Cardinal Francis George dies at 78

Cardinal Francis George, archbishop emeritus of Chicago, died at 10:45 a.m. April 17 after a long battle with cancer, the archdiocese has confirmed. He was 78.

The funeral Mass will be held Thursday, April 23, at noon at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. The event is accessible by invitation only, but there are plenty of opportunities for the public to pay their respects earlier in the week. For a full schedule of services and public visitations, click here. Immediately following the funeral Mass, the committal service will take place at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines. Per the cardinal’s wishes, he will be buried in the George family plot, an event that will be open to the public.

In a press conference Friday afternoon, Archbishop Blase Cupich, who replaced Cardinal George in November, called Cardinal George "a man of peace, tenacity and courage," saying that he "overcame many obstacles to become a priest."

"Cardinal George was a respected leader among the bishops of the United States," Archbishop Cupich said, particularly when it came to the Church's response to clergy sexual abuse. "He stood strong among his fellow bishops and insisted that zero tolerance was the only course consistent with our beliefs."

Archbishop Cupich added that Cardinal George pursued an "overfull schedule" in which he always chose "the Church over his own comfort and the people over his own needs."

For the last year, Cardinal George's health had been in decline. Most recently, he was released from Loyola University Medical Center on April 3, Good Friday, after being readmitted in March for dehydration and pain management.

Treatment for his cancer, which was first diagnosed in 2006 and returned in 2012 and 2014, ceased in December 2014, only a month after he retired as archbishop of Chicago.

Cardinal Francis Eugene George was born Jan. 16, 1937, the son of Francis J. And Julia R. McCarthy. After attending St. Pascal Grade School on Chicago’s northwest side and St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, Illinois, he entered the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate on Aug. 14, 1957.

He studied theology at the University of Ottawa, Canada, and was ordained a priest by Most Rev. Raymond Hillinger on Dec. 21, 1963 at St. Pascal Church.

Cardinal George earned a master’s degree in philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. in 1965 and a doctorate in American philosophy at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1970 and, in 1971, a master’s degree in theology from the University of Ottawa in Canada. During those years, he also taught philosophy at the Oblate Seminary in Pass Christian, Mississippi from 1964 until 1967, Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1968 and at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska from 1969 until 1973.

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.

On Jan. 18, 1998, Pope John Paul II announced Archbishop George’s elevation to the Sacred College of Cardinals. At the Consistory of February 21, 1998, Cardinal George was assigned San Bartolomeo all’Isola in Rome, as his titular church. He was also appointed a member of the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, and the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.” In 1999, Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal George to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church. In 2001, the Pope appointed him to the Congregation for Oriental Churches, and in 2004, to the Pontifical Council for Culture. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal George to the Pontifical Council for the Study of the Organizational and Economic Problems of the Holy See. He also served as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2007-10.

From 1990 to 2008, he was Episcopal Moderator and member of the board of the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities, now known as the National Catholic Partnership on Disability. He brought personal experience to his role after a five-month bout with polio at age 13 left him with permanent damage to his legs.

Care of the poor was a focal point of Cardinal George’s ministry, and he was regularly heard saying, “If you want to get to heaven, ride on the coattails of the poor.” The cardinal also 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 accomplished 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.

In his life, Cardinal George is focused 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.”

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine down upon him.

Schedule of Services and Public Visitations

The following is a schedule of services and public visitation for Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago, 1937 – 2015. All services, including public visitation and the Funeral Mass will take place at Holy Name Cathedral, State and Superior Streets in Chicago.

The Committal Service will take place at All Saints Cemetery, 700 North River Road in Des Plaines.

Tuesday, April 21
1 p.m. Holy Name Cathedral Doors Open
2 p.m. Rite of Reception (Open to the Public)
2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Visitation (Open to the Public)
7:30 p.m. Prayer Vigil for Priests and Seminarians (Attendance by Ticket Only)
9 to 11 p.m. Visitation (Open to the Public) 11 p.m. Holy Name Cathedral Doors Close

Wednesday, April 22

7 to 9:30 a.m. Visitation (Open to the Public)
10:30 a.m. Interfaith Service (Open to the Public)
11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Visitation (Open to the Public)
7:30 p.m. Prayer Vigil for Women and Men Religious, Deacons and their Wives (Attendance by Ticket Only)

9 p.m. Wednesday, April 22 until 7:30 a.m. Thursday, April 23 Visitation and All Night Vigil Conducted by Lay Ecclesial Movements (Open to the Public)

Thursday, April 23
7:30 a.m. Prayer Service (Open to the Public)
8 a.m. Holy Name Cathedral Closed for Funeral Mass Preparation
11 a.m. Holy Name Cathedral Doors Open for Funeral Mass (Attendance by Ticket Only)
12 p.m. Funeral Mass (Attendance by Ticket Only)

Immediately following the Funeral Mass, the Committal Service will take place at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines. Per the Cardinal’s wishes, he will be buried in the George family plot. (Open to the Public)

In lieu of flowers, donations to the Cardinal’s favorite charities will be appreciated — Priests Retirement and Mutual Aid Association (PRMAA) or To Teach Who Christ Is, a campaign to support scholarships for students in Catholic Schools. 

Read more about Cardinal George.

Read Cardinal George’s thoughts on marriage from the Dec. 7, 2014 issue of OSV Newsweekly.

Look for more on Cardinal George in the May 3 issue of OSV Newsweekly.