Colleen Dolan and Cardinal Francis George as he leaves Loyola University Center in Maywood in 2006. | John H. White/Sun-Times Media

Sneed: The cardinal didn’t want to die without talking to his friend

SHARE Sneed: The cardinal didn’t want to die without talking to his friend
SHARE Sneed: The cardinal didn’t want to die without talking to his friend

Before he died, Cardinal Francis George wanted to talk to a friend.

He called Colleen Dolan, his former communications chief, at 9:15 p.m. Thursday, the night before he died.

“It’s a huge loss to the city. He was so proud to be a Chicagoan – and his death and the way he had to suffer truly broke my heart,” said Dolan.

“What a wonderful man. I considered him my friend,” she said.

“We had a wonderful conversation Thursday night. It lasted almost an hour. I was so surprised when he called.

“I had just returned from Santiago [Chile] where I had given a speech at the request of the Vatican at an international communications conference at the Pontifical Catholic University there,” said Dolan, who worked for George for 10 years before leaving the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago when Archbishop Blase Cupich took over from the cardinal. She’s since started her own communications consulting company.

“Before I left for Santiago, I visited the cardinal at the hospital, where he was being treated for his pain,” said Dolan.

“I said to the cardinal, ‘You’re not going to do something dumb and stupid when I’m in Chile?’ ”

The cardinal responded, “You mean, die?”

“ ‘Yes, I guess that’s what I mean.’ ”

“ ‘No, I’ll wait until you get back,’ ” he told her.

When he called Thursday, Dolan said the cardinal wanted to know everything that had happened at the conference and wanted to know how she was treated.

“He didn’t talk about himself, he said there were all kinds of things he wanted to say.

“He promised he wouldn’t die until I got back, so I could tell him all about the conference. He kept his word.

“He said, ‘We need to finish all we wanted to say tonight,’ even though I was planning to visit him at the residence the next day,” Dolan said.

In the morning, Dolan got a call to come earlier than she had planned.

When she got there, he was breathing softly.

At his side were Bishop Raymond Goedert, one of the cardinal’s cousins, and the nuns who work at the cardinal’s residence. His sister, Margaret Cain, was with him over Easter but returned to her home in Michigan last week.

As he slipped away, Dolan was holding his hand.

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