He was born on January 16, 1937 to devout Catholic parents Julia McCarthy and Francis J. George on Chicago's northwest side, where he grew up in Saint Pascal's parish, attending grade school there. He had wanted to be a diocesan priest but a bout with polio and a resulting limp prohibited him from entering Quigley Seminary in Chicago and the diocese's loss was the Oblates' gain for he was accepted at the OMI minor seminary at St. Henry's in Belleville, Illinois in 1951. He took his first vows at Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate in Alton, Illinois on August 14, 1957 high above the Mississippi River overlooking St. Louis. While he was being ordained in Chicago, this editor was finishing up minor seminary at the Oblates' other seminary in the Central Province in Carthage, Missouri at Our Lady of the Ozarks. A year later, while at the same novitiate yours truly discovered his own true vocation in life was to the lay ministry as a husband and father rather than the priesthood through discernment from the Holy Spirit and the wise, fatherly guidance of novice master - the late Father Leo Figge, O.M.I.
After major scholasticate at the University of Ottawa in Canada studying Theology, Francis returned to Saint Pascal's to be ordained an Oblate priest on December 21, 1963 by Bishop Raymond P. Hillinger, auxiliary to then Archbishop Cardinal Albert Meyer. His Provincial Superior sent him to Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. to obtain his Masters in Philosophy in 1965 whereupon he was assigned to the Oblate major seminary Our Lady of the Snows Scholasticate in Pass Christian, Mississippi right on the Gulf Coast. The proximity to New Orleans allowed him to earn his Doctorate in Philosophy from Tulane University in 1970. However teaching was curtailed on August 17, 1969 when Hurricane Camille swept into the protected Bay St. Louis and damaged the seminary building so much so that it had to be closed down. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come in the coming decades as seminaries sadly shut down throughout the country, not because of mother nature, but the influence of the evil one as vocations dropped off drastically in the seventies and eighties. But thanks to men like Cardinal George, vocations are again on the rise.
One of those men who contributed so much to fostering vocations was our very own Spiritual Director Father Al Svobodny, O.M.I. who was not only close friends with Cardinal George throughout his priestly training, but, as Vocations Director for the Central Province of the Missionary Oblates, worked very closely with the cardinal's parents Francis Sr. and Julie throughout the sixties and early seventies in promoting vocations in the Chicagoland area through the Oblate Crusaders of Chicago. The cardinal's parents have since passed away but the seeds they and Father Al have sown have produced abundant fruits.
With the devastation from Camille, his Provincial reassigned him to Creighton University in Omaha to teach Philosophy where he remained until 1973. During the summers he finished up studies at the University of Ottawa receiving his Master's in Theology in 1971. In 1973 he was selected the new Provincial of the Central Province for the Oblates, headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota overlooking the Mississippi River. But he was only there for a short time for in 1974 Rome had higher objectives for this devoted priest. The Superior General of the Oblates at that time Father Marcello Zago, O.M.I., now an Archbishop and Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples under Cardinal Jozef Tomko, elevated him to Vicar General, the second highest position in the missionary order of over 6,000 priests. For eight years he remained at the Oblate General House, overlooking the Vatican and living and working in the very same house where young Eugenio Pacelli grew up before becoming Pope Pius XII.
After his eight-year term was completed he returned to the United States where he was appointed Coordinator of the Circle of Fellows for the Cambridge Center for the Study of Faith and Culture in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working closely with Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law until 1993. It also afforded him the opportunity to obtain his Doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1988 from the Pontifical University Urbaniana in Rome.
On July 10, 1990 Pope John Paul II named him the Bishop of Yakima, Washington. Because the Diocese was 50% Hispanic, he took a three-week crash course in Mexico on the Spanish language and Hispanic culture before being ordained and installed on September 21, 1990 as the fifth bishop of that see. While there he was a papal appointee to the 1994 World Synod of Bishops on Consecrated Life. After five and a half years in the Northwest, the Holy Father moved him just a short ways south to Portland, Oregon naming him the new Archbishop there on April 30, 1996. On May 27, 1996 he was installed as Portand's ninth Archbishop. But his flock hardly got to know him.
Less than a year later, with the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin on November 14, 1996 of liver and pancreatic cancer, the Archdiocese of Chicago was in need of a shepherd. To the surprise of many, the Holy Father promoted Archbishop George on April 8, 1997. The news was greeted with great elation by loyal supporters of the Church and a blow to the progressive liberals who practically canonized his predecessor, a liberal-minded mediator who was one of the leaders of the progressive agendas proposed at the Bishops Conferences. For Catholics in the Windy City and throughout the USA striving to be faithful to the teachings of the Church, it was a welcome change. It signified the pendulum was swinging back to a more orthodox position. He was installed as the eighth Archbishop of Chicago on May 7, 1997 with the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio Bishop Agostino Cacciavillan officiating at Holy Name Cathedral.
One of his first acts was to go to a young black boy who had been beaten by white thugs from a Catholic High School in town to apologize on behalf of the Church and to offer prayers and support. It was intended as a personal, pastoral visit but the media got wind of it in the windy city and made a circus out of it. It was just an indication of the glass house the Archbishop would forever live in from that time on. But he has handled it well, not backing down when a liberal group of Bernardin loyalist priests denigrated him and challenged him. He handled it diplomatically, winning them over rather than alienating them further by his firm, pastorly and authoritative manner. He was appointed delegate and one of two special secretaries at the Bishops' Synod of America in Rome in late 1997.
All this was recognized by the Pope when on January 18, the Holy Father made him only one of two Americans elevated to the cardinalate. The other was last Friday's selection Cardinal James Francis Stafford, presently President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. They both received their symbolic red-hats at the Consistory of February 21, 1998 at St. Peter's. Cardinal George was named the titular shepherd of the church of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island and appointed a member of the curial offices of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and for Societies of Apostolic Life, and the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum." This past June the Holy Father reunited him with his former Superior General Archbishop Zago when he was appointed to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and a month later the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.
He has been just as active on this side of the Atlantic, serving on several committees of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, including chronologically as the Episcopal Advisor to the Cursillo Movement since 1990. Since 1991 he has served on the Committee on Missions, and Doctrine plus serving on the NCCB Committee on Evangelization for two years. He was a member of the Committee on Evangelization for two years and has been on the ad hoc Committee on Shrines since 1992. From 1992 to 1994 he served as the Chair of the NCCB Commission for Bishops and Scholars. He has been a member of the Committee on the Church in Latin America since 1994, and the ad hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism since 1995. From 1994 through 1997 he served on the NCCB Committees on Religious Life and Ministry, as well as the American Board of Catholic Missions, the Committee on Science and Human Values, and Hispanic Affairs. He is also the current NCCB representative to ICEL (International Commission on English in the Liturgy) and hopefully will rein in some of the liberal translations that have oozed from this body of liturgists since Vatican II.
In addition to his many duties with NCCB, he is Chancellor of the Catholic Church Extension Society and Chancellor of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, a suburb northwest of the city. Since 1993 he has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Catholic University of America and since 1997 on the Board of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and a Trustee of the Papal Foundation. From 1994 on he has served on the Board of Directors for the Pope John XXIII Center in Boston. He was appointed Episcopal Liaison to the Catholic Campus Ministry Association Executive Board in 1998. He is also a member of the Kohl McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Awards Advisory Board plus on the Board of Directors of Oblate Media in Belleville since 1988. Along with all of the above he is also Conventual Chaplain ad honorem of the Federal Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Grand Prior of the North Central Lieutenancy of the United States for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. He is also a member of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, the American Society of Missiologists, and the Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs.
One of the organizations closest to his heart is the National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities of which he serves on the Board as Episcopal Moderator. His own experience at 13 with polio that left him with permanent damage to his legs brings a personal sympathy for those suffering from similar disabilities. As Bishop Sheen stressed, "The experience of the prostration of a great illness enables a person to understand and help sick people. Sorrow can thus become a talent to be used for the good of others by being invested in sympathy."
Being appointed to a cultural region like Chicago where so many ethnic and cultures mix and match throughout the area, he is well versed in communicating with his flock, having a thorough knowledge of French, Italian and Spanish. He has been working meticulously on German and Polish to reach older generations of ethnic pockets in the Chicagoland area where 40% of the over five and a half million population is Catholic. He is aided by seven auxiliary bishops overseeing a vast diocese covering 1, 411 square miles in both Cook and Lake Counties that boasts the largest Catholic School system in the United States with over 102,000 students in 277 parochial schools and nearly 34,000 in 48 Catholic high schools. For more on the Archdiocese and the Cardinal's pastoral letters, go to www.archdiocese-chgo.org
Author Thomas Wolfe said, "You can't go home again," but we rather quote Jesus from Matthew 21: 42; Mark 12: 10, and Luke 20: 17, when Our Lord repeats Psalm 117: 22-23, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes." That same Psalm goes on to say in verses 24-25, "This is the day the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it. O Lord, grant salvation! O Lord, grant prosperity." Through the return of Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I. to his hometown salvation and prosperity of souls is very much on the rise for many who were asleep in their Faith have awakened to their responsibilities as Catholics. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and, after 34 years away, Cardinal George returned to his roots, the home hearth where his heart is. God has proven to all that, in the case of Cardinal George, you can indeed go home again!
Going back even further in the centuries another film is being released this weekend where again the story is totally taken out of context and the result is a crazed Saint Joan of Arc rather than the spiritual soul she was. We're talking about Luc Besson's sorry portrayal of the French saint in "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc." Again even a star-studded cast of Dustin Hoffman, John Malkovich, or Faye Dunaway cannot do justice to the story. Possibly Besson's casting of his own ex-wife Milla Jovovich in the starring role added to the malaise for this former model can't act and does nothing to evoke empathy for Joan. Thank God Pope Benedict XV canonized her when he did. Had he seen this script he might have considered her less of a saint and more of a mentally crazed teen.
But that seems to be Hollywood's modus operandi when dealing with Catholic subjects. Not since "The Song of Bernadette" has the film industry truly done justice to the sacredness of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It seems more and more movies are using token priests or nuns as foils to fit their script, much as Hollywood fabricates scripts that mirror society in rejecting the Will of God for man's stubborn, selfish will. Trash like "Priests", "The Last Temptation of Christ" and "Dogma" are the extreme, but there is a subliminal danger in many films that compromise the confessional, the sacred institution of Holy Orders, and Catholic values and principles. Virtue is portrayed as weakness. A first run comedy in theatres presently "The Bachelor" features a priest who is willing to marry a couple with no mandatory Cana preparation for the Sacrament of Matrimony. This just isn't done. They don't have priests at the wedding chapels in Las Vegas and Reno! But the short-lived program "Nothing Sacred" helped contribute to the misconceived perception of priests, religious and laity roles and that the Sacred Doctrines, Teachings and Dogmas of the Church - all part of the great Deposit of Faith, were not important when it came to compromise.
Though it is not written by Catholics, the one program most in line with Catholic thinking continues to be the respected and respectful "Touched by an Angel" for it elevates the goodness of God while pointing to the merits of suffering and living the Gospel. Though, possibly in order not to offend Jews or Moslems or Hindus or whatever other religions have arisen in the world, the show's writers are careful not to mention the name Jesus but refer to Him as God, Who He is. Wouldn't it be nice if other writers were more sensitive to Catholic interests and traditions?
In a few weeks another religious thriller will hit the big screen - Arnold Schwarzenegger's "End of Days" that also features a priest and we can only hope that, with Arnold's Catholic roots and some of the producers' background, they will be faithful to the heroic office of the priesthood and not emphasize superstition as so many do who are either ignorant to the Catholic Faith or purposely out to denigrate it. We need more films that are sensitive to the Faith as many Jewish films that are produced are. If you'll notice this genre they often expose the human, fallible side, but elevate it to a respect for faith. It would be nice to see that same kind of formula when it comes to Catholicism. Sadly, even those producing Catholic films have missed the mark such as "Gospa" which died such a quick death it never even made it to video. It is a shame for this film about Father Jozo Zovko, OFM and the apparitions at Medjugorje could have been such an eye-opener for non-believers and communicated through the celluloid medium the messages the Blessed Mother of God has been conveying to the world. Here was another example of big name stars laying an egg for this film starred Martin Sheen, Michael York and Morgan Fairchild. Yet everyone of them were miscast and out of their element. The liberal Catholic Sheen, rather than emphasizing the spirituality of the plot, turned it into a political yawner. His portrayal of Father Jozo was the farthest thing from reality we can remember.
This weekend on NBC another religious made-for-TV-movie titled "Mary, the Mother of Jesus" is scheduled to air on NBC during sweeps week. It is touted as "the story of the Messiah through Mary's eyes." We know from Blessed Catherine Emmerich's "City of God" and Maria Valtorta's "The Poem of the Man-God" Our Lady's point of view which was totally submissive to the Divine Will. It will be interesting to see how this latest TV-movie plays out for it is produced by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, supposedly a devout Catholic and her son Bobby Shriver. We can only hope that it will live up to its billing in authenticity and respect for the most important woman in the history of the world - the Blessed Virgin Mary who God the Father selected from all time as His chosen daughter to be the pure tabernacle for the Son of God through the mystical insemination of the Holy Spirit, her Divine Spouse at the Annunciation. We can hope and pray we'll someday see something decent that gives credence and credit to the Roman Catholic Church.
Finally, while we are on movies, we continue to bring you each Friday the Top Ten for the week. But bear in mind, these are not the "Ten Best" but merely the ten that grossed the most. From reading the Bishops' concise reviews each week you can see practically each one is sorely lacking in compliance with morals and values espoused by the Church. Almost every film today condones extramarital sex, even deviant sex not to mention violence, cursing, killing and a general demeaning of human dignity as well as a devaluation of the Sanctity of Life. Other commandments are violated as well on nearly every television show from sitcoms to talk shows to weekly series to even commercials - especially the commercials which are so "in your face and rude" that the Fourth Commandment has become obsolete. No wonder there is so little respect for authority or parents today. And when a court of appeals rules that the Ten Commandments are not educational as they did in a San Francisco court earlier this week, well then it all adds up to signs we are close to the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart and the purification of the earth which will usher in a new era - the Reign of the Sacred Heart, the Age of the Eucharistic Presence, the New Pentecost. It will be a blockbuster to break all records and it is coming soon! Watch for it in your heart and soul. The only problem is waiting for it. While we do, let's pray all the harder because, as we all know, the sequel promised by Christ can't come soon enough!