Cardinal George named Saint Paul U's  alumnus of the year

  • September 22, 2008
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Cardinal Francis George had never studied French before attending Saint Paul University as an Oblate scholastic 40 years ago, but he found the language necessary “if you wanted to eat,” he joked at a banquet Sept. 19 at the bilingual university.
Saint Paul honoured the archbishop of Chicago and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as Alumnus of the Year. More than 100 former students, including several bishops, dozens of priests and special guests, attended the glitzy event.

George said he has always been “very grateful” for the way cultural differences were “lived and discussed” at Saint Paul.

“The cultures interacted in ways to create something new,” he said. This experience helped him when he took leadership roles in the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, rising to become Vicar General in Rome.

The cardinal recalled his student days, walking up the Rideau Canal to Parliament and sitting in the gallery during Question Period, watching Conservative Leader John Diefenbaker and Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson “argue back and forth.” The best orator was CCF leader Tommy Douglas, he said, though he was “more often anti-American than not.”

The Chicago native said he appreciated the Oblate scholars at Saint Paul who knew the order’s founder Eugene de Mazenod (1782-1861) well through studying his writings. He pointed out de Mazenod had sent the Oblates to Canada where they created the College of Bytown in 1848, then established the University of Ottawa and later Saint Paul.

When George was named bishop of Yakima, Washington, he said the work of Oblate missionaries a hundred years previously who had created a dictionary for the Yakima Indians helped him minister to their descendents.

“Because of the zeal and love of previous Oblates centuries earlier, it was easier for this Oblate,” he said.

He described that zeal as one for the salvation of souls, while now it might be termed “pastoral charity,” he said, noting how early Oblate missionaries expressed concern they “not impose their culture in bringing the Gospel.”

George said he found de Mazenod’s diaries about the early years of his vocation and the founding of the Oblates “very interesting,” but after the founder was named bishop of Marseille, the entries became a catalogue of trips and bills paid and boring details, he said.

“When I became a bishop, suddenly all those boring facts and pedestrian events took on new meaning,” he said.

George said he appreciated de Mazenod’s understanding of the sacramentality of the episcopal order as successors to the apostles, his closeness to the poor, his mercy and his love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. In many ways, de Mazenod anticipated the Second Vatican Council that was meant to “change the church so the church would change the world.”

When studying theology at Saint Paul, George said he “never imagined” he would one day be in the College of Cardinals. He entered the Oblates in 1957, was ordained priest in 1963 and appointed Chicago archbishop in 1991. Pope John Paul II named him a cardinal in 1998.

George said he goes back to the de Mazenod diaries to keep clearly in mind the mission as he responds to “the task of administering a large diocese,” while keeping up an intellectual life, being available to people and having “time to be with the Lord.”  This is a challenge for all bishops, he said.

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