A priest born on the Northwest Side returned home Tuesday, paying homage to the man he will replace, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, with a simple promise.
“I will do my best,” Archbishop Francis E. George said.
George, who will be the first Chicago native to lead the archdiocese’s 2.3 million Roman Catholics, included a stop at Bernardin’s tomb in a whirlwind visit as he was appointed the 13th head of the church here.
“At the end of a lot of exploring, I come back to give the rest of my life to the church of Chicago and to the people of the metropolitan area,” he said.
George also squeezed in time with a fallen police officer and with the victim of a racial beating, and answered countless questions from reporters. More often than not, the subject returned to Bernardin, who died of cancer in November.
“Cardinal Bernardin was a unique man,” George said. While calling the succession “a sobering challenge,” he said he has yet to formulate a plan.
“You just meet the challenges and move,” he said.
George, who for the past year has been archbishop of Portland, Ore., and its 280,000 Catholics, is considered more theologically conservative than Bernardin, but he downplayed comparisons, telling reporters most differences would be more in style than substance.
In his brief visit before his planned return to Portland today, George gave the city a glimpse of that style, which includes a love of both opera and chocolate chip cookies and a rather dry sense of humor.
“You never showed up before,” he joked at a packed news conference, referring to the low-key nature of his previous visits to the city.
The Vatican officially designated George the new archbishop of Chicago at 5:12 a.m. Chicago time.
“Today, April 8, 1997, history is being made in the city of Chicago,” the Rev. John Boivin announced at 6 a.m. mass at Holy Name Cathedral. “Rome has announced the appointment of Francis E. George as archbishop of Chicago. . . . We want to welcome him back to the city of his birth and ordination.”
George will be installed as archbishop May 7.
He arrived here late Monday. After spending the night in the archbishop’s residence at State Parkway and North Avenue, George had his first official public act – a visit to Holy Name. He was greeted by applause from several dozen parishioners and prayed briefly.
Politicians chimed in with formal welcoming statements a short time later.
Mayor Daley said, “Today, members of Chicago’s Catholic archdiocese celebrate a homecoming.”
Gov. Edgar said, “Bishop George has the experience, intellect and spiritualism needed to lead an archdiocese of such diversity and national influence.”
Later, at the archdiocese’s Pastoral Center, George, 60, who is of German descent, made a statement in practiced Spanish, demonstrating an ability that some say will come in handy given the growth of the archdiocese’s Latino population.
But he had trouble fielding questions from the Hispanic media and had to defer to a more fluent aide.
From there, he went to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where he visited with and blessed paralyzed Chicago Police Officer James Mullen and Lenard Clark, the 13-year-old boy who was severely beaten in an apparently racial attack in Bridgeport.
George said he was concerned that the suspects in Lenard’s beating are from a Catholic high school. “We failed somehow if that attitude exists,” he said.
He then headed for Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hillside for about five minutes of private prayer at the Bishops Mausoleum, resting place of Bernardin and six other churchmen, including four archbishops.
“Here are my predecessors,” George said. “They rest here. I want to pray for them and with them.”
A couple of dozen well-wishers waited for hours in the cold for a glimpse of the new prelate, whom some remembered as “Father Franny” from visits he has made to St. Pascal’s, his home parish on the Northwest Side.
“How do you like our weather?” yelled Jean Hope, 69, of Brookfield.
“It’s just the way I remember it,” George yelled back, his small frame shivering in his black overcoat and tam.
Jennie Kriewaldt, 63, a retired factory worker from Cicero, said: “I want to make him feel welcome. He’s coming home, you know. . . . He is trying to fill big shoes. It’s difficult, but he’ll do it. The people are looking for someone to replace (Bernardin). They will welcome him with open arms.”
As he prepared to leave, George chuckled when a reporter told him that Bernardin had made a similar visit when he took over the archdiocese 14 years ago and reportedly had chosen his own crypt.
“I didn’t choose one for myself back there,” George said, laughing. “Not yet. Give me a break. Let me get into things first.”
Contributing: Adrienne Drell