An Interview with Cardinal Joseph Tobin

Luke Bernstein, Staff Writer

The newly installed Archbishop of Newark, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, is a man of many interests who can discuss theology, Notre Dame football, 80s hard rock music, and his travels to 71 countries.  During a phone interview on May 26th with Cardinal Tobin, we covered these topics as well as his plans for the diocese, his thoughts on Catholic education, his teenage years, and today’s teenagers’ interaction with social media.  The interview concluded with some fun, informal questions for the Cardinal to get to know him on a personal level.

When asked if Pope Francis had given him any advice or goals for the Archdiocese of Newark, Cardinal Tobin said that the Pontiff did not give specific directions, but instead told all the new Bishops to be “men of the worldwide Church, and symbols of mercy.”  Cardinal Tobin plans to visit the 27 deaneries of the Archdiocese and hold roundtable discussions with the parishioners. Now that he has been here for several months, Cardinal Tobin has heard from most of the parishes about their the needs and wants. Cardinal Tobin has discovered that some of these major concerns were “how adults can grow in their faith, the survival of Catholic schools, and ways to make the Archdiocese a more connected place.”

The Cardinal also discussed his vision for the relationship between the Catholic Church and other faiths in the Archdiocese. He believes that there should be a dialogue between all religious communities and gave an example of how he is trying to make this happen. Over the past few weeks, Cardinal Tobin has met with the leaders of different Christian faiths, Rabbis, and Imams regarding the issue of immigration.  They discussed “the treatment of immigrants, ways to help those who have immigrated and how to stop illegal immigration.”

Cardinal Tobin went on to explain his vision for Catholic education in the Archdiocese.  He said, “many of the growing high schools are in areas that have better economic conditions, and I would hate for our education system to duplicate the injustices that are already present in our society.”  The Cardinal would also like to make sure that “Catholic education is available for all who want it, even those in less well off economic standing because, traditionally, that is where the biggest impact has been made from Catholic learning.”

The Cardinal then explained his life as a teenager and his involvement in his parish as a young person. He remarked, “I’m one of those dinosaurs who went to a seminary high school, but I did do things. I volunteered with the mentally impaired and taught catechism to them, I worked around the parish doing maintenance, and I led parish retreats.” In regards to today’s teenagers, Cardinal Tobin feels that going on a church or school mission trip would be one of the best ways to get involved as “it allows young people to be together, increases their sense of community, and brings them beyond what they could do at home.”  

After, he discussed the impact of social media and the pressures that it can cause for today’s young people.  He said, “I am one of those people who wants to take a baseball bat to everyone’s cell phone. I think it is hard to get to know somebody just through social media and that you need some friends you can talk with in person.”  

The interview concluded with some personal and fun questions for the Cardinal.  He explained that his interests range from watching Notre Dame football, to working out at the gym, to spending some time at the library. Cardinal Tobin is also a big C.S Lewis fan and recommends all his books to adults, teenager, or anyone who can get their hands on a copy.  He is currently re-reading his favorite series, The Chronicles of Narnia, because of the Christ images throughout the series explained in a recent book by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

When Cardinal Tobin has time away from the church, he “likes to go home to southwest Ontario, where there is a forty acre farm with work to be done and lots of quiet.”  He moved to Ontario when he was 19 as “their house in Detroit became too small for my growing family.” Cardinal Tobin is also a world traveler. He has visited “71 countries as an ambassador for Christ.”  

Finally, I asked the Cardinal if he could have dinner with three people, living or deceased, who would they be and why. After much deliberation, he said, “one would definitely be St. Alphonsus Liguori, the founder of my order, the Redemptorists. He was a sort of Renaissance man as he was a great writer, musician, lawyer, and priest.  Another one would be Pope Francis. We are already good friends, but I have never had supper with him.  And the last one would be a keyboard player named Jon Lorde who was in a 1980s hard rock band called Deep Purple.  He was a good friend of mine who died about seven years ago. I think he and St. Alphonsus could have a good talk about music as well.”

During his 39 years as a priest, bishop, and now as a Cardinal, Joseph Tobin has devoted his life to the Church. The Cardinal brings an energetic, intelligent and thought-provoking style to his role as the leader of the Archdiocese of Newark.  Take a listen to Deep Purple’s “Smoke in the Water” and pick up a copy of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and you will be ready for dinner with Cardinal Tobin.