Posted: Saturday, April 25, 2015 6:28 pm | Updated: 1:00 pm, Wed Apr 29, 2015.
Community members united together last week to honor the life of Cardinal Francis George during a memorial mass at St. John Brebeuf Catholic Church in Niles.
Residents sang songs and prayed for the late Cardinal, who passed away Apr. 17 after a decade-long fight against cancer.
“He always strived to align himself with Christ,” SJB Father Michael Meany told a room full of mourners who attended the memorial Wednesday, April 22. “He was always about giving himself away to let others know the joy and peace of Christ.”
“He showed us how to live, and he showed us how to die,” said Conrad Sparkowski, a Niles resident who attended the special mass. Sparkowski added that he wished more people attended the mass, which was the first of two memorial services at the Niles parish.
George was born in Chicago on Jan. 16, 1937 and was ordained a priest in 1963. He earned graduate degrees in philosophy, theology and ecclesiology, and taught philosophy at the seminary and university levels.
Pope John Paul II appointed George the eighth archbishop of Chicago, following the death of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin in November 1996. He was installed May 7, 1997 and became the first native Chicagoan to hold the position, and first cardinal archbishop to visit all 363 parishes in the Chicago Archdiocese. George also held significant positions in various Vatican congregations and the World Synod of Bishops.
In 2006, George was diagnosed with bladder cancer. But despite his illness, Meany said the cardinal remained a good and courageous man.
“He put Christ before his own needs,” Meany said.
Meany noted that George had been very supportive of St. John Brebeuf Parish over the years. He championed a capital campaign that allowed the parish to replace a gym wall at St. John Brebeuf School and complete work on its roof.
Even when George was sick, Meany said he came to St. John Brebeuf to look at the roof. The capital campaign backed by the cardinal contributed more than $360,000 for the gym wall replacement and roof repairs.
“He took an interest in this parish,” Meany remembered, adding that the cardinal showed the same caring attitude throughout the archdiocese.
Meany said George visited more than 350 parishes in Lake and Cook counties on a regular basis, and embraced various cultures and their differences. No matter what size or type of congregation, George treated everyone with respect, he said.
“He treated everybody the same,” Meany said.
Anna Wlodkowski, of Des Plaines, attended last week’s memorial because she wanted to show her support for the beloved Cardinal George, she said.
“It was very thoughtful,” Wlodkowski said of the mass.