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Cardinal Francis George Dead After Long Battle With Cancer

By  Heather Cherone and Josh McGhee | April 17, 2015 1:24pm | Updated on April 17, 2015 8:11pm

 Cardinal Francis George speaks as his successor, Bishop Blaise Cupich, was introduced.
Cardinal Francis George speaks as his successor, Bishop Blaise Cupich, was introduced.
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CHICAGO — Cardinal Francis George died Friday morning after a lengthy battle with cancer, Archbishop Blase Cupich announced Friday afternoon.

"Cardinal George's life journey began and ended in Chicago," said Cupich to a gaggle of reporters in the courtyard outside Holy Name Cathedral, 735 N. State St. Friday afternoon.

"He was a man of great courage, who overcame many obstacles to become a priest. When he joined the priesthood he did not seek a comfortable position. Instead he joined a missionary, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and served the people of God in challenging circumstances in Africa, Asia and all around the world," Cupich said.

George was replaced in November by Cupich after announcing he was battling kidney cancer last April. He previously had been treated in 2012 for urothelial cancer and in 2006 for bladder cancer.

George was admitted to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood late last month for "hydration issues and pain management." He passed away at 10:45 a.m. Friday at his home, Cupich said.

The 78-year-old George had said that cancer "will most probably eventually be the cause of my death."

George was "a man of peace, tenacity and courage" who counseled and supported three popes contributing to the governance of the church worldwide, Cupich said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his wife extended their sympathies, adding that the Cardinal led a life of remarkable faith and service.

"As Chicago’s first native-born Archbishop, his journey took him full circle from growing up in Portage Park to serving in far-flung missions around the globe, and eventually back home to shepherd the City of Chicago towards a better future," Emanuel said. “He lent his counsel to those in distress, his comfort to those in despair and he inspired us all with his courage in his final days. He could always be counted on to provide those granite qualities to the countless people who relied on them when it mattered the most."

Heather Cherone discusses George's NW-side roots and legacy:

He had been undergoing what was described as "experimental" cancer treatments but was dropped from the program in December because they had not been effective. At the time, he was described by the Chicago Archdiocese as "at peace."

He had been seen using crutches and been described as being in "great pain."

"Here in Chicago, the Cardinal visited every corner of the Archdiocese talking with the faithful and bringing kindness to every interaction. He pursued an over-full schedule, always choosing the Church over his own comfort and the people over his own needs. Most recently, we saw his bravery first-hand as he faced the increasing challenges brought about by cancer," Cupich said.

"A proud Chicagoan, he became a leader of his order and again traveled far from home, not letting his physical limitations moderate his zeal for bringing the promise of Christ love where it was needed most," Cupich said.

George told reporters in January, "They've run out of tricks in the bag, if you like."

He was installed as the head of the local Roman Catholic church in May 1997. A Chicago native, he was a member of St. Pascal parish at 3935 N. Melvina Ave., and attended that Northwest Side church's school as a boy.

Appearing at St. Pascal's in 2013, George said, "My life has been extraordinarily rich, and I'm grateful for that."

Gov. Bruce Rauner and his family also extended sympathy in George's death.

“Francis Cardinal George was the spiritual leader of millions of Catholics in and around Chicago and touched the lives of countless others through the Church's schools, pastoral care and social services. He shepherded the Church through some of its most trying times, but leaves behind a strong community of faith that has tremendous positive impact on the people of Illinois, regardless of their creed," Rauner said.

The St. Pascal's community gathered Friday night for a prayer service to celebrate their "favorite son's life."

"This is his home. This is what planted the seed," said the church's Director of Religious Education, Christopher Perez.

"This church was really his home — he grew up two blocks from here. And we're his family, and like every good family, we come together in times of despair," Perez said.

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