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Who will succeed Cardinal George?

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Does the Vatican have some people in mind to replace Francis George when he retires as Archbishop of Chicago? There's no official word about anything, but Michael Sneed of the Chicago Sun-Times reported this week there are rumors of two people on the Vatican's “short list”, including a native of Chicago's south side.

According to Sneed's column, the two individuals being considered for the position of Archbishop of Chicago are Wilton Gregory, who is already Archbishop of Atlanta, Georgia; and Blase Cupich, who is the bishop of Spokane, Washington. Whether either of them are actually on the “short list” may not be known for some time. Cardinal George submitted his resignation letter when he turned 75 in 2012, but has yet to hear anything back from the Vatican. Since there is no immediate need to name a successor, it may be years before the Vatican goes about choosing a replacement. Last year, Cardinal Dolan noted that Cardinal Francis George has “no plans to retire soon”, although reports state that it should take around five months to name a replacement, once the Vatican begins the process of vetting candidates.

In the meantime, let's take a look at the two names that are allegedly on their “short list”

Wilton Gregory was born in Chicago in 1947, and would be the second native Chicagoan (the first was Francis George himself) to serve as Archbishop of Chicago, if he was chosen for the post. He would also be the first black Archbishop of Chicago. He received his first communion in 1959, and was ordained a priest in 1973. Gregory served as a priest in Glenview at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, taught at Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary, and served as a Master of Ceremonies under both Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin. In 1983, he was elevated to bishop and served as an Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago for 10 years. In 1993, he was appointed the seventh Bishop of Belleville, Illinois (overseeing the southern portion of the state) and served in that position for another 10 years, until 2004. As one of his last episcopal appointments before his death, Pope John Paul II announced that Bishop Gregory would become the seventh Archbishop of Atlanta on December 9, 2004. He was installed on January 17, 2005, and has served in that position ever since. He has also served as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) from 2001 to 2004, and is member of the Board of Trustees at The Catholic University of America. In 2002, he was chosen as Time Magazine's Person of the Week.

Blase Cupich, the second name supposedly under consideration, is not a native Chicago but he does hail from the Midwest. Cupich was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1949. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1975. He then served as as both associate pastor at St. Margaret Mary Church and an instructor at Pope Paul VI High School in Omaha until 1978. He completed his graduate studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In 1979, and became an instructor at Creighton University in 1980. Following this, he served as secretary of the nunciature to the United States until 1987. Cupich also served as a parish priest, and was pastor of St. Mary Church in Bellevue from 1987 to 1989, and St. Robert Bellarmine Church in Omaha from 1997 to 1998. In 1998, he was elevated to bishop and appointed as the seventh Bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, by Pope John Paul II. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Cupich as Bishop of Spokane, Washington. One issue Cupich has championed is universal health care for Washington state. He pushed for Catholic Charities and the state’s health care services to enroll all uninsured residents in "affordable health care". Cupich believes this is consistent with the church’s teaching on respect for human life. “People should have access to affordable health care in order to live a full life”, he noted.

Whether Bishop Cupich or Archbishop Gregory are even under consideration remains to be seen. But if they are, articles like this can give us a brief glimpse into their backgrounds and priorities as a bishop. Whenever Cardinal George is eventually replaced, let's pray that the Vatican will make the right choice for Chicagoans. The next Archbishop of Chicago could have a landmark tenure, in more ways that one.

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