"I hand on to you the gift that was given to me: a vision of the Church that trusts in the power of the spirit so much, that it can risk authentic dialogue." - Cardinal Bernardin
Joseph Louis Bernardin was born in Columbia, South Carolina on April 2, 1928 to Joseph, known as Bepi, and Maria (Simion) Bernardin. Both were from the village of Tonadico, located in the Dolomite Mountains of Northern Italy, where his father was a stonecutter. His parents and several uncles immigrated to the United States to work in a quarry in Columbia, SC. Shortly after settling in Columbia, Bepi became ill with cancer. He died in 1934 and Maria worked as a seamstress to support her young family, which included Joseph, and a younger daughter, Elaine.Growing up in poverty-stricken Columbia, SC during the Depression was not easy. Maria Bernardin's strong faith, sense of family and emphasis on education, together with her common sense and keen wit, prepared Joseph well for what was to become his life-long service to others.
He attended both Catholic and public schools and for one year was enrolled in the University of South Carolina as a pre-med student. Encouraged by classmates, he entered St. Mary's Seminary in Kentucky to study Latin before going to St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore where he earned a BA (summa cum laude) in philosophy in 1948. In 1952, at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., in addition to his theological studies, he received the Masters of Arts degree in Education.
On April 26, 1952, Joseph Bernardin was ordained at St. Joseph's Church in Columbia. He was assigned to that parish and to a teaching position at Bishop England High School. Within two years, he was moved to the Charleston chancery and eight years later was elevated to Monsignor.
During his ministry, Cardinal Bernardin made significant contributions to the numerous positions he held. A few of the highlights of his vocation (he did not look upon his ministry as a career) include:
These accomplishments are testimony to Cardinal Bernardin's ability to minister and administer. He was a well-respected leader and loyal churchman whose peers praised his conciliatory, non-confrontational approach to consensus building. He was instrumental in forming new models of dialogue with both priests and laity. Yet he did not shy away from controversy. Nationally, Bernardin strongly influenced teachings on pro-life issues, nuclear weapons, the pursuit of peace and equitable economic policy.
He was immovable in his belief that good and bad are always present, but if we "let go" and place ourselves totally in the hands of the Lord, the good will prevail. This was never more evident than in the much-publicized sexual abuse allegations brought against him by a former seminarian. Alone, but with dignity and honesty, Joseph appeared on national television to answer every question addressed to him. His sincerity and veracity convinced even his non-supporters that he was falsely accused. His accuser recanted and Bernardin
was vindicated. Typical of Bernardin and in a Christ-like gesture, he prayed with his accuser, forgave him and blessed him.
Cardinal Bernardin lived and died by example. His final months were spent as he planned and predicted: in loving, compassionate and gentle service. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1995, he eventually relinquished his duties as Archbishop of Chicago to spend time comforting other terminally ill cancer patients. "I feel like a priest again", he said in the summer of 1996. He died on November 14, 1996.
Already acknowledged as one of the most influential bishops in the history of the American church, it is because of his gentleness, his spirituality and his ability to reconcile that we honor Joseph Cardinal Bernardin in the Communion of Saints at St. John's.
The 10' x 3' Bas Relief of Cardinal Bernardin is part of our Worship space and was sponsored by Parish Council from the proceeds of the 50/50 Celebrations. This Art Work is donated as a Lasting Tribute to Fr. Jim Meade and Fr. Ray Favret.