Although he called the Archbishop’s formal residence his home, he lived quite simply, and gave away much of what he earned and was known to share even the gifts given to him. I recall that when he first saw what was to be his office space, he was asked if he wanted it redecorated. “No,” he replied. “I’m a missionary, and when you’re a missionary, you live with what you inherit.”
When he arrived in Chicago in May, 1997, he met a people still mourning the death of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. At his own installation, Cardinal Bernardin had introduced himself as, “Joseph, your brother,” echoing the Old Testament figure who saved the people of Israel from famine.
When Cardinal George was installed, he paid tribute to Chicago, the city where he was born, and where he would now serve as its Archbishop, the first native son of the City of Chicago to do so. He noted that Chicago is very much a city of neighborhoods, one in which many people still identify themselves by the parish boundaries they live in. (It’s still not uncommon for even non-Catholics to reply, when asked where they live, “I’m from St. Pascal’s” or “I live in St. Barnabas.” I once had a Jewish friend who told me he figured out the parish he would attend if he were Catholic, just so he could participate in conversations at work and elsewhere. “I’m Jewish, but I live right near St. Gertrude,” he would proudly, if ironically, say when asked where he lived). That day in May, 1997, Cardinal George asked us to think of him as, “Francis, your neighbor.”
And in the past 17 ½ years, the Cardinal has truly shown himself a neighbor, offering help in times of need, advice when asked, a friendly smile when greeting you, an encouraging word if you appeared down. At his final Mass at Holy Name Cathedral last Sunday, Francis our Archbishop, our pastor, and yes, our neighbor, remarked that many have asked him what his legacy here would be. He noted in his homily that God has given us, the people of the Archdiocese, to him as a gift and he in turn has tried – like the good and faithful servants in last Sunday’s Gospel – to use those gifts wisely, to teach us, to help us to be holier, more generous, and more responsive to the Lord’s call in each of our lives. “YOU are my legacy,” he concluded.
May each of us live up to it. Thank you, Cardinal George, good and faithful servant.
Mary Hallan Fiorito is the former executive assistant to Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., the now-emeritus Archbishop of Chicago. Ms. FioRito holds a law degree from Loyola University of Chicago and is well-known as a pro-life advocate and commentator on various issues involving women in the Church. A 29-year employee of the Archdiocese of Chicago, she has also held the positions of Vice-Chancellor and Respect Life Director. She and her husband, Kevin, reside in the Chicago suburbs and have three young daughters.