Ad multos annos, Cardinal Francis George, OMI
Chicago’s Archbishop celebrates 50 years of priestly ordination
By Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Today Cardinal Francis George, OMI, of Chicago celebrates his 50th Anniversary of priestly ordination. Sebastian Gomes and I will be present for the Eucharistic celebration in Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral as well as at the dinner to follow in the Windy City’s Drake Hotel.
Francis Eugene George was born in Chicago in 1937. He entered the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1957 and was ordained a priest in 1963. He served his Oblate Congregation as Provincial Superior of the Midwestern US Province from 1973-1974, and was then elected the following year, at age 37, as Vicar General of his international Congregation, a position which he held in Rome from 1974-1986. From 1987-1990, he served as the Coordinator of the Circle of Fellows at the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Faith and Culture. The Church recognized his remarkable qualities when Pope John Paul II named him Bishop of Yakima, Washington in 1990. In 1996, he was appointed Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, a position he held for less than one year. In April 1987, the Pope appointed him to the very important See of Chicago in the USA to succeed the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. George was the first native Chicagoan to be Archbishop of that city. In February 1998, Francis George was created Cardinal priest by Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Francis George is a philosopher and theologian, a man who possesses the rather remarkable qualities of a warm, humble gentleman, a distinguished scholar and a listening, compassionate, shepherd and faithful servant. He has been an outstanding, gifted, leader of the Universal Church who has become an articulate teacher and pastor to people far beyond the confines of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Cardinal George has been a very good friend for many years, and a great supporter of our work at Salt and Light Catholic Television Network from the very beginning. My friendship with him was born in Rome in 1985 when I first met him at the Oblate Generalate on Via Aurelia. I was a newly ordained deacon and had accompanied my Basilian confrère Cardinal George Flahiff to the Extraordinary Synod on Vatican II and a special meeting of the College of Cardinals. The Oblates extended hospitality to us for the duration of the meetings and the kindness of then Fr. Francis George. Vicar General of his Religious Congregation, left a lasting impression upon me. Several years later, in February 1994, our paths crossed again when Fr. George, now bishop of Yakima, Washington arrived in Jerusalem to take part in an international conference Religious Leadership in Secular Society. I was attending that conference as graduate student at Jerusalem’s Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française. We renewed our friendship and spent some memorable moments together in the Holy City.
Over the past 29 years, our paths have crossed many times, including Cardinal George’s memorable visit to the Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto in 1998 and his great lecture on the Papacy. We have been together at World Youth Days, congresses, assemblies and conventions of all kinds, and at the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church in 2008.
During that Synod, the Cardinal gave a very eloquent address on the theme of reclaiming our biblical roots. Synod Fathers had grappled with the fact that many of us had lost touch with the world of Scripture and of how important it was to see the hand of providence in life’s events. Cardinal George, in his role as then President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke of the “lived contexts in which believers hear the Word of God and the need for pastoral attention to conversion of the imagination, the intellect and the will.”
I still remember Cardinal George’s pointed words:“Western culture has been historically shaped in conversation with the Bible,” he said. “References to ‘the prodigal son’ or ‘the Good Samaritan’ or ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ could be taken for granted as images popularly recognizable. …This familiarity, that has now largely disappeared from popular imagination, disappeared a generation ago from the world of art and theatre.”
“Behind this loss of biblical images lies the loss of a sense and an image of God as an actor in human history,” Cardinal George continued. “In Scripture, God is both the principal author and the principal actor. In Scripture, we encounter the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. …Our people, for the most part, do not live confidently in the biblical world of active spirit, of angels and demons, of the search for God’s will and God’s intentions in the midst of this world governed by God’s providence.”
“Scripture takes on the genre of fantasy fiction, and the biblical world becomes an uninhabitable embarrassment.”
“A love of Scripture,” Cardinal George said, “feeds the desire to worship in spirit and in truth, and, in turn, our worship gives God the opportunity to transform us more profoundly into the image of Christ.”
In a recent interview with Chicago’s Catholic newspaper, Cardinal George, reflecting on his priestly and episcopal ministry, said:
“What I would try to do is avoid mistakes I’ve made; but in terms in what I’ve done, it’s been what I’ve been told to do and I did it. The fundamental evangelical virtue is the obedience of faith in charity. Christ was obedient unto death. We don’t talk about obedience, but in fact we are all obedient to God or else we’re on our own, which is a way of saying we are sinners. If you’re in touch with God, you’re obedient to God. I’ve tried to be obedient to the Lord’s will as expressed by the church.”
The Cardinal has appeared in numerous interviews, programs and series of Salt and Light Television over the past decade. His intelligent, articulate reflections on so many topics have inspired our entire team and countless viewers of our programming. We will long remember his warm hospitality to our crew when they filmed an extensive interview with the Cardinal at his Chicago residence for our major series “The Church Alive” several years ago.
Cardinal George’s WITNESS interview, gives us some great insights into his depth of knowledge and love of the Church.
I have learned much from this great shepherd, teacher and friend. May the Lord grant him health, happiness and peace on this momentous occasion of 50 years of priestly ministry.
A few of Cardinal George’s favorite things
Favorite saints? St. Francis is my patron. I was taught to love him by the Franciscan sisters who taught me in grade school, so I’ve always had a devotion to him. My mother had a great devotion to St. Anthony, whom I pray to also when I lose something. St. Therese of Lisieux is the patroness of the missions. She had a great influence on Oblate missionaries. And I suppose the most important one for all of us of course is the Blessed Virgin Mary. I’ve always felt very protected by her. She was the mother of Christ and therefore our mother too.
Favorite prayers? I like to say the Memorare. The most important prayer is the Lord’s own, the Our Father. There’s a prayer also that is in 17th century French spirituality that isn’t perhaps so well known. “Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in your servants.” It’s a classical prayer, a short one, but I say it every morning at the end of meditation because it expresses who we are, united to Christ in Mary, and how we are expected to transform our lives day by day. So beyond that, every priest prays the office for his people, and the Psalms, the Psalms are tremendously important as prayers. They express so many sentiments that are always part of one’s relationship to God, even though they are 3,000 years old. The Mass of course is the most important prayer that the church has — a great gift.
Prayer for the archdiocese? Every day I pray for people who ask me to pray for them, especially the sick. My prayer is simply that we be a praying people, close to the Lord, and let him direct us. What we have to do is keep the infrastructure strong so that the ministries can be effective, but after that, it’s individuals who are living their life in the world who are to be the agents for converting the world. The purpose of the church is to convert the world to its Savior. I would hope that everything we do in the archdiocese would be oriented toward that goal more and more clearly.
What do you want your legacy as a priest to be? I’ve been a priest for 50 years. All that I would hope people would remember is, “He tried to be a good priest.” That’s what my father told me when I told him I wanted to be a priest: “If you’re going to be a priest, be a good one.” So I would hope that people would remember that I tried to be a good priest and a good bishop, and that’s enough.
Source: Office for Radio and Television, Archdiocese of Chicago