NYC chaplain shepherds Legates and hosts popes
Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie had spent almost 40 years as a pastor for poor parishes in the Bronx and Harlem when Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the late archbishop of New York, appointed him in 2006 to be the rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the renowned house of worship in Midtown Manhattan.
In his nine years as rector, Monsignor Ritchie has hosted two papal visits to the cathedral: Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 and Pope Francis on Sept. 24. Monsignor Ritchie has also overseen a four-year, $177-million restoration that has the cathedral looking as majestic as ever in its 136-year history. Monsignor Ritchie spoke to Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
How did things go with Pope Francis’ visit?
It went as smooth as glass. It was very complicated, but everything worked together really well. We had a full cathedral. We had people in the right seats, I think. When the Pope arrived, everybody went crazy; exuberant is the way he described it. (Click here for full coverage of the Papal Visit.)
How did Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2008 prepare you for Pope Francis’ visit?
Pretty much all the prep work was almost the same in trying to figure out tickets for people to be seated, figuring out the security aspects, things like that. There were a lot of things that we had done before, so we knew how to do it, and it was easier to put together this time.
What are your duties as rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral?
The rector in a Catholic church is different from rectors in other churches. The rector of the cathedral is basically the pastor of the cathedral, but technically the cardinal is the pastor. The rector takes the cardinal’s duties as pastor and runs the cathedral for him.
How was the decision made to renovate St. Patrick’s Cathedral?
The whole project began in 2006 when we discovered that there was a problem with falling stones from the front of the cathedral on Fifth Avenue and on the sides. Immediately we put up protective scaffolding.
Then it took about three years to do an intense study of the inside and the outside to see what had to be done, what could be done to bring the place back to a safe condition, then back to a beautiful condition. The intense work really didn’t begin until 2011-2012.
How did you get most of the renovations finished in time for Pope Francis’ visit?
We had scheduled to finish the restoration work you can see by December. But when we found out he was coming in September, we asked the construction people and the architects if we could speed things up a bit — and they did. I think the cathedral looks much like it did when it first opened in 1879, maybe even more beautiful.
When did you discern that God had called you to the priesthood?
We have a family tradition that says when I was five years old, I told my mother’s cousin that I wanted to be a priest when she asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. There has never been a time when I wanted to do anything other than to be a priest.
What value do you see Legatus having for the Church?
A number of my friends have been connected with Legatus. We do religious activities like Mass, dinner, retreats at different times, for the members’ spiritual growth. Also, Legatus gives the people who are in charge of companies an understanding of the Church’s teachings about morality, about ethics, about business, important things like that.
BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.