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Joseph Bernardin

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Joseph Louis Bernardin
Cardinal, Archbishop of Chicago
AppointedJuly 8, 1982
InstalledAugust 25, 1982
Term endedNovember 14, 1996
PredecessorJohn Cody
SuccessorFrancis George
Other post(s)Cardinal-Priest of Gesù Divin Lavoratore (Jesus the Divine Worker)
OrdinationApril 26, 1952
by John Joyce Russell
ConsecrationApril 26, 1966
by Paul John Hallinan
Created cardinalFebruary 2, 1983
by John Paul II
Personal details
Born(1928-04-02)April 2, 1928
DiedNovember 14, 1996(1996-11-14) (aged 68)
Chicago, Illinois
Previous post(s)
MottoAs Those Who Serve
Coat of armsJoseph Louis Bernardin's coat of arms
Styles of
Joseph Bernardin
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal
Ordination history of
Joseph Bernardin
Episcopal consecration
Consecrated byPaul John Hallinan (Atlanta)
DateApril 26, 1966
Episcopal succession
Bishops consecrated by Joseph Bernardin as principal consecrator
Daniel Edward PilarczykDecember 20, 1974
Thomas Cajetan Kelly O.PAugust 15, 1977
Timothy Joseph LyneDecember 13, 1983
John George VlaznyDecember 13, 1983
Plácido RodriguezDecember 13, 1983
Wilton Daniel GregoryDecember 13, 1983
James Patrick KeleherDecember 11, 1984
Thad J. JakubowskiApril 11, 1988
John R. GormanApril 11, 1988
Raymond E. GoedertAugust 29, 1991
Thomas George DoranJune 24, 1994
Edwin Michael ConwayMarch 20, 1995
Gerald Frederick KicanasMarch 20, 1995
George Vance Murry, S.J.March 20, 1995
John R. ManzMarch 5, 1996

Joseph Louis Bernardin (April 2, 1928 – November 14, 1996) was an American Catholic prelate who 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 Bernardin and Maria Maddalena Simion, an Austro-Hungarian born immigrant couple, from the village of Fiera di Primiero, now located in the Northern Italian region of Trentino.[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[edit]

On March 9, 1966, Pope Paul VI appointed 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 Bernardin 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[edit]

In 1968, Bernardin 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 Bernadin was instrumental in founding one of the conference's most influential and successful programs, the anti-poverty Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).[2]

During this period, Bernardin also became affiliated with the Order of Friars Minor, being received into the first order with a habit in 1972.[3]

Archbishop of Cincinnati[edit]

Pope Paul VI appointed Bernardin Archbishop of Cincinnati on November 21, 1972, and he was installed there on 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[edit]

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. Bernardin 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."[4]

Elevation to Cardinal[edit]

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.

Honorary degrees and awards[edit]

In 1983, Bernardin delivered commencement addresses and received honorary degrees at the College of the Holy Cross and Notre Dame.[5][6][7] That same year the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity was given to him by Yale University.[8] In 1995, Bernardin was granted the University of Notre Dame's highest honor, the Laetare Medal, given in recognition of outstanding service to the Roman Catholic Church and society.[9][10]

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.[11] In 1990, Bernardin received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[12]

Bernardin was posthumously 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.[13][14]

Policy regarding clerical abuse[edit]

Bernardin implemented a policy concerning priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors. He removed more than 20 priests and established a new review board to assess allegations, made up primarily of lay people.[4] Bernardin's reforms concerning this issue soon served as a model for other dioceses across the nation.[15]

Bernardin 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. But, 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. In 1995 Cook 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".[16]

Bernardin was also accused of sexual assault by James Grein in 2023, for a 1977 incident.[17]

Final illness[edit]

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, Raymond Goedert. Bernardin then began to focus much of his ministry on the sick, and became the "unofficial chaplain" to Chicago cancer patients.[18]

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,[18] 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 a 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.[2]

In his final weeks, he was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. He gave a major address, "Seamless Garment of Life", 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 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, Bernardin 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 Mount Carmel Cemetery (Hillside, Illinois), following a Funeral Mass celebrated by his friend, Cardinal Roger Mahony, and a wake for priests at which his friend Father Scott Donahue spoke.


Social issues[edit]

In 1981, Bernardin became head of the new NCCB Ad Hoc Committee on War and Peace, formed to draft a pastoral letter on nuclear proliferation.[19] The resulting book-length letter, "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response", was published in 1983.[19] An influential statement of Catholic social teaching, the document condemns nuclear warfare[20] and states that nuclear deterrence is "not an adequate strategy as a long-term basis for peace; it is a transitional strategy justifiable only in conjunction with resolute determination to pursue arms control and disarmament".[21] In relation to his work on the nuclear question, Bernardin was featured on the front cover of a 1982 issue of Time Magazine entitled "God and the Bomb".[22][23]

Bernardin became a mediator between the diverging parties in the changing post-conciliar Church. In 1996, Bernardin inaugurated the Catholic Common Ground Initiative[4] 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."[24]

The Windy City Gay Chorus performed at Bernardin's funeral, reportedly at his request.[25][26]

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.[citation needed] In his final years, he relied heavily on the assistance of his adviser Monsignor Kenneth Velo, director of Catholic Extension.

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.[27]

Interfaith relations[edit]

Bernardin promoted ecumenism.[28] While Archbishop of Cincinnati, Bernardin engaged in interfaith dialogue with Jews, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Lutherans.[29] In 1984, he began the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago,[30][31] the successor group to the Chicago Conference on Religion and Race,[32] and was the council's first president.[33] Under Bernardin, the Archdiocese of Chicago established covenants with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago in 1986 and with the Metropolitan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1989.[30]

Bernardin attended the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1993.[34] In 1995, he led an interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land to meet with government and religious leaders in Israel and Palestine and promote peace.[35] Bernardin condemned violence in Lebanon, Israel, and Northern Ireland[36] and called for the Catholic Church to become a "peace church".[37]


Bernardin was an influential figure in the Catholic Church in the United States following the Second Vatican Council;[38] George Weigel called him "arguably the most powerful Catholic prelate in American history".[39]

Two Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago were named after him: the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin School in Orland Hills, Illinois,[40] and the Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center.[41]

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

In his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, at the church of his Baptism and Confirmation, St. Peter's, consecrated the Cardinal Bernadin Center; and the University of South Carolina established the annual "Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Lecture" in 1999.[42] Cardinal Bernardin Way in Chicago is named after him.[43] Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago is home to the Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry,[44] which hosts Bernardin's Catholic Common Ground Initiative (CCGI).[45]

The CCHD has established for youth achievers the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin New Leadership Award, given out each year in the United States.[46][47]


Neoconservative author George Weigel has been a severe critic of Bernardin and his influence in the Catholic Church in the United States. Weigel accused Bernardin of creating a "Bernardin Machine" to appoint bishops who dominated the American hierarchy for decades, and also of being the exponent of a "culturally accommodating Catholicism". He deemed the defeat of Bishop Gerald Kicanas by then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan for the presidency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in November 2010, as "the end of the Bernardin era".[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Joseph Cardinal Bernardin". natcath.org.
  2. ^ a b c d Media, Franciscan. "Franciscan Media". info.franciscanmedia.org.
  3. ^ Millies, Steven P. (2016). Joseph Bernardin: Seeking Common Ground. United States: Liturgical Press. pp. 61–62. ISBN 9780814648063.
  4. ^ a b c Death as a Friend "Death as a Friend", The New York Times Magazine, December 1, 1996]
  5. ^ Schroth, Raymond A. (June 5, 1998). "Bernardin". National Catholic Reporter. Vol. 34, no. 31.
  6. ^ Kuzniewski, Anthony J. (1999). Thy Honored Name: A History of the College of the Holy Cross, 1843-1994. CUA Press. p. 490. ISBN 978-0-8132-0911-1.
  7. ^ "1983 The University of Notre Dame Commencement" (PDF).
  8. ^ "Honorary Degrees Since 1702". Yale University.
  9. ^ "Cardinal Joseph Bernardin". The Laetare Medal. University of Notre Dame.
  10. ^ "Cardinal Bernardin to receive Notre Dame's Laetare Medal". Catholic News & Herald. Vol. 4, no. 41. April 7, 1995. p. 13.
  11. ^ "Sadlier Religion | The F. Sadlier Dinger Award (NCEA)". www.sadlier.com.
  12. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  13. ^ "Laureates by Year - The Lincoln Academy of Illinois". The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Retrieved March 4, 2016.
  14. ^ "Names in the news". AP News. March 25, 1997. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  15. ^ "Biography of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin". Archived from the original on October 24, 2008.
  16. ^ Galloway, Paul. "Bernardin, Ex-accuser Reconcile", Chicago Tribune, January. 5, 1995
  17. ^ "Theodore McCarrick case in Wisconsin hangs in the balance after new competency exam".
  18. ^ a b Feister, John Bookser. "Cardinal Joseph L. Bernadin", St. Anthony Messenger
  19. ^ a b McBrady, Jared (January 2015). "The Challenge of Peace: Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and the American Bishops". Journal of Cold War Studies. 17 (1): 129–152. doi:10.1162/JCWS_a_00533. ISSN 1520-3972. S2CID 57562812.
  20. ^ Hansen, Luke (May 3, 2013). "'The Challenge of Peace' Today". America Magazine. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  21. ^ "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response" (PDF). USCCB.
  22. ^ Ortiz, Fernando A. (2016). "Bernardin, Cardinal Joseph Louis (1928–1996)". In Smith, Frank J. (ed.). Religion and Politics in America: An Encyclopedia of Church and State in American Life. ABC-CLIO. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-1-59884-436-8.
  23. ^ Ostling, Richard N. (November 29, 1982). "Bishops and the Bomb". Time.
  24. ^ "On Tap". Archived from the original on January 13, 2007.
  25. ^ Von Rhein, John; Carlozo, Lou (June 19, 1996). "Funeral Service Music Reaches Far and Wide". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  26. ^ "Catholic World News News Feature". CatholicCulture.org. January 7, 2002. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  27. ^ "A time to reach out: in his final testament, Cardinal Bernardin urges the dying to bask in the light of others: It's hard to do alone," Newsweek, November 25, 1996 (Joseph Cardinal Bernardin) (Excerpt from "The Gift of Peace') (cover story).
  28. ^ Gros, Jeffrey (September 2012). "Reception, the First Three Decades: The Contribution of Cardinal Bernardin". Ecumenical Trends. 41 (8): 122–125.
  29. ^ "Biography of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin". Archdiocese of Chicago. Archived from the original on October 14, 2003.
  30. ^ a b Bernardin, Joseph (2000). Spilly, Alphonse P. (ed.). Selected Works of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin: Church and society. Liturgical Press. p. 339. ISBN 978-0-8146-2584-2.
  31. ^ Frisbie, Margery (2002). An Alley in Chicago: The Life and Legacy of Monsignor John Egan. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 266. ISBN 978-1-58051-121-6.
  32. ^ Baima, Thomas A. (2012). "What We Have Learned from 40 Years of Catholic–Jewish Dialogue". A Legacy of Catholic-Jewish Dialogue: The Cardinal Joseph Bernardin Jerusalem Lectures. ISBN 978-1-61671-063-7.
  33. ^ "Officers & Staff". Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  34. ^ Hirsley, Michael (August 29, 1993). "Parliament of Religions Makes Call For World Peace". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  35. ^ Galloway, Paul (March 23, 1995). "Sun Rises on Bernardin's Interfaith Pilgrimage to Israel". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  36. ^ "Cardinal Bernardin Remembered 15 Years After His Passing". CBS Chicago. November 18, 2011.
  37. ^ Bruckner, D. J. R. (May 1, 1983). "Chicago's Activist Cardinal". The New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  38. ^ Renner, Gerald (July 4, 1998). "Cardinal Left Legacy of Courage, Change". Hartford Courant. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  39. ^ Weigel, George (February 2011). "The End of the Bernardin Era". First Things (210): 18–25.
  40. ^ Cardinal Joseph Bernardin School, Orland Hills, Illinois
  41. ^ "Cardinal Bernardin Montessori Academy". Archived from the original on August 10, 2020. Retrieved March 16, 2020.
  42. ^ "Bernardin Annual Lecture - Department of Religious Studies". University of South Carolina. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  43. ^ "Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin laid to rest: 1,300 fill Chicago cathedral for ceremony; Leaders, family, friends bid prelate farewell". Baltimore Sun. November 21, 1996.
  44. ^ Bernardin, Joseph (2000). Spilly, Alphonse P. (ed.). Selected Works of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin: Church and society. Liturgical Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-8146-2584-2.
  45. ^ Schlumpf, Heidi (September 30, 2017). "Dialogue in church, with culture the right path, Chicago cardinal declares". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved March 17, 2020.
  46. ^ "Catholic News Service". www.catholicnews.com. Archived from the original on December 7, 2012. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  47. ^ "Sister Tracey Horan recognized". Terre Haute Tribune-Star.
  48. ^ The End of the Bernardin Era, First Things, February 2011


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by President of the United States Catholic Conference and National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Succeeded by
Preceded by Archbishop of Cincinnati
Succeeded by
Preceded by Archbishop of Chicago
Succeeded by