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Who is Timothy Dolan? Dolan, a contender to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, is an American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and the Archbishop of New York, a position that makes him leader of the second-largest Catholic archdiocese in the United States, after Los Angeles. Dolan—who emerged as a papal contender following Pope Benedict’s announcement that he would step down on Feb. 28, 2013—is also the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and in 2012, the media-savvy holy man made Time magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

Dolan, who would be the first American pope, was born Feb. 6, 1950, in St. Louis, Mo. The oldest of five, he gravitated toward the priesthood at an early age, and as a boy, he would practice preaching the gospel from behind a cardboard altar in his basement. Dolan graduated from Cardinal Glennon College with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and he later earned a license in sacred theology from Pontifical University of St. Thomas. Dolan also holds a doctorate in church history from the Catholic University of America.

 Read: Adopt a Cardinal & Pray For Him

Cardinal Dolan was ordained as a priest on June 19, 1976, and on June 25, 2002, after a stint as auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, he became Archbishop of Milwaukee. On May 31, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI sent him as an apostolic visitor to Ireland, and on Feb. 18, 2012, Benedict proclaimed him a cardinal. In November of that year, Dolan made headlines by speaking out against President Obama’s mandate that health insurance companies cover birth control, and although he’s known for his conservative views, he blessed both party conventions during the 2012 presidential election.

Dolan doesn’t speak French or Latin, and he’s shaky with his Spanish and Italian, but despite these shortcomings—not to mention the fact there’s never been an American pope—some Vatican observers consider him a real papal contender. “I think that it is realistic, the possibility of an American pope,” veteran journalist of Andrea Tornielli of La Stampa said, according to CBS News.

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