Cardinal Francis George had planned to be in Alaska this summer to celebrate the 25th year since his long-time friend Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz was ordained a bishop. That visit is not possible now as Cardinal George, 78, passed away April 17 after a long bout with cancer.
Archbishop Schwietz spoke highly of his friend and fellow member of the religious congregation, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Archbishop Schwietz recalled that shortly before his death, the cardinal told him: “I will be with you at your celebration in July — but in spirit.”
Archbishop Schwietz said his friend was “always thoughtful, faithful to friends and family, but especially to God and his church.”
“Cardinal George will be deeply missed by the countless people he has touched, both the mighty and the little people,” Archbishop Schwietz said.
The Emeritus Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal George was widely praised by fellow bishops as a man of peace but also full of “tenacity and courage.”
Highly respected among his fellow bishops, he led the U.S. bishops’ conference from 2007-10.
In his last years, the cardinal’s tireless spirit in the face of a taxing physical struggle with cancer was an inspiration to many. He was first diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2006 and underwent surgery to remove parts of his body affected by the disease. In 2012, the cancer returned, spreading to his kidney and liver.
In an effort to overcome his illness, Cardinal George took part in an experimental cancer treatment last year. After it the trial proved ineffective, he halted the treatment in January.
Last year, he said cancer would likely be the cause of his death, but that he hoped he “might be of service to the Lord and His Church in the time left.”
“I will remember him as a good and loyal friend with whom, for more than 50 years, I was able to share a hearty laugh, be challenged with probing questions and experience his deep faith through intense suffering,” Archbishop Schwietz said of his friend. “He taught me, supported me in ministry and inspired me to constantly seek better ways to serve Christ and his church.”
The first Chicago native to become the city’s archbishop, Cardinal George retired in 2014 amid a battle with cancer. He had shepherded the archdiocese since 1997.
He was a religious freedom advocate, strongly opposing regulations under the Obama administration that would require Catholic organizations to cooperate with providing abortion and contraception in order to continue their public ministries.
Cardinal George is known for once saying that he believed he would die in bed, his successor would die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square, but that the following successor would pick up the fragments of society and help to rebuild civilization.
Cardinal George joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and was ordained a priest in 1963. Pope John Paul II then appointed him bishop of Yakima in 1990. That year, Archbishop Schwietz was among the bishops who helped co-consecrate Cardinal George as a bishop. Elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1998, Cardinal George was appointed to numerous Vatican councils and congregations and was esteemed for his intellectual clarity.
Archbishop Schwietz said he will “miss this good shepherd and his incisive insights, his openness to every person who came to him and his ability to marvel at a beautiful sunset.”
Archbishop Schwietz added: “May Mary Immaculate, our gentle and loving Mother as well as our patroness, lead Francis swiftly to the outstretched arms of her Son whom he served so faithfully.”