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THE WHITE HOUSE
July 10, 2001

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL CEREMONY HONORING JOHN CARDINAL O'CONNOR

St. Patrick's Cathedral

New York, New York

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Your Eminence; Governor Pataki and Mrs. Pataki; Mayor Giuliani. I want to thank Chuck Schumer and Vito Fossella for such beautiful words. Senator Clinton. Distinguished members of the United States Congress. Members of my Cabinet. Mary Ward. Dorothy Hamilton and members of the O'Connor family. Reverend Ogilvie and Father Coughlin. Leaders of the Catholic Church. Maureen O'Flynn, thank you for sharing your angelic voice with us today. (Applause.) My fellow Americans.

Thank you for the welcome to your city and for the seat of this archdiocese. I especially want to thank the police and fire departments for the presentation of the colors, and their service to this community. (Applause.)

John Cardinal O'Connor was fond of recalling the greeting he received when visiting the Vatican. Pope John Paul II would meet him with these words: "How is the Archbishop of the capital of the world?" For me, on my first visit as President, it's a pleasure, Mr. Mayor, to be in the capital of the world. (Applause.)

This is a happier occasion than the day when we said our good-byes at a solemn Mass in a mourning city. It takes a lot to bring all of New York to a pause. But that's what happened when the earthly remains of John Cardinal O'Connor were laid to rest in this beautiful cathedral.

From the distance of a year, his character and his contributions only seem larger. We remember a life of good works, strong faith, and great influence.

For many here today, those memories are still vivid and very personal. For parishioners, it may be the memory of an imposing figure who stood here so many times, looking every inch a cardinal -- fearing, it seemed, nothing, and having an opinion, it seemed, on everything.

For thousands of veterans, it's the memory of a chaplain who counseled them, heard their confessions, and attained the rank of admiral. For the working men and women, it will be the memory of an advocate, someone who rose to great prominence, but remained the proud son of a union man who honored hard work.

The poor and immigrants of this city will always remember their staunch friend who defended their interests and understood their struggles. Many families remember the church leader who came to AIDS patients with care and love.

Parents here and in Scranton will remember the priest who gave so much time and special care to boys and girls with disabilities. And the world will remember the gallant defender of children and their vulnerability, innocence, and their right to be born. (Applause.)

Many decades from now, these living memories of the man will begin to pass. Fewer and fewer will have known the sound of his voice, the largeness of his presence, the sting of his rebuke, his marvelous sense of humor, or the breadth of his compassion. But future generations will know at least this about the 11th leader of the archdiocese: He was a man who left a mark on his time. A moral leader not only in title, but in truth. A defender of the faith, the very kind who have kept the faith alive for two millennia. A great man in a high place. And also for 80 years on this Earth, a good person, a cheerful giver and a much loved soul.

Posterity will know this: The Congress of the United States, in respect and gratitude, directed that a gold medal be struck bearing Cardinal O'Connor's name and image. And on this day, on behalf of the American people, I'm honored to present the Congressional Gold Medal to the family and to the successor of John Cardinal O'Connor.

God bless America.

 

 

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