Francis Cardinal George, former Archbishop of Chicago, passed away today. Born in 1937, he was 78 years old. He had been fighting cancer for almost a decade.
Widely admired for his insight and courage, he will be greatly missed.
A person’s death can be a good time to reflect on the person’s life. So here are 7 things you probably didn’t know about Cardinal George:
1) He had polio as a kid – and it almost prevented him from becoming a priest
He contracted the disease in 1950 when he was 13 years old (the polio vaccine was released to the public in 1955). The disease impacted his ability to walk, and he wore a leg brace the rest of his life. Given his prominence, he was considered a hero to some polio survivors.
The disease almost prevented him from becoming a priest. Due to his disability, the first seminary he applied to rejected him. Undaunted, however, he found another one that was willing to accept him: St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, a high school seminary of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He eventually took solemn vows with the Missionary Oblates in 1961.
2) He had 4 degrees, including 2 doctorates
He received a Bachelor of Theology from the University of Ottawa in 1964, a Master of Arts in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America in 1965, a Ph.D. in American philosophy from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1970, and finally a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Urbaniana University in 1988. His thesis for his last degree was titled “Inculturation and Communion.”
3) His episcopal motto was “Christo Gloria in Ecclesia”
When he was appointed to be a bishop by St. John Paul II in 1990, he chose this motto, which is Latin for “To Christ be Glory in the Church.”
[See also: The Inspiring Mottos of 10 Religious Orders]
4) He held 3 episcopal positions throughout the country
His first position as a new bishop was as Bishop of Yakima, Washington, 1990-1996. Next he was Archbishop of Portland, Oregon for just about a year, from 1996-1997. Finally, he was Archbishop of Chicago from 1997 until his retirement in 2014.
5) In Oregon, he fought against a county jail that recorded a sacramental confession
He was Archbishop of Portland, OR for just about a year, but right around that time the archdiocese discovered that a county jail had secretly tape recorded a Sacramental confession of one of its inmates. George led the archdiocese in fighting against the jail, and in January of 1997 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the tape recording was an unconstitutional and illegal act.
6) He occupied a wide range of positions at the USCCB and elsewhere
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), as a consultant to the Committees on Evangelization (1991–93), Hispanic Affairs (1994–97), and Science and Values (1994–97). He was president of the USCCB from 2007-2010.
He was also the episcopal advisor to the Cursillo Movement (Region XII) from 1990 to 1997, and the episcopal moderator of the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities from 1990 to 2008.
7) He famously predicted the fates of his successors
Here’s what he is quoted as once saying:
“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests, entirely outside of the current political debate, I was trying to express in overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization of our society could bring. I was responding to a question and I never wrote down what I said, but the words were captured on somebody’s smart phone and have now gone viral on Wikipedia and elsewhere in the electronic communications world. I am (correctly) quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. What is omitted from the reports is a final phrase I added about the bishop who follows a possibly martyred bishop: “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” What I said is not “prophetic” but a way to force people to think outside of the usual categories that limit and sometimes poison both private and public discourse.
Now don’t forget to say a prayer for the repose of his soul!
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