Cardinal Francis George: 'He was very much a son of Chicago'

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Ed Quartullo, of Old St. Patrick’s Church, and Sister Anita Baird, of the Daughters of the Heart Of Mary, were first and second in line for the funeral of Cardinal Francis George at Holy Name Cathedral on Thursday. | Ashlee Rezin/for Sun-Times Media

The line of mourners outside Holy Name Cathedral on Thursday was as ethnically mixed as the city’s neighborhoods.

Many remembered Cardinal Francis George as an approachable, down-to-earth leader who could discuss fishing and the Cubs as easily as Church philosophy.

The first archbishop of Chicago who was from Chicago, George was laid to rest Thursday after his funeral at Holy Name.

Waiting to get in for the service were people from Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, a Sioux Indian reservation, and the white ethnic Bungalow Belt where the cardinal grew up on the Northwest Side.

Talking to George “was like talking to your neighbor,” said Ed Quartullo, of Old St. Pat’s parish. “He loved talking about the Cubs.”

When he came for dinner with the missionary nuns at Our Lady of Angels on Hamlin Avenue, “He loved strawberry-rhubarb pie. That was the pie his mother made,” said Sister Alicia Torres.

He liked talking about fishing, and he said he used both worms and bait, said Giulio Camerini, 76, a retired surgical technician from Loyola Medical Center. “He was always down-to-earth,” he said.

Angie Sevilla said the Filipino community appreciated George’s support of the pre-Christmas tradition of nine masses called “Simbang Gabi.”

“He believed in ethnic traditions,” she said.

“He was very much a son of Chicago,” said Sister Anita Baird.

Earlier Thursday, a 7:30 a.m. prayer service had drawn other mourners, who remembered George not as the cerebral, formal , but the people who came to bid him farewell Thursday at Holy Name Cathedral remembered him as a friend, a man of the city.

“He was a fellow Chicagoan,” said Karen Ertl, 63, of Park Forest, before going into the cathedral for a 7:30 a.m. prayer service.

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Karen Ertl of Park Forest was among the mourners at Holy Name Cathedral on Thursday. | Stefano Esposito/Sun-Times

Ertl, sporting a faded pink Sox cap, said George was a down-to-earth, decent man who will be missed.

“He’s in a better place, he’s not suffering … and we’ll see him when we get there,” Ertl said, smiling as she stood near the steps of the cathedral.

Charlene Polk said she was impressed with how George faced death as he knew he was losing a long battle with cancer.

“What he said, what I heard him say, is ‘I’m not afraid to die. I just want to … see how heaven is.’ That really, really struck me.”

And David Lizarraga, of Palos Heights, admired George for standing firm in his faith.

“I’m here to pay my respects to Cardinal George because he was a great man, and a lot of times, misunderstood,” Lizarrage said outside the cathedral.

“He stood for what he believed was true and right, and a lot of times, a lot of people didn’t understand that what he was saying was what he really believed in,” Lizarraga added.

“We need people like that, who stand up for what they believe — and sometimes you don’t agree with them, but that’s OK, you know. … He will be remembered as somebody who tried to do his best in a very troubled world, with so many conflicts.”

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