Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
No man lived for Christ like Francis Cardinal George, O.M. I., Archbishop of Chicago. I witnessed this simple, but tough, priest.
Cardinal George had a powerful intellect, but never allowed his gifts to smother questions, doubts, or take advantage of the follies of other people. He was not a big shot and therefore never became a media darling.
He was tasked by our Church to lead a huge and very combative Archdiocese that had lost a favorite shepherd in Cardinal Bernardin. Upon assuming his duties, Cardinal George knew that he had a tough act to follow and did not presume Brotherhood with us. Rather, he introduced himself as Our Neighbor.
My brother and sister know every grain of dirt beneath my fingernails, every weakness and every gap in my armor, because they have lived with me and not near me. My neighbor knows of me and will only get close enough to me as I will allow. My neighbor does not presume to cross the property line without an invite.
I invited the most powerful American Bishop to be my brother and he was not too busy, too big, too disinterested to take up my call.
In fact, Cardinal George called me.
Shortly after he, Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, was inducted into the College of Cardinals, a friend was unceremoniously and very publicly removed from her role as Principal of a Catholic Girls High School, where she has raised enrollment, student and faculty morale, spiked fund-raisisng and elevated the status of that school in the public eye.
The religious order operating that school decided to take another direction. Bob Foster, then President of Leo High School, hates bullies and injustice and asked me to write a couple of letters to the editor for the Daily Southtown. I did.
In the letters, I asked Cardinal George to look into the matter. Cardinal George was in Washington D. C. leading the American Conference of Catholic Bishops. The letters appeared through the week. On Monday, I was told that I was to be fired. Bob Foster lit into the powers-that-be in the bureaucratic branches of the Chicago Archdiocese - on the phone and with his characteristic force and rhetoric.
The Archdiocese is a Corporation - a Public Person - and that person's feelings were hurt by the Director of Development for Leo High School. Leo High School is a school of Archdiocese of Chicago. Most people assume that Leo is independent of the Archdiocese, like St. Rita, Fenwick, Brother Rice, or St. Lawrence. The fact is Cardinal Mundelein ordered the building of Leo. Irish Christian Brothers never sponsored Leo, only operated it and were long gone.
From the moment, the Christian Brothers bailed out of any responsibility for Leo, Bob Foster and the Leo Alumni paid down the debts, raised tuition, secured the grants and initiated the on-going campus expansion and all without subsidy from the Archdiocese. Therefore, Bob Foster would not allow "policy," a changeling tool for the unimaginative, to dictate on a technicality.
Lawyers, crumbs and money, to paraphrase a rock and roll tune had other ideas.
My youngest was in third grade at St. Cajetan's and had come home with the flu. As a single Dad, I remained home with her keeping the possibility of losing my job to myself.
At around, six o'clock in evening I got a call on my cell phone.
" Hello, is this Pat Hickey?"
" Yes, It is. . . ?"
" This is Cardinal George."
I though for a moment. It was Bill Gainer*, who had pulled that gag on me before, " Up Your's Eminence!"
There was genuine laughter on the other line, " No, really, Pat. This Cardinal George. I understand that I fired you."
" Gainer.. . ."
" Relax, it is the genuine article, Pat. Now tell me why I fired you. This is the first I have heard of it. It's something about some letters you wrote to the papers? I have this note, but I have not even heard about the firing of the Principal. Fill me in, please."
I explained the chain of events and of my request that the Ordinary -Archbishop of Chicago - look into the capricious removal of a great Catholic woman as principal of girl's high school within the Archdiocese.
The Cardinal laughed and said, " Easy for you to say. The religious order as a corporation can fire any employee. It is not right, or just but certainly is legal. Look, I'll go over there and talk to the parents, staff and people representing that Order. Why are you home, by the way. Did Bob Foster suspend you? That does not sound like the man I know! Ha, ha, ha,. . ."
Again the genuine humor from a man who did not need to call an employee about a matter that put him in the middle of a controversy of another's doing. Yet, here he was.
" No, Your Eminence, I am taking care of my little girl who is down with the Flu."
" Poor baby. Is she school age?"
" She goes to St. Cajetan's."
" Would like me to speak with her?"
I took the phone to Clare and she and the Archbishop of Chicago chatted about school her up-coming First Holy Communion and Hannah Montana from one end of phone anyway. The Cardinal gave Clare a blessing for good health and grace.
" Pat. You have your job. I did not fire you. In any bureaucracy people will say 'The Cardinal says, this and Cardinal says that and all without asking Francis George what he thinks. They mean well."
We chatted some more and I learned that his father belonged to Local 399. Like my father and his father before him, Francis Cardinal George's Dad was a stationary engineer.
We shared some more laughs about life in the Chicago Archdiocese. I continue to work at Leo.
Cardinal George worked for Leo. He counseled five students who had very tough lives. He helped us raise money for new buses and blessed those buses. Francis Cardinal George was made a Leo Man in 2011 and inducted into this school's Hall of Fame in 2014.
He was my neighbor - a great neighbor.
Cardinal George went home to Christ on Friday, April 17th.
* Bill Gainer is a guy from Roseland. Like Cardinal George, Bill does not know the first thing about being a "big shot."