Seventh archbishop of New York; b. New York City, March 1, 1921; d. there, Oct. 6, 1983. After graduation from St. Benedict's School in the Bronx and Cathedral College (the preparatory seminary of the archdiocese of New York), he entered St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, in September of 1940, and was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 1, 1945, by Francis Cardinal spellman in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Immediately after ordination, he was sent to study for a degree in social work, first at the University of Chicago, and then at the National Catholic School of Social Service at the Catholic University of America, with brief assignments in between at St. Athanasius Parish in the Bronx and St. Agatha's Home in Nanuet, New York. Upon his return from Washington with a master's degree in June of 1949, he was assigned to the youth division of Catholic Charities, where he remained for the following four and a half years. From 1950 to 1956 he was also an instructor in the Fordham University School of Social Service. In January of 1954 Father Cooke was appointed procurator of St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, a post that brought him into frequent contact with Cardinal Spellman. Three years later, the cardinal called him from Dunwoodie to become his secretary.
From that point on, advancement followed at regular intervals. In June of 1958, he became vice-chancellor; in June of 1961, chancellor; in February of 1965, vicar general; and in September of 1965, auxiliary bishop of New York (on the same day that John T. Maguire became Coadjutor Archbishop of New York without right of succession). The death of Cardinal Spellman on Dec. 2, 1967, touched off widespread speculation about his successor, but few people considered Bishop Cooke a serious contender. When his appointment as archbishop of New York was announced on March 8, 1968, the reaction was one of profound surprise. At the time, he was the youngest of the ten auxiliary bishops of New York and (with the exception of Archbishops hughes and corrigan) the youngest ordinary ever appointed to the see.
Cooke assumed his new post during turbulent years of student protests, racial disturbances, and antiwar demonstrations. On April 4, 1968, he was installed as archbishop of New York and named Military Vicar for the Armed Forces. It was the day on which Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis. That evening Archbishop Cooke left an ecumenical reception in his honor to visit a parish in Harlem and plead for racial peace. One year later, on April 28, 1969, he was elevated to the rank of cardinal, along with 32 other prelates, at one of the largest consistories in history.
Unlike his predecessor, Cardinal Cooke showed little interest in playing a prominent role in national and international affairs. The only important post to which he was elected by his fellow bishops was that of Chairman of the United States Bishops Pro-Life Activities Committee. In his own archdiocese, however, he won a reputation as a capable and energetic administrator with a prodigious memory and an enormous capacity for work. A naturally jovial and optimistic man, with a ready smile and a gift for small talk, he was adept at making friends and mingling easily on social occasions with people of every background and description. Both priests and laity found him approachable and unpretentious. Even during the most difficult years of his administration, at a time of unprecedented challenges to both Church and society, he preferred the ways of quiet diplomacy and persuasion over confrontation.
Years as Archbishop. During his 15 years as archbishop, the Catholic population remained approximately the same (1,800,000), but only because large numbers of Hispanic immigrants replenished the dwindling ranks of middle-class Catholics in New York City. Other statistics indicated a disquieting falling off in religious practice throughout the archdiocese. Between 1967 and 1983 the number of infant baptisms declined from 50,000 per year to 31,000 per year; the number of Church marriages, from 15,000 to 8,200 per year. For the first time in history there was a sharp drop in the number of diocesan priests (from 1,108 in 1967 to 777 in 1983) and an even more abrupt decline in the numbers of women religious (from 8,955 to 5,178) and diocesan seminarians (from 501 to 221).
Under such circumstances, the ambitious expansion programs of earlier eras were hardly feasible. Archbishop Corrigan had established 99 new parishes; Cardinal Spellman, 45; Cardinal Cooke, 4. Prudence now dictated a careful husbanding of available resources, and in meeting this challenge, Cardinal Cooke demonstrated exceptional expertise and a masterful command of the whole administrative structure of the archdiocese. At board meetings of Catholic institutions he regularly astonished bankers and businessmen with his encyclopedic knowledge of financial reports and balance sheets.
One of his first official acts as archbishop was to appoint a blue ribbon commission to study the future of Catholic education in the archdiocese. The recommendations of this commission led directly to one of his most impressive achievements: the establishment of the Inter-Parish Finance Commission, which uses the surplus funds of more affluent parishes to subsidize churches and schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Thanks largely to this cooperative system, only 31 of the 305 Catholic elementary schools were forced to close during the Cooke years, despite a massive decline in enrollment (from 167,000 to 88,000) and the departure of three-quarters of the teaching sisters.
In 1979 Cardinal Cooke announced a major fundraising campaign, the Cardinal's Archdiocesan Appeal, which proved so successful that it became an annual event. During his administration he also expanded the services of Catholic Charities, consolidated the archdiocesan offices in a new Catholic Center on the east side of Manhattan, established an Office of Pastoral Research, organized the Inner-City Scholarship Fund for needy youngsters, founded the Archdiocesan Catechetical Institute, and opened the St. John Neumann Residence for college-age seminarians. Sensitive to the needs of blacks and Hispanics, he created an Office of Black Catholics, supported the Northeast Center for Hispanics, and appointed the first black and Hispanic auxiliary bishops in the history of the archdiocese. As military vicar for the Armed Forces, he continued Cardinal Spellman's custom of frequent visits to American servicemen throughout the world. He also served as president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and took an active interest in the work of the organization.
Late in the summer of 1983, New Yorkers were shocked to hear the news that Cardinal Cooke was terminally ill with cancer. For the previous eight years he had been receiving medical treatment for a lymphoma condition, but in August of 1983 an acute leukemia suddenly aggravated the situation. On Aug. 24, 1983, he informed Pope john paul ii of his condition, and two days later he revealed the news to the general public. New Yorkers were moved by the announcement. During the next six weeks, as the cardinal remained secluded in his residence preparing for death, his faith and courage made a deep impression on the population of the city. After his death, early on the morning of Oct. 6, 1983, huge crowds filed past his bier, and over 900 priests attended his funeral. An editorial in the New York Daily News summarized the feelings of many Catholics and non-Catholics alike: "On Cardinal Cooke's final day a line from Shakespeare seems uniquely appropriate: 'Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.' This was a man who showed us all how to pass from time to eternity with courage and grace."
Bibliography: Catholic New York (Oct. 6, 1983). New York Daily News (Oct. 7, 1983). New York Times (Oct. 7, 1983).
[t. j. shelley]