Chicago's Cardinal Francis George passed away today after a long battle with cancer. George had been on home care since April 3 after being hospitalized late last month for hydration and pain management issues.
Archbishop Blase Cupich confirmed the cardinal’s passing this afternoon. "A man of peace, tenacity and courage has been called home to the Lord," he said. "Our beloved Cardinal George passed away today at 10:45 a.m. at the Residence."
He described Cardinal George as “a resolute leader among the bishops of the United States when the church struggled with the grave sin of sexual abuse,” insisting that zero tolerance be the policy adopted as the bishops established guidelines to respond to the crisis.
Archbishop Cupich remembered Cardinal George’s courageous struggle with cancer. “He pursued an overfull schedule,” said Bishop Cupich, “always choosing the church over his own comforts and the people over his own needs.”
The archbishop added, “Let us heed his example and be a little more brave, a little more steadfast and a lot more loving.”
Archbishop Cupich noted that "Cardinal George’s life’s journey began and ended in Chicago."
He said, "He was a man of great courage who overcame many obstacles to become a priest. When he joined the priesthood he did not seek a comfortable position, instead he joined a missionary order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and served the people of God in challenging circumstances—in Africa, Asia and all around the world."
George had been afflicted with polio as a child and was forced to wear a leg brace. Because of that encumbrance, Chicago's Quigley Seminary rejected his applicaion. Instead Cardinal George joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
"A proud Chicagoan," Archbishop Cupich said, "he became a leader of his order and again traveled far from home, not letting his physical limitations moderate his zeal for bringing the promise of Christ’s love where it was needed most. When he was ordained a bishop, he served faithfully, first in Yakima, where he learned Spanish to be closer to his people. He then served in Portland, where he asked the people to continue to teach him how to be a good bishop. In return, he promised to help them become good missionaries."
Cardinal George, O.M.I., was the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2007-2010, was an exemplary servant of the Church, distinguished by his kindness and intellect, said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, the current U.S.C.C.B. president called him an "exemplary churchman."
"We find peace in knowing that, after so much suffering, he has been raised up with our Lord," said Archbishop Kurtz. "As archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal George led as a kindly servant and unmatched intellectual, a man who encouraged everyone to see how God makes us all brother and sister to one another. I join with my brother bishops in thanking God for the gift of his witness and invite all to pray for the faithful repose of his soul.”
In December Cardinal George had celebrated 51 years of priesthood. Installed in May 1997, he had been the first Chicago native to become Archbishop of Chicago. Previous appointment included less than a year as Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, and five years as Bishop of Yakima, Washington. In accordance with church law, Cardinal George submitted his letter of resignation as Archbishop of Chicago to Pope Benedict XVI on January 16, 2012, his 75th birthday. Pope Francis named Most Rev. Blase J. Cupich as Cardinal George’s successor and the ninth Archbishop of Chicago on September 11, 2014 and Cardinal George became the only Chicago cardinal to retire.
A northwest side native and a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, he was the sixth Cardinal to lead the Chicago Archdiocese's 2.3 million Catholics and had assumed a prominent position among U.S. bishops, serving as the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2007 to 2010.
Throughout his life he had a number of prominent roles in the bishops' conference—he served on U.S.C.C.B. Committees on Doctrine, on Latin America, on Missions, on Religious Life and Ministry, the American Board of Catholic Missions, and on World Missions; on the ad hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism and the Subcommittee on Campus Ministry. But he was known nationally and internationally as a Catholic intellectual and a defender of church orthodoxy.
Cardinal George served as chancellor of Catholic Extenion during his term as leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In a statement released today, Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension, said, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Francis Cardinal George and have nothing but deep gratitude and appreciation for his 17 years of leadership and service as Chancellor.
“We will carry with us fond memories of the Cardinal’s missionary zeal and are blessed to have received his wise counsel as our leader. Cardinal George accelerated our capacity to meet the urgent needs and priorities of all 94 of our mission dioceses. ... His legacy and the impact he has had on all of us will be an inspiration for years to come.”
As Archbishop of Chicago, he issued two pastoral letters: on evangelization, “Becoming an Evangelizing People,” (November 21, 1997) and on racism, “Dwell in My Love” (April 4, 2001). His book, The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture, was published in October 2009, by The Crossroad Publishing Company. It is a collection of essays exploring our relationship with God, the responsibility of communion and the transformation of culture. His most recent book, God in Action: How Faith in God Can Address the Challenges of the World, was published in May 2011, by Doubleday Religion.