Joseph Louis Cardinal Bernardin (originally Bernardini) (April 2, 1928–November 14, 1996) was an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Chicago from 1982 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1983.
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. However, a year later, Bernardin recognized his calling to serve as a Catholic priest, and 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.
While Archbishop of Cincinnati, Bernadin was named to the Sacred Congregation of Bishops, elected to the permanent council of the World Synod of Bishops, served as president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 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.
He also served as President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In 1985 Bernadin was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that calls upon all people of good will to secure peace among all nations. Pacem in Terris is Latin for "Peace on Earth."
Bernardin is best known for popularizing the Consistent Ethic of Life philosophy, which holds that life must be consistently valued and protected from conception until natural death, regardless of the surroundings. The philosophy sometimes is called the seamless garment of life, a reference from John 19:23 to the seamless robe of Jesus, which his executioners did not tear apart. The seamless garment philosophy holds that issues such as abortion, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, social injustice and economic injustice all demand a consistent application of moral principles that value the sacredness of human life. In response to critiques from some pro-life activists, Bernardin clarified that the ethic never meant that all threats to life were equal, from a societal or political standpoint (see paragraph 11, section II of his statement)
While in Chicago, archbishop Bernardin also served as head of the NCCB Ad Hoc Committee on War and Peace, which drafted the pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response." This book-length document challenged the morality of nuclear deterrence and sparked a decade-long debate both in the United States and abroad. Perhaps the most well known of these discussions on nuclear morality played out in the November 29, 1982 issue of Time Magazine, entitled "God and the Bomb," which featured Bernardin on its cover.
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.”
Additionally, Cardinal Bernardin was the first to offer a Mass for divorced and separated Catholics at Holy Name Cathedral.
In 1985, Cardinal Bernadin established an AIDS task force to determine how the Archdiocese might best care for those stricken by the AIDS crisis. In 1989, the Cardinal dedicated Bonaventure House with the help of the Alexian Brothers, a residential facility for people suffering with AIDS.
Bernardin was also among the first U.S. Cardinals or Bishops to confront the issue of sexual abuse by clergy. He also adapted a strong stance on sexual abuse cases within the clergy by implementing the strongest, most comprehensive policy concerning priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors. Bernadin’s reforms concerning this issue soon served as a model for other dioceses across the nation.
He, himself, was accused of sexual misconduct. His accuser, former seminarian Stephen Cook, claimed to have been abused by Bernardin and another priest in the 1970s. However, Cook recanted and before he died in 1995 from AIDS, he and Bernardin had reconciled in a process which began in a meeting at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in suburban Philadelphia.
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. In his final years, he relied heavily on the assistance of his adviser Rev. Monsignor Kenneth Velo, director of Catholic Extension.
Cardinal Bernardin also participated in the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1993. During his interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1995, he met with Israeli, Palestinian, ecumenical, and interfaith leaders, and urged peace and mutual respect between Israelis and Palestinians. Cardinal Bernadin consistently spoke out against the increasing violence in Lebanon, Israel, Northern Ireland, and elsewhere.
Following the operation, Bernardin began his cancer ministry. Bernardin so touched the lives of cancer patients, relating to them on such a personal and spiritual level, that countless sick, dying and survivors of the terror of cancer wrote to him, expressing their thanks, admiration, love and hope. He wrote a best-selling book about the end of life (and about his own approaching death in particular) called The Gift Of Peace, with the help of his good friend Eugene Kennedy.
On September 23, Cardinal Bernardin traveled to Rome to visit with Pope John Paul II and visit Assisi. It was on that trip that the Cardinal made his funerary arrangements. Upon his return to Chicago, Bernardin arranged for the care for his mother after his death, and the distribution of his personal possessions. It was then that Cardinal 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.
Bernardin surrendered control of the day-to-day care of the Archdiocese to his vicar general and auxiliary bishop, Most Rev. Raymond Goedert, after his doctors at Loyola University Medical Center's Cancer Center told him the pancreatic cancer which had metastasized to the liver was not responding to gemcitabine or other experimental and palliative treatments, which were discontinued (even today, pancreatic cancer is not amenable to treatment). His personal physician, Warren Furey, M.D., was then chief of the medical staff at Northwestern University Mercy Hospital; his surgeon, Loyola's Gerard Aranha, M.D., was one of the area's best in pancreatic surgery. His other doctors at Loyola, oncologist Ellen Gaynor, O.P., M.D. (a Sinsinawa Dominican sister) and radiologist Anne R. McCall, M.D., became his close friends. In his last public appearance as Archbishop, during a violent storm, Loyola University renamed the cancer center in his honor.
Shortly before his death, Cardinal Bernardin made a visit to Pope John Paul II. In his final weeks, he was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. He gave a major "Seamless Garment of Life" address at Georgetown University, where he received an award from and conversed with Father Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J., then Georgetown's president.
He bade an emotional farewell to 800 of the diocesan and religious clergy of the Archdiocese at Holy Name Cathedral weeks before his death. On October 7, the Cardinal met with the Presbyterate, and by the end of October, the Cardinal withdrew from his active ministry due to his deteriorating strength. Reflecting on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Bernardin chose to face death in the public eye: Bernardin tried to teach people how to die. In his last days, Cardinal Bernardin wrote to the United States Supreme Court against assisted suicide.
He was interred in the Bishops' Mausoleum at Mt. Carmel Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois, following a Funeral Mass celebrated by his good friend, Roger Cardinal Mahony and a wake for priests at which his good friend, Father Scott Donahue, spoke. The funeral homily was given by his good friend and executive aide, then-Catholic Extension Society President Reverend Monsignor Kenneth Velo. In the weeks before his death, he 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.
The canonization process for his sainthood cause is now under way.
An award sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Award For Social Justice and Anti-Poverty is given to a Catholic youth who has done outstanding advocacy in this area. Years after his passing, he is widely regarded as a saintly, kind prelate who displayed manifest holiness. Both conservative and progressive Catholics respect his ideological vision, theological commitment and life.
Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center is named after Bernardin.