March 1st, 1921 in Manhattan, Terence Cooke was the third and youngest
child of Irish immigrants. His father was a chauffeur; his mother died
when Terence was only nine. The child of a devout family, Terence
manifested an interest in the priesthood at an early age. He entered
Cathedral College and from there went to St. Joseph’s Seminary. The
future Cardinal Archbishop of New York was ordained by Francis Cardinal
Spellman on December 1, 1945.
The young priest served as chaplain at Saint Agatha’s Home for Children
before going to the Catholic University of America for graduate studies
in social work. From there he went to Saint Athanasius Parish. Later he
directed the CYO, was procurator of St. Joseph’s Seminary, and secretary
to Cardinal Spellman. He then became Chancellor of the Archdiocese and
finally Vicar General. He was consecrated bishop in 1965. Barely three
years later Cardinal Spellman died, and the world expected him to be
succeeded by one of the senior prelates of the Church. Pope Paul VI,
however, had other ideas and chose instead a devout, relatively unknown
Vicar General. And at the age of forty-seven Terence Cooke found himself
Archbishop of New York and Military Vicar for the United States.
His fourteen years as Cardinal Archbishop were a time of profound
transformation. The 1960’s ushered in a period of turbulence and rapid
change, and the Church strove to adapt itself to a transforming culture
at the same time it was implementing the sweeping reforms of the Second
Vatican Council. A faithful and loving shepherd, Cardinal Cooke
never failed to listen to others and to address their needs. Ever
responsive to the challenges of his times he founded:
Birthright, to give women an
alternative to abortion,
Courage, to help men and women of homosexual orientation live
fulfilling lives in accordance with the teachings of the Church,
The Inner-City Scholarship Fund
to support inner-city Catholic Schools, and help children of all
races and creeds.
Archdiocesan Housing Development Program,
to provide affordable housing to New York’s disadvantaged,
Catholic New York (the
Archdiocesan newspaper), to disseminate the Catholic perspective on
world and local events.
Ever concerned with the
needs of others, Cardinal Cooke was instrumental in improving care for
terminally ill cancer patients. He also coordinated fourteen general and
special hospitals under the Department of Health Services of Catholic
Charities to better serve the sick and the dying. He maintained
a lifelong commitment to
Casita Maria, a pioneer youth-oriented service agency for the Puerto
Rican community in New York. Catholic Charities programs for the
imprisoned, the handicapped and the disadvantaged were initiated by him.
No group was forgotten; no one was abandoned.
Terence Cooke had a
special love for the aged and the young. During his time as
Archbishop construction was completed on nine nursing homes that were
affiliated with Catholic Charities.
Mary Manning Walsh Home
Ferncliff Nursing Home
Carmel-Richmond Nursing Home
Jeanne Jugan Residence
Saint Cabrini Nursing
Saint Teresa’s Nursing Home
Saint Joseph’s Nursing Home
Under Cardinal Cooke,
the Catholic Church cared for sixty percent of the abandoned and
neglected children in New York City. Always an advocate for the young
and aware of the growing problem of New York’s homeless and at-risk
youth, he strongly supported Covenant House and other institutions that
cared for the thousands of teenagers who would otherwise become prey to
drug addiction and prostitution.
He particularly enjoyed
and supported three movements in the Church in which women had an equal
role with men.
Diagnosed with cancer in
1965 and considered terminal from 1975 onward, Cardinal Cooke
endured surgery and then chemotherapy for years. Despite this he
kept to his hectic schedule and gave of himself to all who needed him.
Seeing the needs of others as paramount, he prayerfully accepted his own
problems as a share in the sufferings of Christ. His Episcopal
motto, Fiat Voluntas Tua (Thy will be done), says it all. These
words, which proclaim a joyful surrender to the will of God, were never
a mere motto to Terence Cooke; they were the bedrock of his profound
spirituality and the source of his strength. Although his health
continued to worsen, he continued to live life joyfully, fully, and for
others, trusting completely in the love of God. When others might
have yielded to illness, he simply increased his efforts and presided
over an expansion of the Archdiocese that emphasized:
Until the end Cardinal
Cooke struggled for those who could not help themselves: the poor, the
young, the elderly, the immigrant and life’s cast-offs. From its
inception, he stood at the forefront of the pro-life movement,
unwavering in his conviction that life is God’s most beautiful gift.
Even in his final days, he could joyfully declare: “Life is no less
beautiful when it is accompanied by illness, weakness, hunger or
poverty, physical or mental diseases, loneliness or old age.”
On October 6, 1983,
Terence Cardinal Cooke died a holy death in the Cardinal’s residence.
The Cathedral of Saint Patrick overflowed with people as he lay in
state. Lines of mourners surrounded the Cathedral, waiting to pay
their final respects. They came to him in death as he had welcomed them
in life: The poor with the rich, the old with the young, the famous with
the obscure, those of all faiths and those who proclaimed no faith. Each
of the many ethnic communities that make up New York, felt a profound
personal loss: The front page of El Diario, New
York’s Spanish language newspaper, said it for everyone.
All these people had little in common, except a need to bid farewell to
a beloved priest who had touched their lives. But how had he done
it? How had he affected so many? We can only say that
he did it by living a life of genuine holiness, by living his life for
others. And then we must ask: is that not the definition of a