A Good Shepherd: New biography about Cardinal Francis George of Chicago

This is the cover to “Glorifying Christ. The Life of Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI,” written by Michael R. Heinlein. It is reviewed by Timothy Walch.

By Tim Walch
Book Review

“Glorifying Christ: The Life of Cardinal Francis E. George, OMI.” By Michael R. Heinlein. Foreword by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez. Our Sunday Visitor Books, 2023. 425 pp. $29.95.


Asked if he were a Roman Catholic, the humorist Finley Peter Dunne often quipped: “Oh no, I’m a Chicago Cath­olic!” That remark came to mind as I read this exceptional new biography of Cardinal Francis George, the late archbishop of Chicago. He was proud of being a son of Chicago as well as a faithful Catholic.

Michael R. Heinlein, editor of OSV’s “SimplyCatholic.com” and author of many OSV publications, has captured the story of a determined young man who rose to positions of power and influence without ever compromising his integrity. As Heinlein suggests in his title, Francis George devoted his life to glorifying Christ.


The future archbishop was born in 1937 and raised in St. Pascal Parish. “Frannie,” as he was known, dreamed of becoming a priest but polio at the age of 13 forced him to use crutches and compromised his chances for ordination.

He did not abandon his dream, however, and a chance meeting with a priest from the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate put him back on track. Frannie came to understand that illness had deepened his determination to bring Christ to those in need, particularly those who were suffering.

Francis George formally entered the Oblate order in 1957 and continued his education at an OMI seminary in Mississippi and at the University of Ottawa in Canada. He was ordained a priest on Dec. 21, 1963 at St. Pascal Church.

The years that followed were filled with challenges and opportunities. Father George earned advanced degrees in philosophy and theology and taught at several institutions including Tulane University and Creighton Uni­versity. He added another degree from a pontifical university in 1988.

For a dozen years he was an OMI provincial superior in the Midwest and then the Oblate vicar general in Rome. He served as bishop of Yakima for five and a half years and was active in the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and several national Church organizations as an episcopal advisor.  On April 30, 1996 he became the ninth archbishop of Portland in Oregon, a post he held for less than a year.

Archbishop George must have been surprised in early April 1997 when Pope John Paul II appointed him to succeed Cardinal Joseph Bernardin as the archbishop of Chicago. Although he was the eighth archbishop of Chicago, Francis George was the first native son to hold the post.

He entered the College of Cardinals in January 1998, the foremost of many honors that came to him over the next 17 years. Cardinal George also faced a variety of challenges during his tenure. He was a champion of religious freedom and improving interfaith relations, particularly with Jews and Mormons. He also faced criticism and controversy for his forthright defense of Church doctrine on same-sex marriage.

Heinlein covers these and other events and issues in 14 well-written and thoroughly documented chapters. Although episcopal biographies are not much in fashion these days, anyone interested in the history of the Church in Chicago will enjoy this book.

In a retirement interview in 2014, Cardinal George reflected on his life and career. “I’ve always said that the only thing I’d like to be remembered about me is that he tried to be a good bishop,” he told Crux magazine. “I think I have been a good bishop in many ways, and I take some pride in having done my best. That’s enough.”

Heinlein shows that Cardinal George was more than just a good bishop. He was a good shepherd devoted to his flock in Chicago and across the country. Future generations will concur that he was a model for both discipleship and leadership all while glorifying Christ.

(Timothy Walch is a parishioner at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville and a member of The Catholic Messenger Board of Directors. He regularly reviews books for the Messenger and other publications and is the author of many books including “Irish Iowa” 2019.)

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