The cardinal’s life was filled with ‘spiritual prescriptions’

By Joyce Duriga
Sunday, November 13, 2016

“Muhammad Ali used to say to me, ‘Main Man, sometimes you can see someone for the first time and see good in them,’” said Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist John H. White. That’s what happened when he met Cardinal Bernardin for the first time.

Cardinal Bernardin and White formed a special friendship over the years, which resulted in two books about Bernardin featuring White’s photos — “This Man Bernardin” and “The Final Journey of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.”

White was in New York’s La- Guardia Airport awaiting the arrival of Pope John Paul II. He was covering the trip for the Chicago Sun-Times. Before the pope arrived, the bishops at the airport came over to greet the media.

The reporter who was with White pointed then-Archbishop Bernardin out as a “good man.”

The archbishop shook White’s hand and asked “How are you?”

“I said, ‘Fine.’ But then I realized he was serious. He wasn’t just being polite,” White recalled.

A few years later, he was assigned to photograph the new archbishop of Chicago in an interview. When he walked in and saw it was Bernardin, White said, “‘Wow! It’s the good man.’ That started a bonding.”

White saw early on the cardinal’s pastoral gifts and believes it was God’s grace in action that they became friends.

“It was part of God’s syllabus to meet him in New York, meet him later and journey with him for the remainder of his life,” he said.

“‘My life is an open book.’ That was one of his phrases. Everybody reads books,” White said. “The Bernardin book — the life of the Bernardin book — was shepherd. People read that book and learn about living and dying.”

The cardinal was a major spiritual influence in White’s life. He accompanied the cardinal on many of his pastoral visits and even stopped by to see him at the residence from time to time.

Cardinal Bernardin’s ability to relate to people on their level and not as a high-ranking church official was a gift he had.

On a visit to Children’s Memorial Hospital a mother stopped him for a photo and he offered to pray over her son, White recalled.

“Then he went into another room — I thought the kid was going to die when we were in the room — and he didn’t say word. He just stood there with the family,” White said.

The cardinal just put his hand on the shoulder of the child’s father and prayed. (See photo on page 14.) That child ending up living.

“He had this magnificent way of ministering,” White said. “His open-book life is a prescription for prayer. For prioritizing the priorities.”

White would often join Cardinal Bernardin when he visited his mother at the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“He loved his mother. His mother was his heart,” White said.

When he looks back at the images he took of Cardinal Bernardin, White says it is easy to see he prayed often.

“The old folks will say, ‘There’s nothing between me and my Savior.’ When you look at him in prayer you know there’s nothing between he and his God.”

One year on his own birthday, White stopped by Cardinal Bernardin’s office.

That day he was sharing with the cardinal his goals and dreams in life and his worries about not reaching them.

“When I was leaving he wrote a Scripture quote on a piece of paper. When I looked the Scripture up it said, ‘Get some rest,’” White said. “That was one of the spiritual prescriptions from the book of his life that helps me today.”


  • cardinal joseph bernardin
  • john white

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