Francis Cardinal George, OMI: 1937-2015 by Fr. James Allen, OMI
Francis Cardinal GEORGE, Archbishop-emeritus of Chicago and former Vicar General of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, died on 17 April 2015, at his home. He had suffered from cancer since 2006 and officially retired as Ordinary of Chicago in November 2014.
Here is the statement of Cardinal George’s successor, Archbishop Blase Cupich, a few hours after the Cardinal had died:
“A man of peace, tenacity and courage has been called home to the Lord. Our beloved Cardinal George passed away today at 10:45 a.m. at the Residence.
“Cardinal George’s life’s journey began and ended in Chicago. He was a man of great courage who overcame many obstacles to become a priest. When he joined the priesthood he did not seek a comfortable position, instead he joined a missionary order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and served the people of God in challenging circumstances – in Africa, Asia and all around the world.
“A proud Chicagoan, he became a leader of his order and again traveled far from home, not letting his physical limitations moderate his zeal for bringing the promise of Christ’s love where it was needed most. When he was ordained a bishop, he served faithfully, first in Yakima, where he learned Spanish to be closer to his people. He then served in Portland, where he asked the people to continue to teach him how to be a good bishop. In return, he promised to help them become good missionaries.
“Cardinal George was a respected leader among the bishops of the United States. When, for example, the church struggled with the grave sin of clerical sexual abuse, he stood strong among his fellow bishops and insisted that zero tolerance was the only course consistent with our beliefs.
“He served the Church universal as a Cardinal and offered his counsel and support to three Popes and their collaborators in the Roman congregations. In this way, he contributed to the governance of the Church worldwide.
“Here in Chicago, the Cardinal visited every corner of the Archdiocese, talking with the faithful and bringing kindness to every interaction. He pursued an overfull schedule– always choosing the church over his own comfort and the people over his own needs. Most recently, we saw his bravery first hand as he faced the increasing challenges brought about by cancer.
“Let us heed his example and be a little more brave, a little more steadfast and a lot more loving. This is the surest way to honor his life and celebrate his return to the presence of God.
“As we celebrate in these Easter days our new life in the Risen Lord, join me in offering comfort to Cardinal George’s family, especially his sister, Margaret, by assuring them of our prayers, thanking God for his life and years of dedication to the Archdiocese of Chicago. Let us pray that God will bring this good and faithful servant into the fullness of the kingdom. May Cardinal George rest in peace.”
Francis Eugene George was born in Chicago in 1937. He suffered polio at the age of 13 and consequently, was not able to attend the archdiocesan major seminary. Instead, he entered the Oblates’ St. Henry’s Seminary in Belleville, Illinois. It was there that he felt the call to religious missionary life; he professed his first vows as an Oblate in 1957. Ordained a priest in 1963, he spent the first years of ministry as a philosophy professor and formator of young Oblates. In 1973, he was named provincial of the former Central Province and a little over a year later, he was elected Vicar General at the Chapter of 1974. He was 38 years old at the time and according to some Oblates who were present at that Chapter, he was hand-picked by the new Superior General, Fr. Fernand JETTÉ whose student he had been at the scholasticate in Ottawa.
While he was Vicar General, he traveled to many provinces and delegations of the Congregation. This worldwide view of the Church served him well when he was named a Bishop and a Cardinal in later years.
In 1990, Pope St. John Paul II named him Bishop of Yakima, Washington, a region that had been served by some of the first Oblates sent to the United States by St. Eugene de Mazenod in 1847. In 1996, he became the Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, and in 1997, he was asked to move once again, to become the archbishop of the city of his birth. In January 1998, Pope St. John Paul II elevated him to the College of Cardinal; his titular church was San Bartolomeo all’Isola in Rome.
His brother bishops in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops elected him their Vice-President in 2004. From 2007 until 2010, he was the President of the Conference.
Many of those who were witnesses to his work and his talents considered him the most intellectually gifted U.S. bishop of his generation. Some even called him the “American Ratzinger” because of his sharp intelligence and ability to articulate the position of the Church and complex theological issues.
May he rest in peace.