been months in the making. The busy prelate accepted an invitation from Bishop Richard Pates of the Des Moines Diocese to speak at the Christ Our Life conference Sept. 20. But there was a caveat: the cardinal insisted on a visit to Wilton during his brief stay in Iowa. “Wilton is more important than Des Moines,” the cardinal said. The congregation applauded appreciatively.
His friendship with Fr. Busher dates back to 1972 when both were seminarians beginning studies at the Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome. Never having been so far away from home, Dolan, the younger of the two seminarians, became very homesick. “If not for the encouragement and support of Fr. Bob, your pastor, I probably would have turned around,” the cardinal said.
“My friendship with him is a great treasure,” Cardinal Dolan continued, interweaving a homily message of thanksgiving and friendship from the evening’s Scripture readings with communal and personal examples. The two friends were ordained to the priesthood in 1976; a year later, Cardinal Dolan’s dad died. While the grieving family gathered at home, Fr. Busher pulled into the driveway.
“He’d come all the way from Iowa. I will never forget that,” the cardinal said. “Thank you, Father, for what you mean to me.”
The cardinal’s emphasis on friendship extended to the congregation. “I feel as if I know you,” he told the Mass-goers ranging from babies to senior citizens. “I have heard Fr. Bob talk about you so lovingly, so I feel as if I know you.”
Cardinal Dolan gave a shout-out to Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, celebrating her 50th anniversary with her religious community. “She went in right after First Communion,” the cardinal quipped. “I feel I know you, too, Sr. Cheryl.”
He also acknowledged other priests of the Davenport Diocese concelebrating the Mass (in addition to Fr. Busher): Fathers Jason Crossen and Thom Hennen, who studied at NAC when Cardinal Dolan was rector; Father Bob Striegel, three years behind the cardinal at NAC; Father George McDaniel who, like the cardinal, is a historian; and Father Joe Wolf, a friend of Fr. Busher.
The cardinal joined the congregation for supper afterwards in the church hall, shaking hands and giving generous hugs.
“It was awesome, kind of a once in a lifetime deal,” said Gruemmer, who attended the Mass and dinner with his wife, Janet.
“I had tears in my eyes when he (Cardinal Dolan) walked down the aisle,” parishioner Gina Holladay said. Her daughter, Mackenzie Holladay, had recently seen Pope Francis in Vatican Square. Seeing Cardinal Dolan was like “icing on the cake.”
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for us,” said Bernie Holtkamp, referring to himself and his wife, Donna, members of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton. “I was amazed at how common, how down to earth, how personable he is.”