Retirement plans emerge for Cardinal George
ChicagoCatholicNews.com has learned George not only plans to stay in Chicago if and when he steps aside as spiritual leader of the 2.3 million Roman Catholics in Cook and Lake Counties. He likely will move into a custom-made apartment, with a specially built elevator, in the North Loop just feet from Holy Name Cathedral, according to sources within the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“He wants to stay in Chicago. He’s a Chicago boy originally,” said Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Lyne, pastor emeritus of Holy Name. “[The apartment is] near the cathedral and near downtown. It’s the center of the city. If you are going to pick a place to stay where there is activity, this is it.”
The apartment is currently being built inside Casa Jesus, a “formation” house for prospective priests from Latin America. The building is located at 750 N. Wabash Ave., steps from Holy Name.
George sent a letter of resignation last January to Pope Benedict XVI as part of a standard procedure required of bishops when they turn 75. The pope has yet to accept the resignation and name a successor.
George, a Chicago native who has led the archdiocese since 1997, said at the time of his resignation letter that he expected to retain his post for at least another two years. A few months ago, George, who was re-diagnosed with cancer after thinking he had beaten it, said his health may affect the timeline but that he was looking forward to being the first archbishop of Chicago to retire. All of his predecessors died before turning 75, including Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a beloved Chicago figure who died in 1996 at age 68.
When asked Sunday afternoon by a ChicagoCatholicNews.com reporter when he expects to retire, George (pictured right) said that he didn’t know. “Talk to the pope,” he said after celebrating the 100th anniversary Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary on the North Side.
In recent months George has been undergoing medical treatment, since cancer was found in a kidney and his liver. He currently lives in a sprawling home at 1555 N. State Parkway known as the “cardinal’s mansion,” where his yet-unknown successor would presumably reside.
Casa Jesus is an immersion program for Latin American men interested in joining the priesthood. Students enrolled in the one-year program, which usually has about 15 young men each year, study English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and live at Casa Jesus.
The Rev. Octavio Munoz-Capetillo, director of Casa Jesus, said George has been very supportive of the program and wanted to move there to be part of a prayerful community. Unlike most priests in the archdiocese, George is a member of a religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, whose members often live and pray together.
“We pray together every day so that community is there,” Munoz-Capetillo said. “Being from a religious order, they always live in communities, so it’s a way for him to relate to others and get to know people.”
“I think it will be a great opportunity,” he added. “The fact that the cardinal is such an intellectual man, it will be an asset to us. And I think that keeps him young, too. If you surround yourself with young people, it keeps you young.”
When asked about moving into Casa Jesus, George had this to say: “We’re looking into several possibilities, but that is certainly one of them.”
As for the renovations, construction crews are adding an elevator to the building – which is owned by the parish and being rented to Casa Jesus – and converting the second floor into the cardinal’s residence. The elevator is important because George, a polio survivor, sometimes has trouble getting around.
“It’s a simple, well-designed apartment,” Munoz-Capetillo said. “He won’t have anything flashy. It’s all functional and practical.”
The cardinal’s space will include a reception area, as well as a sitting room overlooking the courtyard adjacent to Holy Name.
“He will have lots of light. He has windows all over,” Munoz-Capetillo said. “He can look at people coming in and out of the cathedral if he wants to. Or when he’s sitting, drinking his tea or coffee and reading his book or newspaper, he can look at the Blessed Mother [statue in the courtyard.]”
The basement of the building is being converted to meeting rooms for Casa Jesus. The men enrolled in this year’s program are staying at St. Ita Catholic Church on the city’s North Side. Construction is expected to end in the spring and the building will likely be ready by the end of summer for the new group of students to move in. The price tag for all of this work was not clear.
As for when George will move in, that remains to be seen.
“That depends on Rome,” Munoz-Capetillo said. “It doesn’t depend on him. It doesn’t depend on anyone but the pope.”
While it’s unusual for large cities to have more than one archbishop, even if one is retired, it’s not unheard of. Just to the north, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has had two archbishops – one retired, one active – ever since Archbishop Rembert Weakland abruptly resigned in 2002 amid a financial and sex scandal involving his relationship with another man.
By Katie Drews, for ChicagoCatholicNews.com