Local Pastors, Leaders Recall Cardinal George's Humility Despite Dealing With Pain
Desplaines Valley News
Cardinal Francis George, who served as the head of the Chicago Archdiocese for 17 years, died April 17 at his archdiocesan residence.
George died at 10:45 a.m. after years of battling cancer. He had surgery to remove his bladder and prostate when cancer was first diagnosed in 2006. He was diagnosed with cancer again in March 2014 when cancerous cells were found in his right kidney.
George originally handed in his letter of resignation in 2012 to then Pope Benedict XVI. Canon Law states that diocesan bishops have to submit their resignation to the pope when they reach the age 75. The pope can choose not to accept the resignation.
But after another bout with cancer, George had requested Pope Francis find a replacement. George had said that he wanted to meet his successor during his lifetime. In September, the pope appointed Bishop Blase Cupich, who had led the Spokane, Wash., diocese the last four years, to become George’s successor.
Cupich officially became the new archbishop of Chicago’s Archdiocese of 2.3 million Catholics on Nov. 18.
And it was Cupich who announced during a news conference April 17 outside the Chicago Archdiocese that George had died.
“A man of peace, tenacity and courage has been called home to the Lord," said Cupich. “Let us heed his example and be a little more brave, a little more steadfast and a lot more loving.”
Cupich added that George “was always choosing the church over his own comfort, and the people over his own needs.”
The Rev. Robert Stuglik, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, 7240 W. 57th St. in Summit, knew George from his days in the seminary. He was ordained by George in 2003.
“You never heard him complain about his pain,” said Stuglik, who has been the pastor at St. Joseph for the last six years. “One thing about him is that when you talked to him you knew he was a very smart man. We might not be as intellectually gifted as he was, but he felt we should all get to know the Lord better.”
The Rev. Lawrence Malcom, pastor of St. Gerald Parish, 9310 S. 55th Court in Oak Lawn, told a congregation at the 5 p.m. Mass Saturday that he had fond memories of the cardinal.
“Like most of us, I have been thinking of Cardinal George today,” said Malcom. “What some people don’t realize is that he contracted polio at the age of 13. He lived to 78. That means every day of his life he was in pain.”
Malcom reminded parishioners that George had to wear a brace on his leg to help him walk.
“I used to watch him walk up and down the steps of church,” said Malcom, adding that George did not want any preferential treatment.
George was raised on Chicago’s Northwest Side and attended St. Pascal School, where he said he first began thinking about becoming a priest when received his First Holy Communion.
After being diagnosed with polio, George entered Quigley Preparatory Seminary as a freshman and was told that he could not stay and most likely would not be ordained.
His family then entered him in a boarding school in Belleville, Ill., run by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate order.
George would be ordained a priest at St. Pascal Church in 1963. He would serve as the head of Oblates in the Midwest and would travel extensively around the world to provide care for the poor.
He was installed as bishop of Yakima, Wash., in 1990. He was promoted six years later to become the head of the Portland Archdiocese in Oregon.
Ten months later, Pope John Paul 11 selected him to become the new archbishop of Chicago after Cardinal Joseph Bernardin died.
The Rev. Michael Furlan, pastor of St. Germaine Parish, 9711 S. Kolin Ave., Oak Lawn, since 2002, has known George since he was installed as the eighth archbishop of Chicago.
“He was less formal and seemed to enjoy being with people,” said Furlan. “I knew Cardinal Bernardin but he was shy and harder to get to know.”
Furlan said that George had a “great sense of humor, a self-deprecating way about him. He knew sometimes he would say things that would get him in trouble.”
The St. Germaine pastor gave one example of his humor. The cardinal visited St. Germaine in 2012. Furlan asked George if he wanted to live at St. Germaine after his retirement. Furlan said older priests have lived at the parish, like the Rev. William Goedert, who had recently died.
George looked at Furlan and said, “oh, you mean for dying priests.” Furlan said that he and the cardinal had a good laugh over that.
“He was aware of his own weaknesses,” added Furlan. “He wasn’t afraid of conflicts or disagreements. But he would listen. He might not change his mind but he would always listen.”
Br. Hank Hammer, FMS, who is the new president at Marist High School, 4200 W. 115th St., Chicago, recalled when George visited the campus on Aug. 29, 2013, to mark the school’s 50th anniversary.
Hammer, who has been at Marist in some capacity for over 30 years, said the cardinal celebrated Mass to mark the anniversary on a very warm day. Br. Patrick McNamara was the school president at that time.
“It was after the Mass and the cardinal was with Brother Pat, who was driving him in a golf cart,” recalls Hammer. “All he (George) wanted to do was to be driven over to talk to the kids. I guess once a teacher, always a teacher. He was very personal.”
George became a leading figure in negotiations with the Vatican over a zero-tolerance policy of sexual abuse by priests in 2002.
The cardinal had his detractors, pointing to his opposition to gay marriage and the belief he did not do enough to prevent further instances of sexual abuse.
Despite those criticisms, local leaders spoke highly of George.
“I am saddened to learn of the death of Francis Cardinal George,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd). “Not just Chicago Catholics but the world has lost a man who was a great leader in the Catholic Church and a man who cared deeply about everyone no matter their faith.
“On a personal level, the more that I had the opportunity to get to know Cardinal George the more I admired him,” added Lipinski. “He was an intellectual powerhouse who had a special ability to communicate great truths in a simple manner. Every time I heard him speak I learned something that enriched my mind and my faith.”
George is survived by a sister, Margaret. Services were held Thursday at Holy Name Cathedral. Interment followed at a family plot in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines.