Cardinal Francis George, OMI died today, April 17 at his home in Chicago. He was 78. Cardinal George had a long and storied career in public ministry.
George contracted polio at age 13. Due to his disability, he was rejected by Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary, and instead enrolled at St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, a high school seminary of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He joined the Missionary Oblates on August 14, 1957. He continued his studies at the Oblates novitiate in Godfrey before entering Our Lady of the Snows Seminary in Pass Christian, Mississippi. George was then sent to study theology at theUniversity of Ottowa in Canada.
On December 21, 1963, George was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Raymond Hillinger at his home parish of St. Pascal Church. He received a Bachelor of Theology (B.Th.) degree from the University of Ottawa in 1964, followed by a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. in 1965. He then taught philosophy at Our Lady of the Snows Seminary in Pass Christian (1964–69), Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana (1968), and Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska (1969–1973).
During his teaching assignments, George earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in American Philosophy from Tulane University in 1970, and a Master of Theology degree from the University of Ottawa in 1971. He served as provincial superior of the Midwestern Province for the Missionary Oblates in Saint Paul, Minnesota, from 1973 until 1974, when he became vicar general of the Oblates. Based in Rome, he served as vicar general for 12 years. He obtained a Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from the Pontifical Urbaniana University in 1988, with a thesis entitled: “Inculturation and communion”.
George returned to the United States, where he served as coordinator of the Circle of Fellows at the Center for the Study of Faith and Culture in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1987–90).
On July 10, 1990, George was appointed the fifth Bishop of Yakima in Washington by Pope John Paul II. He received his episcopal consecration on the following September 21 from Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, with Bishops Roger Schwietz, OMI, and William S. Skylstad serving as co-consecrators, at Holy Family Church in Yakima.
George served the Diocese of Yakima for five and a half years. As a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), he served as chair of the Commission for Bishops and Scholars (1992–1994), and as a consultant to the Committees on Evangelization (1991–93), Hispanic Affairs (1994–97), and Science and Values (1994–97). He was episcopal advisor to the Cursillo Movement (Region XII) from 1990 to 1997, and episcopal moderator of the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities from 1990 to 2008. He was a papal appointee to the 1994 World Synod of Bishops on Consecrated Life, and attended the Ninth Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Vatican City in October 1994.
On April 30, 1996, George was appointed the ninth Archbishop of Portland in Oregon. He was installed on the following May 27 at St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Less than a year later, on April 8, 1997, Pope John Paul II appointed Archbishop George the eighth Archbishop of Chicago to fill a vacancy left by the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin on November 14, 1996. He was the first native Chicagoan to assume the office. On May 7 after his appointment, the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio Agostino Cacciavillan installed Archbishop George as Archbishop of Chicago in Holy Name Cathedral.
On January 18, 1998, Pope John Paul II announced Archbishop George’s elevation to the Sacred College of Cardinals with the title of Cardinal-Priest of San Bartolomeo all’Isola, which occurred at the consistory at the Vatican on February 21.
George was one of the 2005 cardinal electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave which selected Pope Benedict XVI, and one of the 2013 cardinal electors in the papal conclave of 2013 that selected Pope Francis. He was be eligible to participate in any future papal conclaves that occur before January 16, 2017 when he would reach his 80th birthday.
George published a locally well-read column bi-monthly in the Chicago archdiocesan newspaper of which he is Publisher, The Catholic New World, called “The Cardinal’s Column”. He was also the Publisher of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Hispanic newspaper, Chicago Católico.
He published at least two pastoral letters. The first, “Becoming An Evangelizing People”, was released on November 21, 1997. The second was a major discourse on the sinful and destructive nature of racism, Dwell in My Love, released on April 4, 2001.
The Cardinal is the author of two books. The first, The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture, was published in October 2009 by Crossroad Publishing Company. It is a collection of essays exploring our relationship with God, the responsibility of communion and the transformation of culture. His most recent book, God in Action: How Faith in God Can Address the Challenges of the World, was published in May 2011 by Doubleday Religion. In this collection of essays, he reflected on the significance of religious faith in the public sphere and underscores the unique contributions of religion to the common good.
George was diagnosed with an aggressive but localized form of bladder cancer in 2006. In August 2012 the Archdiocese announced that his bladder cancer had returned in his kidney and liver, and that he would undergo chemotherapy. The cancer returned in March 2014, and plans for aggressive chemotherapy treatments renewed speculation about his retirement. He was hospitalized for a few days at Loyola University Medical Center in March 2014 after showing flu-like symptoms and signs of dehydration.
In August 2014, Cardinal George agreed to participate in a research clinical trial of a new drug at the University of Chicago. He announced in December 2014 that doctors had determined their treatment for the cancer found on his kidney had failed and he would no longer undergo treatment for the disease.
On September 20, 2014, the Vatican announced that Bishop Blasé Cupich, of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington would succeed Cardinal George and was installed as new Archbishop of Chicago on November 18, 2014.
After a news conference to introduce Bishop Cupich to Chicago, the Catholic New World reported the following in an article also published on September 20:
“I’ve been a bishop for many years and before that I was a religious superior. And in a sense, in those jobs, as you can imagine, you are hostage to what hundreds even thousands of people do over which you have no control,” he said. Every morning he would check the news to find out what happened that he was accountable for. “I have to confess, it will be a relief not to read the paper with that vision in mind but just to get information.”
When reminded that he has frequently said it was his goal to retire and meet his successor, something not accomplished but any other archbishop of Chicago since all died in office, Cardinal George pumped his fist in the air and smiled.
He said the appointment is also a relief to him because of his health problems.
“Others who have retired I’ve asked them how it went and they’ve said, ‘Well, it’s strange. One moment you’re at the center of everything and the next moment you’re not.’ You have to adjust to that,” he said.
The week following the news conference saw Cardinal George’s health take a turn for the worse, he canceled appearances at several public events reportedly due to cellulitis infection in his right foot.
Funeral services are as follows: Visitation will be on Tuesday at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, from 2:30 to 6:30 pm and 9 to 11 pm, and on Wednesday, from 7 to 9:30 am and 11:30 am to 6:30 pm. Fr. Bill Antone, OMI will preside at the Vesper service on Wednesday evening.
The Funeral Mass will take place on Thursday at noon (you must have a ticket to attend). Cardinal Francis George will be buried in the George family plot at All Saints Cemetery & Mausoleum in suburban Des Plaines, where his parents, Francis J. and Julia R. George, were laid to rest.