Often called Brother Joseph by Christians and Jews alike, Joseph Bernardin was a man of great faith and spiritual depth. His life as a priest, bishop, archbishop, and cardinal spanned the years from 1952-1996. During those 44 years of pastoral ministry, changes of unprecedented scope unfolded throughout the world. Bernardin’s deep spiritual core made him an extraordinary peacemaker— able to unify and embrace outsiders, always inviting them to a life of deeper faith.
Joseph Bernardin was ordained in 1952. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Atlanta in 1966, becoming the youngest bishop in the U.S. In 1968 he was appointed General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. His work on the pastoral letter “War and Peace” received national attention.
In 1972 he was appointed Archbishop of Cincinnati, becoming the youngest archbishop in the country. From 1974 to 1977, Bernardin served as President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. The 1983 pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Peace,” which stated that nuclear war was unjustifiable was largely authored by Bernardin. In the same year he was appointed Archbishop of Chicago and awarded the Albert Einstein Peace Award.
In the remaining 13 years of his life, Bernardin extensively emphasized the “consistent ethic of life.” He spoke out against abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. He also actively supported life-affirming programs for the poor, the elderly, for children, and for victims of abuse.
In 1993 Bernardin displayed remarkable candor and grace in handling a personal crisis which he called “the greatest period of agony and growth in my life.” In the midst of vague and flimsy charges, he was falsely accused of molesting a teen-ager. Eventually, in 1995, the young man who made the false charges recanted his statements and withdrew his claim. Cardinal Bernardin, in great generosity of spirit, forgave the young man and was reconciled with him.
In 1995, Bernardin was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery and treatment. About one year later, he announced that the cancer had returned and he would die within the year. During his final months, Cardinal Bernardin started a special ministry with cancer patients and those with other terminal illnesses.
On September 9, 1996, President Clinton awarded Cardinal Bernardin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Two months later Bernardin died at his home in Chicago.
The world lost a saintly man when their “Brother Joseph” died. The Church lost a great leader as well.
Anti-British riots in Egypt
Dwight D. Eisenhower elected President of the U.S.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is published, the result of 125 years of preparation by 32 scholars.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy are assassinated.
Famous spiritual writer Thomas Merton dies.
Mickey Mouse celebrates his 40th birthday.
U.S. troop level in Vietnam is down to 24,000.
Dow-Jones Index closes at 1,000 mark for first time.
Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play professional baseball, dies.
Bomb explodes in U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon killing 87 people.
Pope John Paul II visits his native Poland.
President Reagan signs legislation that makes Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday celebrated on the third Monday in January
Several large libraries are connected to the Internet.
Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice to sit on the Supreme Court, dies.
Hurricane Emily strikes North Carolina.
Homeownership in U.S. totals 66.3 households, the largest number ever.
The world learns that Swiss banks hold Nazi wealth stolen from Holocaust victims.
The Olympic Games are held in Atlanta.
Rosa Parks receives Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Billy Graham receives Congressional Gold Medal.