Speakers reflect on legacy of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Archdiocese of Chicago marked the 25th anniversary of the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin with a delegation of Catholics, Christians and interreligious partners on Nov. 1, 2021, during a remembrance, “Now More Than Ever: The Enduring Prophetic Voice and Legacy of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin 25 Years after His Death” at Holy Name Cathedral, 735 N. State St. The cardinal died on Nov. 14, 1996. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, which the Archdiocese of Chicago commemorated with two events: an evening of speakers reflecting on the cardinal’s legacy on Nov. 1 and a Mass at Holy Name Cathedral for All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2.

The evening event was titled “Now More Than Ever: The Enduring Prophetic Voice and Legacy of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin 25 Years after His Death,” and featured brief reflections from Steven P. Millies, director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union; Father Cletus Kiley, a close collaborator with Cardinal Bernardin; Andrew McKenna, who helped the cardinal found the Big Shoulders Fund; Rabbi Wendi Geffen from North Shore Congregation Israel; and Cardinal Cupich. Each person offered reflections on a certain aspect of the cardinal’s ministry that has relevance today.

In his remarks, Millies reflected on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1982 pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response A Pastoral Letter on War and Peace,” an initiative that Cardinal Bernardin directed and that had national and international ramifications.

Millies grew up in Chicago and was educated here through college, while Cardinal Bernardin was archbishop. He noted that while Cardinal Bernardin did not write the pastoral letter — it was a letter produced by the entire bishops’ conference — he played a key role in gaining consensus around controversial topics so the document could be approved by the bishops and released to the wider public.

“We see in that document Cardinal Bernardin’s commitment to dialogue as a model for how the whole church should conduct itself and understand itself,” Millies said.

Before the letter was issued 38 years ago, the document’s topic garnered national attention and controversy. The nuclear arms race was in full swing and people came out on both sides of it, including the bishops, he said.

Through generous listening sessions and discussions, Cardinal Bernardin made sure voices of both camps were included in the final document, Millies said.

“It was extraordinary at that moment. And that Cardinal Bernardin’s leadership that brought it about proves something important to us. It is possible to reach consensus. Maybe today we need to hear that,” he said.

In her remarks, Rabbi Wendi Geffen spoke about the cardinal’s legacy of friendship with the Jewish people.

“Although Cardinal Bernardin has been gone a quarter of a century, the results and impact of his love of the Jewish people along with his tireless dedication to building bridges between our two communities, well, these endure most profoundly as today, and I speak on behalf of the Jewish people, we have no greater ally or, better said, brother, than the Catholic Church, a direct result of the cardinal’s work and ongoing influence,” Geffen said.

The cardinal’s commitment to ecumenical and interfaith relations was rooted in his time growing up as a Catholic in the South, she said, where he learned what it meant to be “the other.”

When he was appointed archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Bernardin quickly announced his commitment to his support for the Jewish community, telling them that “I come to you as your brother, Joseph,” she noted.

In March 1995, Cardinal Bernardin visited Israel and spoke out forcefully against anti-Semitism and urged a restoration of the history of Christian anti-Semitism.

“I cannot stress enough to you about the impact this had to us in the Jewish community, what his courage, his speaking of truth in an incredibly difficult context and challenging environment meant to my community and helped to foster a ground of trust upon which we could walk together,” Geffen said.

In his remarks, Cardinal Cupich reflected on the legacy of Cardinal Bernardin’s belief in a consistent ethic of life, which he outlined in a 1983 speech at Fordham University.

“As he put it, ‘The purpose of proposing a consistent ethic of life is to argue that success on any one of the issues threatening life requires concern for the broader attitude in society about respect for life. The viability of this principle depends on the consistency of its application.’”

Cardinal Bernardin noted that Catholic social teaching gives the church a strong foundation regarding the issues facing Americans and does not fit into any political party.

“Now we have the task of building on and developing the cardinal’s consistent ethic of life, for in our day the problem is not that issues are being divided into discrete topics but that we are a divided and polarized people living in our own silos, fearful and reluctant to engage each other on the panoply of life issues, health care in the midst of a pandemic, racial issues which have become for many a matter of life and death, the spread of networks of terrorism, and the threats to our planet with climate change,” Cardinal Cupich said.


  • cardinal joseph bernardin

Related Articles