Cardinal Dolan: The dignity of work & the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Richard SontagLast Updated: March 29th, 2023Church News, US News

(NYP, by Cardinal Timothy Dolan) Throughout the last three years of hard work in the repair and restoration of our beloved and historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I’ve come to have a lot of admiration for our craftsmen and women, who are true artisans in this delicate job.

One day, walking around inspecting the progress, I asked one of them, “What’s your specific job?” and he replied, “I’m doing the tuck pointing.” When I inquired of another, she answered, “I’m doing the re-wiring.”

The third response, I’ll never forget: “And what are you doing?” “I’m rebuilding a cathedral!” he beamed, “and one day I’ll bring my grandkids here and show them what I helped to do!”

That man had the right approach to his work! The Bible teaches that our labor is a participation in God’s ongoing work of creation. So, we can all see our jobs, however trivial and unimportant they may seem, to be something good, noble and divine. Whatever we do, we should always remember that we’re “rebuilding a cathedral!”

For us Catholics, the greatest prayer is the Mass. At the offertory, right before, through faith and the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, we priests borrow a touching prayer from the Jewish meal ritual, as we hold up “the bread we offer you…work of human hands…to become for us the bread of life”; and “the wine we offer you, work of human hands…to become our spiritual drink.”


Almighty God takes the “work of human hands” and consecrates them! That He does with all our labor!

No wonder we consider work sacred, and insist that the laborer be treated with dignity and respect. No wonder we advocate for full employment. Ronald Reagan said that “a job is the best welfare program there is” — a living wage, safe and humane working conditions, a vigorous free-market economy where good jobs abound and the right of workers to organize and protect their God-given rights.

As Pope Francis puts it, “There is no worse material poverty, I am keen to stress, than the poverty which prevents people from earning their bread and deprives them of the dignity of work.”

Our work, therefore, whatever it might be, isn’t first and foremost about money. Instead, it’s inherently linked to our own personal dignity.

I remember my own dear dad. Sure, he did his share of complaining about his job, but I never saw him more discouraged than when he was out of work.

Pope St. John Paul II offered a choice: See work as drudgery, dehumanizing, solely for survival — which is sadly what he saw firsthand under Nazi and Communist oppressors in Poland — or see labor as uplifting, honorable, ennobling. He obviously urged the second choice!

And that’s our Jewish, Christian and American choice. No surprise God wanted His Son, Jesus, raised in a carpenter shop.

When he arrives at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the early evening of Sept. 24, Pope Francis will find a contingent of workers on the steps who have given such dedicated labor to the cathedral-restoration project, representing all the men and women who have played a part in this great effort.

And, while I will be proud when he sees the beautiful, shining, spotless cathedral, I will be even more proud to point out the workers whose talent, dedication and, yes, hard labor, made it all possible.

So, to our garbage collectors and sanitation department, our farmers, police, fire and rescue crews, our factory workers, street cleaners, teachers, executives, homemakers and public servants, our military and secretaries, attorneys and account-ants, store personnel, clergy and journalists — Happy Labor Day.

And remember: You’re all “building a cathedral!”