When I looked up tenacity in my thesaurus, synonyms appeared such as endurance, fortitude, grit, resolution. If the definition had included a photograph, it seems to me most fitting that the image could be of a tenacious young man from Chicago who, 60 years ago this Aug. 14, took first vows as a missionary with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. That man is the late Cardinal Francis E. George.
Much can be said about Cardinal George — far more than this space allows. He had a superior intellect, was a generous pastor and was a man of great faith and holiness. But Cardinal George’s successor in Chicago, now-Cardinal Blase Cupich, described his predecessor perhaps most effectively when, in announcing his predecessor’s death, he referred to Cardinal George as a man of “tenacity.”
Cardinal George exhibited tenacity in a variety of ways. And nothing showed that quality more than when he did not give up on God’s call for him, despite the suffering and difficulties he encountered.
Though Cardinal George’s home archdiocese of Chicago had rejected him from seminary because of the effects polio had left on his young body, a tenacious desire to be a priest brought him to a high school seminary operated by the Oblates near St. Louis.
The Oblates were founded in 1816 by French priest, and later bishop, St. Eugene de Mazenod to form missionaries, especially to the poor. By the 1930s, Pope Pius XI defined the tenacious missionary Oblates as “specialists in the most difficult missions of the Church.” It seemed the young Francis George had found himself in the right place.
Within a decade after ordination as an Oblate priest, Father George was elected Oblate vicar general. With the position came frequent, extensive travel for over a decade — even to some of the most remote missions in Africa and Asia. This was no small irony, given that his disability was thought earlier to render him unfit for priesthood.
Pope St. John Paul II — a man of great tenacity himself — appointed Father George a bishop. Then, 20 years ago this year, St. John Paul sent Bishop George back home, naming him archbishop of Chicago. He was created a cardinal the following year.
Cardinal George’s witness seems so important today. Tenacity is lacking in so many ways, especially when it comes to living the Faith and pursuing truth. Cardinal George’s story reminds us to trust that God’s ways are always better, providing in ways beyond our imagining. That is tenacious living.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV’s The Catholic Answer. A graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he resides in Indiana where he teaches high school theology. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.