In the course of his ministry, Cardinal George has received many honors and accolades, and on Dec. 10 he added one more — the City of Chicago’s Medal of Merit. The Medal of Merit is the highest honor bestowed on a resident by the City of Chicago. This was the first time the award was given in 15 years. Cardinal George was born in Chicago on Jan. 16, 1937. He is the first native Chicagoan to serve as archbishop of Chicago, the first cardinal to retire as archbishop of Chicago and the first archbishop of Chicago to receive the medal. Cardinal George delivered the invocation at the meeting and then Alderman Ed Burke introduced the resolution awarding him the medal. Burke explained that the cardinal joked just before the council meeting that he would display the medal to St. Peter when he gets to heaven saying, “St. Peter, this is who I am.” Burke recalled George’s first installation address to priests where he introduced himself as Francis, your neighbor. “Over the years, you have truly become Francis, our brother, but also father of this community,” Burke said. “For 17 years, as the resolution points out, his eminence has exemplified the tradition of service and compassion for the millions of Catholics in the metropolitan Chicago area.” Many aldermen spoke after Burke praising Cardinal George for his faith and his commitment to the people of Chicago. Mayor Emanuel also praised the cardinal prior to giving him the award. “You are not just a man of the cloth but also of conviction and that has earned you the admiration of all of us regardless of faith and all of us in public service,” he said. Emanuel noted how Cardinal George was the first to speak out in Chicago on behalf of undocumented children coming over the border in the summer of 2014, offering housing at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines. The city planted a red maple tree in George’s honor across the street from the archbishop’s residence on North State Parkway. “You can see it from your window. That way, your roots will forever remain in the city of Chicago. You will always be Francis, our neighbor,” the mayor said. As Emanuel presented the Medal of Merit to Cardinal George those in attendance rose and gave him a standing ovation. During his remarks, Cardinal George noted as a child when he was brought to Holy Name Cathedral and listened to Cardinal Samuel Stritch, “I never thought that I would be the archbishop of Chicago. And I never thought, as I was born when Kelly was the mayor, then Kennelly, and then the first Mayor Daley, that I would ever speak to you from this platform,” he said. Cardinal George said that when he moved from Chicago and lived and travelled in many places around the world, “Often enough, when I said I was from Chicago with kind of a smile, people said, ‘You know, I’ve noticed that Chicagoans like to say that they are from Chicago.’ And I think what that means is we have an identity that’s unique, and it’s good.” Once you get past gangster stories and those trying to make Chicago number one, he said, “there’s something else that is there, born in the neighborhoods but reaching far beyond every provincialism, with something unique, and precious and important that you can give the world but we can’t say what it is. We’re glad we’re from Chicago.” Cardinal George referenced letters he has been receiving from people who share how he and his ministry touched their lives. “You must get those letters too, as people in public life. You say something occasionally to reach out in some gesture of kindness and you do something that you’re not even aware of because it’s just a part of who you are, and you transform someone’s life. And that is what is eternal. That is what lasts,” he said. According to the Chicago Tribune, past recipients of the medal include James Hickey, a Chicagoan honored in 2004 for his role as an Army officer in the capture of Saddam Hussein. In 1999, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. James Meeks and then-U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich received the medal for their efforts to free three U.S. servicemen being held captive by the former Yugoslavia.