A boy any mom would be proud of

Mother not surprised by accomplishments of her first born

By Scott McConnaha
CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
WASHINGTON, Mo. — Born Feb. 6, 1950, to Shirley and Bob Dolan, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan is described as a boy any mom would have been proud of. And to hear his mom talk now, he still is.

“I love it. It’s fun. It’s wonderful,” Shirley Dolan said of the frenzy surrounding her son’s appointment to Milwaukee. “It’s very pleasing to see that someone has accomplished what they wanted to do with their life.”

Sitting in her living room in Washington, Mo., Shirley Dolan told the Catholic Herald about her son’s childhood and what it’s meant for her to see all this fuss being made over the kid who always wanted to be a priest and played ball in the lot next door.

‘He’ll be a cardinal’

Even though there’s still a bit of disbelief whenever she sees him at the altar, Shirley said she wasn’t surprised at all to hear he was asked to be Archbishop of Milwaukee. “The Milwaukee part might’ve surprised me, but the archbishop didn’t. I was surprised that it happened within nine months (of his becoming an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis). I thought we might get him a couple years, but we all knew archbishop was where he was going. We know where he’s going next,” she said with a laugh. “He’ll be a cardinal.”

Shirley is a bit sad that her husband, Bob, can’t be here to see what their son has made of himself. Tim was a priest for a little less than a year when his father died. “Their dad was great. I give him all the credit,” she said modestly.

Family learns news of appointment

Shirley and much of the rest of the family learned of Tim’s appointment to Milwaukee a day before the official public announcement was made June 25. He went out to her house, about an hour’s drive west of St. Louis, to break the news. “How he told me was he showed me a letter, and he said, ‘This is what I sent to the pope today.’ I was reading it and all of a sudden it hit me, and that’s when I knew. He was thanking the pope for having the faith in him to make him archbishop.”

The rest of the family then gathered at his sister Deborah’s house, also in Washington, to hear the news. They had to keep it secret until the official announcement was made on the following day.

Just a regular ball-playing kid

Tim and his four siblings grew up in a small house in Ballwin, Mo., a western suburb of St. Louis. All five kids went through Holy Infant Elementary School, where they were taught by Sisters of Mercy from Ireland. Tim, the oldest, was in the first class of first-graders to attend the newly formed parish and school in Ballwin. He worked at the parish during summers and “was on call for everything” as an altar server, Shirley said, adding that it was nice to be living only a short walk from the church.

“I didn’t realize that he was any different from his brothers and sisters,” she said, denying previous reports that Tim was her favorite, though admitting that there might have been a couple more photos of Tim on the wall than the other kids. He played Mass a lot in the basement, but he also enjoyed following the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, playing whiffle ball with neighbor kids in the yard, and collecting stamps and baseball cards, she said.

Big footsteps to follow

His teachers at Holy Infant loved him, Shirley said. “It was hard following him. ‘You’re nothing like your brother. What’s the matter with you?’ the sisters would say” to his younger siblings when they got to school. Tim’s sister, Deborah, even presented a speech at his 25th anniversary of ordination about “what it means to follow a brother like Timothy Michael Dolan.”

As a boy, Tim was known to be somewhat of a hypochondriac, his mother said with a smile. “Every little thing was magnified. A cold for him was pneumonia. He’s still kind of like that,” She said.

He can still ruffle her feathers a bit when it comes to food. “He’ll make a phone call and say, ‘I’ll be out for dinner,’ and expects a five-course meal in 10 minutes…. I think any religious doesn’t live in the real world as far as realizing it takes a little while to prepare a big meal, but he’s still a good kid,” she said.

Eyes always on priesthood

As a boy, Tim expressed no career aspirations other than the priesthood, Shirley said. “The first time he said he was going to be a priest he was spending the weekend with my mother. When they went into church she wanted to know where he wanted to sit, and he said he wanted to sit in the front so he could watch ‘fadda.'” He was 4 years old.

“We never talked about the priesthood much at home because you have that feeling you don’t want to push him into it,” she said. “When it came time for high school we asked him where he wanted to go and he just looked at us like, ‘Well, you know I want to be a priest, that means I want to go to Prep.'” Tim entered as a freshman at St. Louis Preparatory Seminary in 1964.

Shirley said she still worries about her first-born. “I worry that he’s under too much stress, but I don’t worry about him anymore than I do the rest of them.”

In raising their children, Shirley said she and her husband tried to teach them to “be faithful, be happy, and do for other people. I was a very fortunate person. My kids were great kids. They wouldn’t have done a thing that would upset their mother and father.”

Despite her happiness at his success, Shirley would’ve liked to have had Tim in St. Louis for a little while longer. “Out of the 27 years since ordination, he’s only been in St. Louis something like seven years…. For him, I feel what he is missing. As a mother and a grandmother I see where he’s missing out on the little girls (his nieces). He made the remark about Grace (his newest niece), ‘Well, I’ll miss watching another one grow up.’

“When people ask me if I’m sad that he’s leaving, I say no, it’s what he wants to do. He’s very happy. He’s happy with Milwaukee. He knows he’s got a challenge wherever he goes with what’s going on today in the church, but he loves challenges. He’ll be fine. Milwaukee will love him.”