To various onlookers on the night of December 21, 1963, there was nothing particularly unusual about the ordination of a new priest that they were witnessing. The young man there was being ordained a Catholic priest by the Archdiocese of Chicago's Auxiliary Bishop, Raymond Hillinger, at his home parish of St. Pascal Church on Chicago's Northwest side (located at 3935 N Melvina Ave, Chicago, IL). It was the first such ordination that had occurred within the walls of St. Pascal's, and that was perhaps the only thing that distinguished it from countless other ordinations in Chicago. The young man entering the priesthood had just traveled home from Canada, so his parents could witness the solemn event. A day later, he celebrated his First Solemn Mass at noon at St. Pascal Church, and gave his parents a blessing. A reception followed that evening in the parish hall.
Now let's jump ahead 50 years to December, 2013.
The once eager new priest is now a 76 year old man. On Sunday, December 15, he again traveled home to Chicago by plane, in order to attend Cardinal Francis George's Free Christmas Concert at Holy Family Parish (located at 1080 West Roosevelt Road in Chicago). His presence at the event was very important, and he was on the schedule to do the gospel reading. As he arrived to take his seat, the church erupted in a standing ovation. “The Cardinal has just arrived. Welcome Home, Cardinal George”, the conductor announced – since the aforementioned individual was Cardinal Francis George himself.
Having attended the concert myself, I felt it was appropriate to dedicate this column to Cardinal George's 50th anniversary of his ordination. Although he is now one of the most powerful figures in the Catholic Church worldwide, it was 50 years ago this week that he began his religious life as a simple Roman Catholic priest. Since then, his life has taken a series of amazing twists and turns.
Wikipedia summarizes his post-ordination career as follows: Francis George "received a Bachelor of Theology degree from the University of Ottawa in 1964, followed by a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In 1965. He then taught philosophy at Our Lady of the Snows Seminary in Pass Christian, Mississippi (1964–69), Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana (1968), and Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska (1969–1973). During those assignments, he earned a Doctorate of Philosophy degree from Tulane University in 1970, and a Master of Theology degree from the University of Ottawa in 1971... In 1974, he became vicar general of his religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate". He went to Rome to fulfill that task, and remained in that post for twelve years. When he returned to the United States in 1986, "he became the coordinator for the Center for the Study of Faith and Culture in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1987–90). Pope John Paul II elevated George to bishop in 1990, when he was 53 years old. He served as Bishop of Yakima, Washington for the next six years (1990-1996) and was then promoted to Archbishop of Portland, Oregon (1996–1997)". In 1998, Pope John Paul II called Archbishop Francis George home to where he had grown up: Chicago. George was named the eighth Archbishop of Chicago, and became a Cardinal in 1998. He is the first and thus far only native Chicagoan to serve as archbishop of the city.
Today, Cardinal George is the undisputed most prominent Catholic religious figure in Chicago. The archdiocese of Chicago serves 2.2 million Catholics in 356 parishes, and the Cardinal has participated in two Vatican conclaves (2005 and 2013) that elected a new Pope for the Catholic Church. He has served as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2007 to 2010, as the defacto Chancellor of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary and as Chancellor of the Catholic Church Extension Society. He remains active and involved in every facet of Catholic life in Chicago, even as he has survived two recent bouts with cancer.
To mark 50 years of his priesthood, Francis George will be the main celebrant at a Mass on Wednesday, Dec. 18 at Holy Name Cathedral. The Mass will begin at 2:30 p.m., and the milestone celebration will mark his Golden Jubilee. There will also be a special Sunday Mass on December 22nd at Holy Name Cathedral for ordinary Chicagoans to wish him well. While there is no doubt Cardinal George has always been a polarizing figure and has plenty of fans as well as critics, there can be doubt that very few men in America have ever reached such a milestone. Let's thank Cardinal George for his service this week, and take a few moments to offer your own prayers for the Cardinal as he looks towards the future.