Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Cardinal Francis George in memoriam

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Since his passing a year ago, I have had a chance to reflect on the many deserving tributes that have been expressed by colleagues, friends, family and admirers. While he was a man endowed with many exemplary qualities, three seem to be repeated with greater frequency.

The first is that Cardinal George had an inquisitive mind, a curious intellect. By saying this, I do not mean to suggest that he was interested in everything to the point that his thoughts were scattered or disconnected. Rather he had what Albert Einstein once referred to as a “holy curiosity.” This is how he put it: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”

Cardinal George had this kind of curiosity to the end, musing in one of our last conversations that while there is always a fear of the unknown that comes with death, he was curious about what it would be like to cross over into eternity and share in the life promised by Christ.

The second quality that many speak about when thinking of Cardinal George is his acceptance of his own limitations, especially his physical challenges having suffered from polio and then cancer. People tell the story of the day he was ordained a bishop for the Diocese of Yakima, when he told his new congregation that there are times he will fail and times because of his infirmity that he will fall. But in both cases, he hoped that people would simply reach down to give him a hand, pick him up, and then once back on his feet he would hold on to them so that they could walk with him and move forward together. Like it is for all of us, it is in our weaknesses that we are made strong, and his strength came in a sober acceptance of what he could and could not do, and the humility to ask for help when he fell short.

Finally, Cardinal George, as a native son of this city, loved Chicago. People here knew that and loved him back. I recall the day of his funeral when people lined the streets and gathered along the highways all the way to the cemetery. People of all faiths and none stopped to wave, salute, kneel, sign themselves or wipe away a tear in tribute to one of their own who served them well. When we passed his family parish of St. Pascal’s a sizeable crowd of all ages stood at attention or knelt in prayer to say goodbye.

That show of regard and affection has continued in this past year. In fact, there hasn’t been a meeting I have had with civic, business, union or religious leaders when his name has not come up, most often with a story about his quick mind and wit, his dedication to the common good and his personal warmth.

Surely there are many other fine qualities one could cite. My hope is that by mentioning these few that people will take time in these days to recall and pray for Cardinal George.

The stone over his grave is etched with his name, his record of service and his coat-of-arms with the motto Christo Gloria in Ecclesia (“To Christ Be Glory in the Church”). I am convinced that even as these words and images wear thin with the passing of years, his memory will remain deeply etched in the hearts of Chicagoans as future generations give thanks for his life and ministry.

He would want that memory of him to be filled with prayers for him, something he relied on during his lifetime and hoped would continue after his passing. Let us remember him fondly and with a prayer.


  • cardinal george