Jean Jacques Olier
One evening, Cardinal George asked me to bring two students from Leo High School up to the Cardinal's Residence in Lincoln Park, in order to pray with and for them. Leo High School's student population is 97% African American; these two young men were white and from Canaryville. Both young gents had very tough home lives and I'll leave it at that.
Cardinal George called me every once in while to ask about the status of certain young men whom he knew to be challenged. One African American sophomore had been shunted off to nine different foster homes and sat on the edge of life as a Gangster Disciple. The Cardinal managed to lift this kid off of that razor's edge. These two white boys were freshmen at the time and had acted out enough at school to indicate volcanic home lives.
The Cardinal's Residence has been and shall continue to be, in the Chicago and national media, portrayed as some kind of 1%er Xanadu and described as 'lavish.' That is pure nonsense. It reminded me of any successful immigrant's family home: clean, tidy, simple and proud. The well polished hard-wood floors creak. The media made my Cardinal's home into something opulent to point to as an anachronistic touchstone in its arguments used to attack the Catholic Church, be it ordination of women, Gaza Flotillas, redefinition of marriage, abortion, or attacking School Choice. Bullshit is King in Chicago.
The Residence is a nice rectory with a lot of chimneys and that is all. Lavish? My broad manly ass.
Well, the media won that one. The Residence built and maintained by Catholics will go away. The Nuns who worked with Cardinal George lived in a convent behind the Residence and they are real people who will now be tossed out and eventually put their love and talents elsewhere and fade from Chicago's flabby memory.
That night when me and the guys visited? They were not taken by any opulence, but hospitality. Two boys learned what a woman's love is all about because of the Polish nuns who work with George and the spirit of a 17th Frenchman who served as the Cardinal's model.
These are two teenagers who had been ear-bombed with abuse and pummeled with all manner of neglect, including abandonment.
The boys were greeted by the wonderful religious women like they were favorite nephews. The ladies are members of The Albertine Sisters. The boys were treated to home baked treats and tea served in lavish cups.
Cardinal George wore a sweater and his clerical collar and welcomed the boys. Cardinal George took the brace of tattooed youngsters into a study and I was dismissed. The sliding doors closed and the three of them laughed loudly . . .about me, I'll bet.
I walked around and looked at the portraits of Chicago's great Archbishops, Feehan, Quarter and Mundelein, the icons and the statuary. One simple wood carving I did not recognize*. It was a wood carving of a 17th Century Frenchman.
After about forty minutes, the Cardinal and the guys reemerged from the study. I asked the Cardinal about the wood carving. " That is Jean Jacques Olier. He is not a canonized saint, but I have very special attachment to his life and works. Read up about him, Pat," was this great teacher's advice. I did.
Jean Jacques Olier was a 17th Century man of Christ. He moved easily among Kings and Counts and lived with people swimming in the gutters. A first rate intellectual and fierce man of action, Jean Jacques Olier opened seminaries, orphanages, asylums and organized soldiers and notorious street duelist to combat the plague of dueling -street violence, or sword violence, depending upon whether one has Chicago values, or not. Olier fought equally. the heretics and orthodox fanatics within the protection of the Church
To know Francis Cardinal George, one needs to add an understanding of the man who served as his historical and spiritual model to the compelling narrative of the kid with polio who became a bishop.
Cardinal George was no hair-shirt. He was a genuine Chicago tough guy - a guy who can take it. A guy can take anything, as long as he honors the virtues that endure. Those virtues are learned through a piety and a dignity shaped by other persons. Persons like Jean Jacques Olier.
The two kids had their lives oiled and comforted by Cardinal George, but what they took away from the Cardinal's Residence on north State Parkway was a bag of baked goods and the love of great women. That was all either one of the boys talked about - the women who treated them like they were meant to be treated in their lives - Jesus, living in Mary.
They can thank Cardinal George and a 17th Century Frenchmen for that introduction to love.
Cardinal George prayed this every day.
O Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in your servants, in the spirit of holiness, in the fullness of your power, in the perfection of your ways, in the truth of your virtues, in the communion of your mysteries. Rule over every adverse power, in your Spirit, for the glory of the Father. Amen. Jean Jacques Olier, S.S. (1608-1657)
* Correction: the wooden carving is of St Eugene de Mazenod who founded the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1816. I got onto Jean Jacques Olier with the Cardinal by some other icon. My bad. Thanks to the sharp eyes of Tom Zbierski.