When Cardinal Francis E. George retired in November as archbishop of Chicago, he became the first archbishop to do so and greet his successor. A native of the Windy City, Cardinal George’s influence has reached far beyond his hometown borders. He is considered one of the keenest minds in the English-speaking Church and is a leading voice urging the protection of religious freedoms in the United States.
He began his ministry with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and in 1974, at age 37, then-Father George was elected vicar general of the worldwide community, serving in that post for more than 10 years. He served as bishop of Yakima, Washington, from 1990-96; and as archbishop of Portland, Oregon, for less than a year before being named archbishop of Chicago in 1997.
Care of the poor has been a focal point of Cardinal George’s ministry, and he is regularly heard saying, “If you want to get to heaven, ride on the coattails of the poor.” The cardinal also has fought hard to protect children from abuse by clergy, and in 2002, he traveled to Rome to convince the Holy See to accept the U.S. bishops’ norms on protecting children. All this he has done as a survivor of polio, which he contracted at 13 and which left him with a limp. In 2006, he battled bladder cancer only to have it return in 2012 and 2014.
As he looks to the future, Cardinal George is focusing on the ultimate goal for all people of faith.
“As one nears the end of his or her life, I think the Lord sends us signs through a transformation of desire that, finally, in the end, helps us recognize more clearly that the only thing that is important is life with God,” he told the Catholic New World. “I think it’s a great grace to receive that help that really prepares you for the transition from this life to the next.”
As Cardinal George transitions into retirement, Our Sunday Visitor is proud to name him a 2014 Catholic of the Year.
Joyce Duriga is the editor of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Catholic New World.