Cardinal Francis George, the first Chicago native to serve as the local archbishop and a man who during his 17-year tenure became the intellectual leader of the American church, died Friday after a years long struggle with cancer.
“This was the death of a very private, quiet man with people around him who cared about him,” said longtime friend Colleen Dolan, who was called to the 78-year-old cardinal’s bedside and held his hand as he took his last breaths.
George had been on home care since April 3 after being hospitalized late last month for hydration and pain management difficulties. He had stopped eating and returned to the hospital earlier this week but then left for his home at the archdiocesan residence and died there at 10:45 a.m. Friday. His longtime assistant, the Rev. Dan Flens, retired Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Goedert and a cousin also were at his side.
“He stood apart for his intelligence, his ability to make the church’s proposal in a compelling way to contemporary society, his deep faith, personal holiness and courage,” said Catholic scholar and papal biographer George Weigel.
“I think he would want to be remembered as a good and faithful priest,” Weigel said. “That’s all he ever wanted to be.”
As head of the nation’s third-largest archdiocese, George shepherded the Chicago church through school closings and the priest sexual abuse scandal, striving to reconcile his support for the clergy with the pain of victims.
He also became a point person between the U.S. church and the Vatican on the abuse scandal and matters such as liturgy of the Mass, playing a key role in revisions that brought the English translation closer to the original Latin.
In November 2014, George became the first Chicago archbishop to retire, after his third cancer diagnosis, and was replaced by Archbishop Blase Cupich. On Friday, Cupich remembered George as “always choosing the church over his own comfort, and the people over his own needs.”
“A man of peace, tenacity and courage has been called home to the Lord,” Cupich said Friday afternoon. He praised George for visiting every parish in the archdiocese, “talking with the faithful and bringing kindness to every interaction.”
“Let us heed his example and be a little more brave, a little more steadfast and a lot more loving,” he added. “This is the surest way to honor his life and celebrate his return to the presence of God.”
George received his first cancer diagnosis in 2006 and had surgery to remove his bladder and prostate. He was diagnosed with cancer again about six years later and underwent more surgery.
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SOURCE: Chicago Tribune
Manya Brachear Pashman