Catholics mourn loss of Cardinal George

Photos by Armando Silva

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ardinal Francis George entered Holy Name Cathedral for the final time this week. The late cardinal passed away last Friday, after losing his battle against kidney cancer. To honor him the Chicago Archdiocese held three days of funeral rites that began on Tuesday with a Rite of Reception. On the first day of services a line wrapped around the block of Holy Name, with some people waiting since 5 a.m. for the inaugural service to begin at 2 p.m.

“We’re not here to canonize the cardinal,” said Monsignor Dan Mayall, the rector of Holy Name. “But we’re here to commend him to the Lord.”

Mayall then joked, “He’d jump out of that casket and scold me” if the rector had said anything like that. It was a loving reference to the late cardinal’s reputation as “Francis the Corrector.”

Priests George had recently ordained carried his casket into the cathedral before the afternoon service began. Once inside a white cloth, called a pall, was sprinkled with holy water by Monsignor Mayall and placed over the casket. After the three days of services George was buried in his family’s plot at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines on Thursday afternoon.

“Here in Chicago, the Cardinal visited every corner of the Archdiocese, talking with the faithful and bringing kindness to every interaction,” said Archbishop Blase Cupich, who was installed as George’s successor six months ago. He made the comments after Geroge passed away last Friday. During the funeral services this week Cupich did not sit in Holy Name’s cathedra, or bishop’s throne, as a sign of respect to his predecessor.

“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,” said Cupich.

George was the first native Chicagoan to serve as Archbishop of Chicago and the first to retire from the position, allowing him to meet his replacement. In the past no other archbishop had lived long enough to meet his successor.

“Cardinal Francis George led a remarkable life of faith and service. As Chicago’s first native-born Archbishop,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “His journey took him full-circle from growing up in Portage Park to serving in far-flung missions around the globe, and eventually back home to shepherd the City of Chicago towards a better future.”

Born to Francis J. and Julia R. McCarthy George on January 16, 1937, the future archbishop attended St. Pascal Grade School on Chicago’s northwest side and suffered from polio as a boy. This disability would be an obstacle to his desire to become a priest because the Archdiocese of Chicago would not let him study at Quigley Preparatory Seminary.

Undeterred, George went on to attend St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, Illinois and eventually entered the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate on August 14, 1957. During his time as a missionary George served the poorest regions of Africa, Latin America and Asia. His work as a missionary, where he saw his peers putting their lives at risk to serve the church and its parishioners, shaped his ministry as one that sought social justice on race and immigration issues.

And as a member of the Oblates, George also thrived as a theologian and teacher. He would eventually earn a master’s in philosophy from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; a master’s in theology from the University of Ottawa in Canada; a Ph.D. in American philosophy from Tulane University in New Orleans; and a sacred theology doctorate in ecclesiology from Pontifical Urban University in Rome.

Because of his experiences as a missionary George was not afraid to raise his voice in support of issues like immigration reform when Pope John Paul II named him the eighth Archbishop of Chicago on April 8, 1997.

“Now is the time to fix a broken system, a system that for too long has divided and devastated families through massive deportations, subjected them to mistreatment and discrimination by employers and others, and cast a crippling pall of fear upon the immigrant community,” wrote George in 2013.

Father Marco Mercado worked with George as the archbishop’s delegate for Hispanic ministry and said George would often speak about the importance of reform, even when lawyers were advising him to stay quiet on the issue.

“Whenever I asked something from him, about being a voice for the Hispanic community, he was always open to it,” said Mercado. “He always said it was a moral obligation because we’re a country of immigrants.”

Sister Guillermina Gutierrez was outside Holy Name on Tuesday and agreed George was no stranger to fighting for immigrant rights. Originally from Monterrey Mexico, she came to Chicago in 2005 and was sent serve at the Chicago Archdiocese 2 years ago.

“He was very close with his people. In my perspective he was close with his priests, and with the city’s Hispanic community. He defended a lot of their rights and he worked for them,” she said. And while she was mourning his loss, she felt his passing was bringing him to a better place. “It’s a blessing that the cardinal is going to be in the presence of God. He was suffering, a lot at the end,” she said.

During his 17-year tenure as archbishop of Chicago’s 2 million plus Catholics, George helped guide the church through Catholic school closings and the sexual abuse scandal within the clergy.

Regarding the scandal, George would be a leading figure in negotiations with the Vatican over a zero-tolerance policy. Yet in 2006 Daniel McCormack, who was then a priest with the Chicago archdiocese, was charged with sexually abusing five boys and ended up pleading guilty the following year. During the investigation it was found that church officials, including George, were notified of past abuse allegations about McCormack but failed to remove him from the church.

“I’m saddened by my own failure — very much so,” George told reporters at the time. And last January, as part of settlement agreements, the archdiocese released documents from the investigations of 30 priests accused of abuse.

“Painful though publicly reviewing the past can be, it is part of the accountability and transparency to which the Archdiocese is committed,” George wrote to parishioners before releasing the documents.

George was conservative in his beliefs and held dear Catholic teachings on abortion, the death penalty and gay marriage. He also was known as a very “hands on” administrator, with no matter too great or too small for his attention. His frank honesty and wry sense of humor won over most Chicagoans but also led him to get the nickname “Francis the Corrector.”

“He was very intellectual but he also had a great sense of humor,” said Mercado. Friends of George said when he wasn’t in a professional setting his warmer side was more noticeable. He would often speak of his love of science fiction, film, theater and opera as well as his deep love of the church. Mercado said he was fortunate enough to go on a trip with George to Mexico before his passing and see the archbishop happy and relaxing.

“I was very close to him, I really loved him and he was a role model in my life,” said Mercado. As for the Hispanic community’s struggles, Mercado said they shouldn’t worry as he thinks the new cardinal is going to pick up right where George left off.

Additional reporting by Armando Silva.

Facebook Comments

This post is also available in: Spanish