Edward Cardinal Egan, who was archbishop of New York City during the 9/11 attacks and led the city’s Roman Catholic faithful for nine turbulent years, died Thursday at age 82.
Egan, who battled polio as a child and relied on a pacemaker, died of cardiac arrest at a New York hospital at 2:20 p.m., church spokesman Joseph Zwilling said.
“He loved this city, he loved its priests, its sisters, parishes and especially the people,” Timothy Cardinal Dolan told reporters at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Dolan called Egan “a good friend” and said his esteem for him “deepened when I was appointed to be his successor.”
“He was very supportive,” Dolan said. “He told me, ‘I’m here if you need me, but I’m never here to bother you.’ And that, to me, said a lot.”
“I miss him already,” Dolan added.
Born April 2, 1932, in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Egan was 68 when he was picked in 2000 by then-Pope John Paul II to be the city’s ninth archbishop after John Cardinal O’Connor died.
At the time, Egan was the little-known head of the Diocese of Bridgeport and an expert on church law who made it clear that his main mission would be recruiting new priests to serve the church.
Cardinal Egan, seen here in 2009, died Thursday at age 82.
And Egan was following in the footsteps of a cardinal who was beloved in New York and a nationally known religious leader.
But a little over a year after he was appointed shepherd of New York City’s 2.4 million Catholics, Egan’s mission changed drastically.
After the Twin Towers were reduced to rubble by terrorists in hijacked planes, Egan raced to Ground Zero with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani and spent the day giving last rites to the dead, and comforting cops and firefighters as they searched for survivors.
In the months that followed, Egan found himself personally presiding over the funerals of dozens of fallen firefighters, cops and other victims — sometimes three a day.
“New York is going to be rebuilt stronger than ever before in the blood and sweat of our heroes,” he said at the time.
“Cardinal Egan helped New York City during a time when we most needed to be reminded of our faith in God,” Giuliani said in a statement.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton thanked Egan for his support of the city’s officers after the tragedy.
“His devotion and service to this city will never be forgotten,” Bratton said. “We are truly grateful for the knowledge and guidance that he shared with this city during his many years of service.”
Gov. Cuomo said Egan will always be remembered for his leadership during that tragic time.
“His thoughtful and compassionate stewardship helped New Yorkers grieve and recover following the events of September 11, 2001,” he said in a statement.
Egan “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,” Mayor de Blasio added.
Visitors at St. Pat’s said they too would miss Egan.
“He was a man who was true to his beliefs,” said 67-year-old Cathy Palmer of Philadelphia. “That’s what I liked about him. He stuck with tradition.”
“I’m an Irish Catholic,” chimed in Patricia Hoynes, 51, of Cheshire, Conn. “He’s going home.”
It wasn’t just Catholics who mourned Egan.
“Cardinal Egan was deeply spiritual and a great intellectual, but at the same time very down-to-earth, compassionate and friendly,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer. “I was lucky to know him and New York was lucky to have him.”
I was lucky to know him and New York was lucky to have him.
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League called Egan “a loyal friend to the Jewish community.”
Tall and imposing with a deep voice that both friends and critics likened to Darth Vader, Egan arrived in town at a time when the diocese was running an annual deficit of $20 million.
Egan was fluent in four languages, cultivated in his tastes and an accomplished musician who had a piano installed in his residence. But he lacked O’Connor’s common touch.
And Egan quickly began making enemies as he balanced the diocesan books by making cuts to schools and parishes that did not go over well with his flock or his staff.
Conservative in his Catholicism, Egan rarely spoke to reporters, and was criticized as cold and distant by many parishioners.
When Egan did speak, he dropped bombs that alienated many New York Catholics, like equating abortion to Nazism or going out of his way to condemn gay marriage.
But Egan was also not afraid to speak what he considered the truth to power.
When Giuliani, who is divorced, took communion during then-Pope Benedict’s historic Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 2008, Egan denounced his former ally from the pulpit.
Egan also could not escape the priest sexual abuse scandal and publicly apologized in 2002 after it was revealed that six priests from his old Bridgeport diocese has been sued for abusing parishioners.
“If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry,” he said in letter read out at Mass.
But a decade later, Egan retracted his apology and denied any sexual abuse happened while he was in charge in Bridgeport.
“I never should have said that,” he told a Connecticut magazine. “I don’t think we did anything wrong.”
Egan was highly regarded by Catholic institutions across the city.
“Through the years, his numerous campus visits for religious lectures inspired and motivated our students, faculty, alumni, and administration,” St. John’s University spokesperson Dominic Scianna said.
When he turned 75, Egan tendered his resignation and Dolan took the religious reins. But instead of heading to Rome as expected, Egan moved into an apartment near St. Patrick’s and spent his last years there.
Funeral plans were still being finalized.