Later I found out that the bishop, in his childhood, was stricken with polio, which left him severely disabled. As he was walking after the mass I could see that one of his legs was shorter and that it was a challenge for him to keep balance. We were all taken aback by his humility and being upfront with his limitations. The name of the bishop was Cardinal Francis George OMI. I am writing this article as the Cardinal has passed away. What I still treasure from that first encounter I had with the Cardinal, who was also an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, was his determination to serve the Lord. His life wasn’t a smooth run. First his dreams were scattered when he fell ill at the age of 13 but he didn’t give up. He still wanted to be a priest. When he came for an interview using crutches and a brace, he was judged to be unfit to join the Chicago seminary. It was believed that he wouldn’t cope with commuting every day and the demands of the studies. What did he do then? He joined a missionary order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He became the leader of his order in America and later he was on the international leadership team for the Oblates in Rome. That demanded of him a hectic lifestyle with many trips to some most remote missions run by the Oblates in various places of the world. His disability didn’t become his disadvantage. He was out there, in those places, offering our missionaries his support and encouragement.
The second time I met him happened here in Australia. It was in 2008, during the World Youth Day in Sydney. I was stationed in a parish which was to host young people. I guess that because we were an Oblate parish the Cardinal was assigned to our church to give catechesis to the young people. He was brilliant, we all hang on his lips. However what I still treasure is what happened after the Mass. Cardinal Francis George was to be picked up and taken back to the city for lunch but the bus he was waiting for was running late. So he stayed with us. He insisted on having lunch with the youth on the lawns around the church. He sat there in their midst eating tuna from the packs provided for the participants and talking to the kids. He fitted in so well. One could say that he and the young people had known each other for ages. For me he was the image of a good shepherd who not simply stays with his flock but he loves it. Cardinal Francis George OMI did love people he served.
When he was appointed to Chicago, US, he said to the nuncio who announced the news to him: “Are you sure that the Holy Father has considered all possible options?” That was him: a humble man who didn’t seek prestige but who was seeking to serve, even with his disabilities. During his first meeting with the priests of Chicago he said to them: “Never feel sorry for himself!” He didn’t feel sorry for himself either, even when he had to carry the cross of polio and cancer which eventually led to his death just a few months after he retired from the position of Archbishop.
Thank you Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd for having given me a chance to meet a good shepherd – Francis George, cardinal, archbishop and Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate.