Cardinal George dies after long fight with cancer Print
National-World News
Thursday, Apr. 23, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Cardinal Francis E. George, then archbishop of Chicago, gives a silk rose and medal of St. Gerard to a mother and daughter during a special Mass on Mother’s Day at Holy Name Cathedral. Cardinal George, 78, died April 17 after a long battle with cancer. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Cardinal Francis E. George, the retired archbishop of Chicago who was the first native Chicagoan to head the archdiocese, died Friday, April 17, at his residence after nearly 10 years battling cancer. He was 78.

His successor in Chicago, Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, called Cardinal George “a man of peace, tenacity, and courage” in a statement he read at a news conference held outside Holy Name Cathedral to announce the death.

Overcame obstacles

Archbishop Cupich singled out Cardinal George for overcoming many obstacles to become a priest, and “not letting his physical limitations moderate his zeal for bringing the promise of Christ’s love where it was needed most.”

A childhood bout with polio had left the prelate with a weakened leg and a pronounced limp throughout his life.

With the cardinal’s death, the College of Cardinals has 223 members, of whom 121 are under 80 and thus eligible to vote for a pope.

Read Bishop Robert C. Morlino’s statement on the death of
Cardinal Francis E. George.
Funeral, visitation

Cardinal George’s funeral Mass is to be celebrated at noon Thursday, April 23, at Holy Name Cathedral, followed by a committal service at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines. The cardinal wished to be buried in the George family plot.

Prior to the funeral, Cardinal George’s body was received at Holy Name Cathedral the afternoon of April 21. The rite of reception was followed by a four-hour visitation period for the public, a prayer vigil for priests and seminarians, with visitation again open to the public until the cathedral closed.

An interfaith service was held on Wednesday, April 22, with visitation and a vigil conducted by lay ecclesial movements for the public through the night at the cathedral.

Pope’s condolences

In an April 18 telegram to Archbishop Cupich, Pope Francis expressed his condolences to all in the Chicago Archdiocese and imparted his apostolic blessing. He recalled Cardinal George’s “witness of consecrated life” as a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, “his service to the Church’s educational apostolate,” and his years of episcopal ministry.

“I join you in commending the soul of this wise and gentle pastor to the merciful love of God our heavenly Father,” said the pope.

Priestly life

Cardinal George was a philosophy professor and regional provincial then vicar general of his religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, before being named a bishop in 1990.

He was named bishop of Yakima, Wash., in 1990, then was appointed archbishop of Portland, Ore., in April 1996. Less than a year later, St. John Paul II named him to fill the position in Chicago, which was left vacant by the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in November 1996.

By retiring in 2014, Cardinal George accomplished what he often joked was his aspiration, to be the first cardinal-archbishop of Chicago to step down from the job, rather than dying in office, as his predecessors had. In the last few months, the archdiocese had issued a series of press releases about changes in Cardinal George’s health status as it declined.

Spoke about illnesses

At an event January 30, where he received an award from the Knights of Columbus, Cardinal George spoke frankly about living with terminal illness, saying that his doctors had exhausted the options for treating his disease and that he was receiving palliative care.

“They’ve run out of tricks in the bag, if you like,” he said. “Basically, I’m in the hands of God, as we all are in some fashion.”

In a catechesis session during World Youth Day in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 2005, Cardinal George told the youths that having polio at the age of 13 left him, “a captive in my own body. I soon learned that self-pity got me nowhere. Faith was the way out, because in faith I was not alone, and good can come of something that appears bad at that time.”

Served the Church

Archbishop Cupich in his statement also noted that when the U.S. Church “struggled with the grave sin of clerical sexual abuse, (Cardinal George) stood strong among his fellow bishops and insisted that zero tolerance was the only course consistent with our beliefs.”

He observed that Cardinal George had offered his counsel and support to three popes, serving the worldwide Church. In Chicago, Archbishop Cupich noted, the cardinal “visited every corner of the archdiocese, talking with the faithful and bringing kindness to every interaction.”

Cardinal George was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for three years, from 2007 to 2010, which made him the public face of the bishops’ efforts to help shape what became the Affordable Care Act. In his final address to the body of bishops as their president in November 2010, he criticized those who define the Church’s usefulness by whether it provides “foot soldiers for a political commitment, whether of the left or the right.”

He recalled at length the public debate over what the legislation should include and referred to the “wound to the Church’s unity” caused by disagreements over the final bill.

The USCCB opposed the final version of the bill, saying it would permit federal funding of abortion, inadequately protect the conscience rights of health care providers, and leave out immigrants.

Chicago native

The future cardinal was born in Chicago January 16, 1937, to Francis J. and Julia R. (McCarthy) George. He attended St. Pascal elementary school on Chicago’s northwest side, the parish where he would be ordained a priest December 21, 1963.

After being rejected by the archdiocesan seminary because of his disability, he instead attended the Oblate-run St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, Ill. He entered the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate August 14, 1957.

His term as bishop of Yakima lasted five and a half years before he was named to the Portland Archdiocese and soon after to Chicago. A year later, in 1998, St. John Paul elevated him to the College of Cardinals. As a cardinal, he served in the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, and the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.”

Cardinal George participated in two conclaves. The first was in 2005 to elect a successor to St. John Paul II in 2005 -- Pope Benedict XVI -- and the second in 2013 in which Pope Francis was elected.

In addition to English, he spoke French, Italian, Spanish, and German.