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The Fascinating Life Of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin

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Joseph Cardinal Bernardin began life as an ordinary boy from South Carolina, but he quickly blossomed into a world-renowned religious figure that inspired millions and left a legacy of hope and love. Through his wisdom, compassion and respect for all human life, Cardinal Bernardin was, and still is, revered throughout the world as an example of how to live and how to die.

Born on 2 April 1928, Joseph Louis Bernardin was the first born child to Italian immigrants, Joseph and Maria Bernardin. The Cardinal's parents had lived and married in the Italian village of Tonadico in 1927 and immigrated to South Carolina shortly after their nuptials. Within months, they became the proud parents of a baby who would become a significant world figure and religious leader. When Joseph was four years old, the illness that had plagued his father years earlier had returned and threatened to destroy the growing and happy family. Cancer had struck, and the outlook was quite bleak. In the midst of this most difficult time, Joseph Sr. and Maria were blessed with the arrival of a baby girl, whom they named Elaine. This joy was short-lived, however, and Joseph Sr.'s health continued to deteriorate. He underwent many surgeries and treatments in order to save his life, but nothing was successful. In 1934, with his wife at his side, he succumbed to cancer and died, leaving his wife and two small children to forge ahead at a time when the economy was poor and employment was hard to come by. (Kennedy & White 20).

After the tragic and untimely death of his father, five-year-old Joseph was left to care for his baby sister and often times make dinner for the family. At this young and tender age, the future Cardinal took on the responsibility of keeping his family afloat, a responsibility he would continue to selflessly fulfill until the day he died. Joseph entered public school at the age of five, but still continued to look after his family and perform the domestic tasks that his mother often could not due to her demanding work schedule as a seamstress. With the encouragement of the local priest, Joseph's mother enrolled both him and his sister in the parochial school when he was beginning the fourth grade. The school was a mile's walk away and it was during these long walks to school and back that Joseph and his sister, Elaine, formed a close bond of friendship and love. He was a constant companion and guardian for his sister, whom he remained close to throughout his life. (Kennedy & White 29).

Life for the Bernardin family remained steadfast and uneventful throughout Joseph's middle and high school years. It was not until his senior year of high school when Joseph was stirred towards the priesthood and risked everything to venture into the seminary.

Initially, Joseph had planned on attending the University of South Carolina where he would study to become a doctor. He had received a full-ride scholarship, much to the delight of his mother. However, when a group of priests visited his high school and spoke privately with him, he was inspired to follow in their path and begin studying for the priesthood. His mother was very worried for her son that in choosing this course he would lose his scholarship and have nothing to fall back on if the seminary was not what he expected. Despite these concerns, he enrolled at Saint Mary's Catechetical Camp in Beaufort, South Carolina where he excelled at his studies and became completely certain that the priesthood was his destiny. (Kennedy & White 30).

After a brief period at Saint Mary's in South Carolina, he went to Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. From there he graduated with a bachelor's degree in philosophy when he was twenty. After he completed his religious training, Joseph was ordained as a priest for the diocese of Charleston on 26 April 1952. By 1952, the year of his ordination, he had also earned a master's degree in education from Catholic University. Archbishop Paul Hallinan was impressed by the young priest, and Bernardin advanced rapidly, from Assistant Pastor in 1952 to Chancellor of the Charleston diocese in 1954. He was promoted to monsignor in 1959, and continued to serve the Archbishop as Chancellor and, after 1966, as Auxiliary Bishop of Atlanta. In Atlanta he was rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King; in March of 1968, after the death of his mentor, Bernardin became administrator of the diocese. In 1968 he also began a four year term as General Secretary of the US Catholic Conference under its president John Cardinal Dearden. In 1972 Bernardin assumed his new post as Archbishop of Cincinnati. "He served as USCC President 1974-77, and was called to Chicago after John Cardinal Cody's death in 1982" (Shafer, online source). The following year he attained the second highest honor the Catholic Church can bestow; he was ordained a Cardinal (Shafer, online source).

His most noteworthy contributions to society, especially the religious world, occurred during his years as Cardinal of the Chicago archdiocese. In Chicago, he began his ministry as a humble servant instead of the "civic and ecclesiastical leader" that some Chicagoans expected and wanted him to be. "He had not come as a protective father, but rather as 'Joseph, your brother'" (Costello, et al, 20). He strived to build a solid foundation for a church on the brink of a new century and to make the church, as well as himself, accessible to all people. He was committed to the people of Chicago as well as keeping the spirit and discipline of the Catholic Church alive, not just in Chicago, but globally. (Costello, et al & Kennedy).

His loyalty to the doctrines established by the Second Vatican Council was particularly evident in his "dedication to ecumenical dialogue which led to the formation of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago in 1985" (Shafer, online source). He was elected the first president of the Council, and because of the formation of the Council, Chicago Catholics today have formal covenants with both the Episcopal Diocese and the Metropolitan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Bernardin also actively took part in the World Parliament of Religions in the fall of 1993, a gathering boycotted by several Christian groups. (Shafer, online source).

Cardinal Bernardin worked on a social level very tirelessly, but he also extended himself to the thousands of Catholics in Chicago who needed a religious figure to inspire and motivate them. After becoming the Archbishop, Bernardin requested a special day on which he could say Mass and then have a chance to mingle and greet the parishioners of Holy Name Cathedral, which was, and still is, the main cathedral in the Chicago archdiocese. The Cardinal wanted to take that opportunity and reach out to the

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