Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., the archbishop-emeritus of Chicago passed away April 17, and the Roman Catholic Church in America lost one of her best and brightest lights. Francis George, the first local to be named Archbishop of Chicago, was actually turned down as a young man from the archdiocesan high school seminary, Quigley Prep, due to his polio.
Still pursuing his vocation from an early age, he went to a high school seminary run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He was by all accounts a brilliant man, earning two doctoral degrees, one in American philosophy and the other in fundamental theology, and served as the vicar general of his religious order in Rome, as well as Bishop of Yakima, Archbishop of Portland, and then back home to Chicago.
Ever the intellectual, Cardinal George was always able to read the signs of the times. Aware of the growing secular animus toward Catholicism, the cardinal is famously quoted: “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.”
Read again the words of this brilliant man, warning us, who as Christians are in the world, and not of the world:
“Analogies can easily be multiplied, if one wants to push a thesis; but the point is that the greatest threat to world peace and international justice is the nation state gone bad, claiming an absolute power, deciding questions and making ‘laws’ beyond its competence. Few there are, however, who would venture to ask if there might be a better way for humanity to organize itself for the sake of the common good. Few, that is, beyond a prophetic voice like that of Dorothy Day, speaking acerbically about ‘Holy Mother the State,’ or the ecclesiastical voice that calls the world, from generation to generation, to live at peace in the kingdom of God.
“The world divorced from the God who created and redeemed it inevitably comes to a bad end. It’s on the wrong side of the only history that finally matters.”
The cardinal was very ill for a long time, but he had one wish before he died – to meet with Pope Francis and ask him for some clarifications about some of his statements. This was not done out of disloyalty to the pope, nor was it done as a critique of the pope; he wanted to do this because he loved the Church, he loved the Holy Father and he wanted people, including the secular press, to truly understand what our Holy Father was trying to do.
Cardinal George wanted to better understand Pope Francis, whom he admitted that he did not know well before the Conclave in March, 2013.
Cardinal George, due to his illness, never got the opportunity to speak to Francis, but the questions asked to the pope were not that of a “conservative” or a “traditionalist,” but of a loyal son of the Church who understood that the scarlet red he wore as a cardinal meant that he would be willing to give up his life, even physically, for the faith.
Francis George, religious, intellectual, bishop, was devoted to the truth and was never afraid to ask the tough questions for the common good of the Church and society. The Church in America is poorer without him. The cardinal, humble, gentle, brilliant, lived his episcopal motto daily:
“Christo gloria in ecclesia.”