Joseph Bernardin

His Eminence
Joseph Louis Bernardin
Cardinal, Archbishop of Chicago
See Chicago
Appointed July 8, 1982
Installed August 25, 1982
Term ended November 14, 1996
Predecessor John Cody
Successor Francis George
Other posts Cardinal-Priest Of Gesù Divin Lavoratore (Jesus The Divine Worker)
Ordination April 26, 1952
by John Joyce Russell
Consecration April 26, 1966
by Paul John Hallinan
Created Cardinal February 2, 1983
by John Paul II
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Born (1928-04-02)April 2, 1928
Columbia, South Carolina
Died November 14, 1996(1996-11-14) (aged 68)
Chicago, Illinois
Previous post
Motto As Those Who Serve
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}
Styles of
Joseph Bernardin
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Chicago

Joseph Louis Bernardin (April 2, 1928 – November 14, 1996) was an American Cardinal of the Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Cincinnati from 1972 until 1982, and as Archbishop of Chicago from 1982 until his death in 1996 from pancreatic cancer. Bernardin was elevated to the cardinalate in 1983 by Pope John Paul II.


Joseph Bernardin was born on April 2, 1928, in Columbia, South Carolina, to Joseph and Maria Simion Bernardin, an Italian immigrant couple.[1] He was baptized and confirmed at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Columbia. His father died of cancer when Bernardin was six. He took responsibility for his younger sister, Elaine, while his widowed mother worked as a seamstress.

Bernardin's original academic ambition was to become a physician, inspiring him to enroll in the pre-medical program at the University of South Carolina.[1] He then transferred to Saint Mary Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy in 1948, and subsequently enrolled in The Catholic University of America to complete his theological studies.

On April 26, 1952, Bernardin was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Charleston by John J. Russell at St. Joseph Church. This diocese covers the entire state of South Carolina. During his 14-year tenure at the Diocese of Charleston, Father Bernardin served under four bishops in capacities including chancellor, vicar general, diocesan counselor, and, when the See was vacant, diocesan administrator. In 1959, Pope John XXIII named Bernardin a Papal Chamberlain with the title Very Reverend Monsignor.

Auxiliary Bishop of Atlanta

On March 9, 1966 Pope Paul VI appointed Monsignor Bernardin titular Bishop of Liguria and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. His episcopal consecration took place on April 26, 1966 at the hands of his mentor, the Archbishop of Atlanta, Paul Hallinan. Bernardin, only 38 years old, thus became the youngest bishop in America. From 1966 to 1968, Bishop Bernardin served as rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, Georgia.

According to Monsignor Kenneth Velo, a former executive aide to Bernandin and head of the Catholic Church Extension Society, it was in the predominantly Baptist American South that Bernardin learned ecumenism.[2]

General Secretary of National Conference

In 1968, he resigned as auxiliary bishop of Atlanta to become the first General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, a post he held until 1972. In 1969 Bishop Bernadin was instrumental in founding one of the conference's most influential and successful programs, the anti-poverty Campaign for Human Development.[2]

Archbishop of Cincinnati

Pope Paul VI appointed Bernardin Archbishop of Cincinnati on November 21, 1972, and he was installed there December 19, 1972. Bernardin served the Metropolitan See of Cincinnati for nearly ten years. While there he appointed the first woman editor of the archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Telegraph.

While Archbishop of Cincinnati, Bernardin was named to the Sacred Congregation of Bishops, elected to the permanent council of the Synod of Bishops and was elected president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.[2] He worked to improve relations between Catholics and Jews, strove for better understanding between the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations, and made pastoral visits to both Poland and Hungary.

Archbishop of Chicago

Following the death of Cardinal John Cody of Chicago, Pope John Paul II chose Archbishop Bernardin, already prominent among his fellow American bishops, to lead the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was appointed the twelfth Bishop and seventh Archbishop of Chicago on July 10, 1982. On August 25, 1982, he was formally installed in that role by the Apostolic Delegate, Pio Laghi. Bernadin found an archdiocese in disarray, its priests disheartened by years of arbitrary administration and charges of financial misconduct. "With his patient charm and willingness to listen, Bernardin won back the confidence of the clergy and the laity..."[3]

Elevation to Cardinal

In the Consistory of February 2, 1983, he was elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II as Cardinal-Priest of Gesù Divino Lavoratore (Jesus the Divine Worker) as his titular church.

He also served as President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Honorary degrees and awards

In 1989, Bernardin was awarded the F. Sadlier Dinger Award by educational publisher William H. Sadlier, Inc.. The award is presented annually in recognition of an outstanding contribution to the ministry of religious education in America.

An award sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called the 'Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Award For Social Justice and Anti-Poverty' is awarded to Catholic youths who are considered to have provided outstanding advocacy in this area.

In May 1983, Bernadin received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the College of the Holy Cross and served as the commencement speaker. In 1995, Bernardin was honored by the University of Notre Dame when he received their highest honor, the Laetare Medal. The Laetare Medal is an annual award given by the University of Notre Dame in recognition of outstanding service to the Roman Catholic Church and society. The award is given to an American Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity."

Joseph Bernardin was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State’s highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in 1997 in the area of Religion.[4]

Clerical abuse scandal

Bernardin implemented a policy concerning priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors. He removed more than a score of priests and established a new review board, made up primarily of lay people.[3] Bernardin's reforms concerning this issue soon served as a model for other dioceses across the nation.[5]

Bernardin himself said in a press conference that he had been accused of sexual misconduct. Former seminarian Stephen Cook, claimed to have been abused by Bernardin and another priest in the 1970s. However, Cook subsequently dropped Bernardin from his lawsuit, being no longer certain that his memories, which had emerged while he was under hypnosis, were accurate. The two later reconciled. Cook later said that he had relied on people who told him things that were not true, "asserting that he is absolutely convinced of Bernardin's innocence".[6]

Final illness

Cardinal Bernardin's Final Resting Place

In June 1995, following a string of international visits and pilgrimages, Bernardin underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer. On August 30, 1996, Bernardin told his flock that the cancer had returned, was in his liver, and was inoperable. He turned over the day-to-day administration of the Archdiocese to his vicar general and auxiliary bishop, Most Rev. Raymond Goedert. Bernardin then began to focus much of his ministry on the sick, and became the "unofficial chaplain" to Chicago cancer patients.[7]

On September 23, Bernardin traveled to Rome to visit with Pope John Paul II and visit Assisi. It was on that trip that Bernardin made his funerary arrangements. Upon his return to Chicago, he arranged for the care for his mother, whom he visited daily at her nursing home,[7] and the distribution of his personal possessions. Bernardin arranged for his personal papers and administrative files to be transported from the Residence and Pastoral Center to the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Archives and Records Center.

Two weeks before his death, he completed his best-selling book about the end of life and about his own approaching death in particular, called The Gift Of Peace, with the help of his friend and biographer Eugene Kennedy.[7]

In his final weeks, he was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. He gave a major "Seamless Garment of Life" address at Georgetown University, where he received an award from and conversed with Father Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J., then Georgetown's president.

He said goodbye to 800 of the diocesan and religious clergy of the Archdiocese at Holy Name Cathedral weeks before his death. On October 7, Bernardin met with the Presbyterate, and by the end of October, he withdrew from his active ministry due to his deteriorating strength. In his last days, Bernardin wrote to the United States Supreme Court against assisted suicide.

On November 14, 1996, Bernardin died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 68.

The funeral homily was given by his friend Reverend Monsignor Kenneth Velo. In the weeks before his death, he emphasized to the faithful and the public that he was at peace because of his life's profound reliance on God's sustaining grace in his ministry and his struggles with cancer, seeing death as a continuation and a friend to prepare properly for by conducting ourselves well and letting go to abandon one's self to God in the end. He was interred in the Bishops' Mausoleum at Mt. Carmel Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois, following a Funeral Mass celebrated by his good friend Cardinal Roger Mahony and a wake for priests at which his good friend Father Scott Donahue spoke.


Seamless garment of Life

In 1983 Bernardin developed the "Consistent Ethic of Life" (or CLE) ideology, which expressed his response to living in an age in which he believed modern technologies threatened the sanctity of human life. Bernardin's CLE philosophy is sometimes called the "seamless garment", a reference from John 19:23 to the seamless robe of Jesus. The seamless garment philosophy holds that issues such as abortion, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, social injustice and economic injustice all demand a consistent application of moral principles that value the sacredness of human life (as defined by the Catholic Church). In response to critiques from some pro-life activists, Bernardin clarified that the ethic never meant that all threats to life were equal, from a societal or political standpoint.[8]

One of his final works was writing a book about his own dying, an excerpt of which served as a Newsweek Magazine cover story, and which admirers saw as a lesson in dying.[9]

While in Chicago, Bernardin also served as head of the NCCB Ad Hoc Committee on War and Peace, which drafted the pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response". This book-length document challenged the morality of nuclear deterrence and sparked a decade-long debate both in the United States and abroad. Perhaps the most well known of these discussions on nuclear morality played out in the November 29, 1982 issue of Time Magazine, entitled "God and the Bomb", which featured Bernardin on its cover.

Other social issues

Bernardin became a mediator between the diverging parties in the changing Post-Conciliar Church. In 1996, Bernardin inaugurated the Catholic Common Ground Initiative[3] and was among the authors of its founding document "Called to Be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril”, released August 12, 1996.

Bernardin is also noted for his interest in the concern of young adults, which was in part evidenced by his involvement in the nascent Theology on Tap lecture movement in the early 1980s. In 1985, he told attendees of a special Theology on Tap Mass, “If I had children of my own, they would be your age. You are very special to me and to this Archdiocese.”[10]

Additionally, Bernardin was the first to offer a Mass for divorced and separated Catholics at Holy Name Cathedral.

In 1985, Bernadin established an AIDS task force to determine how the Archdiocese might best care for those stricken by the AIDS crisis. In 1989, he dedicated Bonaventure House with the help of the Alexian Brothers, a residential facility for people suffering with AIDS. Bernardin was also lauded for his anti-pornography work, his leadership of the U.S. bishops, and the presidency of the Catholic Church Extension Society. In his final years, he relied heavily on the assistance of his adviser Monsignor Kenneth Velo, director of Catholic Extension.

Interfaith relations

Ardently adhering to his own interpretation of one particular teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Bernardin, first in Cincinnati, then in Chicago, was committed to ecumenical and interfaith dialogues. While Archbishop of Cincinnati, Bernardin maintained dialogues with local congregations of Jews, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Lutherans. In Chicago, this dedication led to the formation of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago in 1985. Bernardin served as the council’s first president. Subsequently, under his leadership, the Archdiocese of Chicago established official covenants with both the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago and the Evangelical Lutheran Metropolitan Synod.

Bernardin also participated in the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1993. During his interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1995, he met with Israeli, Palestinian, ecumenical, and interfaith leaders, and urged peace and mutual respect between Israelis and Palestinians. Bernardin consistently spoke out against the increasing violence in Lebanon, Israel, Northern Ireland, and elsewhere.


Joseph Bernadin was influential in shaping the Catholic Church in the United States following the Second Vatican Council.

Two Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago were named after Bernardin: the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin School in Orland Hills, Illinois,[11] and the Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center.[12]

Loyola University of Chicago's Cancer Treatment Center is named the "Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center".[1]

In his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, the University of South Carolina has established the annual "Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Lecture", which is usually held during October. The city of Columbia also named a street for him, Bernardin Way, adjacent to the downtown campus of Providence Hospital, which is operated by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity. Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago is home to the Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry. Catholics on Call, the Catholic Common Ground Initiative (CCGI), and the Peacebuilders Initiative are all based within the Bernardin Center in Chicago.

The U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) established for youth achievers the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin New Leadership Award.[13]

See also



Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
John Krol
President of the United States Catholic Conference and National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Succeeded by
John R. Quinn
Preceded by
Paul Francis Leibold
Archbishop of Cincinnati
Succeeded by
Daniel Edward Pilarczyk
Preceded by
John Cody
Archbishop of Chicago
Succeeded by
Francis George

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