Late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin honored for service in Chicago Archdiocese 25 years after death

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Special events began Monday to honor 25 years since the passing of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

The beloved leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago died in 1996. It's been 25 years since he passed away from pancreatic cancer. He left an enduring impact, not just on the Catholic church in Chicago, but nationwide.

Monsignor Kenneth Velo, Bernardin's former executive secretary, said he had an extraordinary capacity to connect with people.

"There was an aura about him and I think it was because he was an humble and kind man," Velo said.

Bernardin, a son of Italian immigrants, grew up in the South. He was named archbishop of the Chicago Archdiocese in 1982 and was elevated to cardinal a year later.

During his tenure, he earned the admiration of people of all faiths.

"He was here as a father and a brother," said Fr. Louis Cameli of the Archdiocese of Chicago. "He was certainly a man of leadership and pastoral sensitivity, but also with the people he was serving."

Bernardin also inspired future leaders in the church.

Bishop Ron Hicks of the Diocese of Joliet said he met Bernardin as a teenager and years later was ordained a priest by Bernardin.

"He was a great listener," Hicks said. "He made sure he wasn't just saying his own opinion or what ought to happen."

Bernardin is also remembered as a pioneer in the church's efforts to reform clergy sexual abuse.

"The last thing in the world he would have wanted is to see young people hurt and and especially be people who are serving in the church," Cameli said. "So he took steps to address it."
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