I am beginning to think that Msgr. John Tracy Ellis is more influential from heaven than he was from the classroom! The two Americans named cardinals today, Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, had long associations with Msgr. Ellis.
Dolan was a student of Ellis when he took his doctorate in Church History at Catholic University. Ellis directed Dolan's dissertation. When I had occasion to require an introduction to Dolan when he was the Rector of the North American College in Rome, Msgr. Ellis happily obliged and, once I got there, I realized I could have had no better method of introduction than a commendatory note from Msgr. Ellis.
Msgr. Ellis met then-Father O'Brien when Ellis was scholar-in-residence at the North American College beginning in 1974. For the first semester, he lived at the Casa Santa Maria, the original home of the seminary which had since become the residence for clergy doing post-graduate work in Rome. O'Brien was one of the young priests that Ellis met and whose friendship he came to cherish. In the fall of 1986, when O'Brien was rector at Dunwoodie, Ellis took his last visiting professorship at the seminary.
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Those of us who knew Msgr. Ellis count ourselves among the especially blessed. He was a first rate priest, a first rate scholar and a first rate gentleman. He was as kind as he was knowledgable, and I never perceived the limits of either. And, to all whom he knew, he imparted that great sense of equanimity that comes from the study of history. That is not a bad gift to give someone destined for leadership in the Church. This morning, upon hearing the news that two men so closely associated with him, had been raised to the sacred college, I felt that in heaven, Msgr. Ellis must be smiling and that thought made me smile too.