For 19 Chimneys, A Blase of Glory – Spokane's Cupich Tipped for Chicago
It is the most shocking major move the American hierarchy has seen since the turn of the millennium – according to an increasing number of reports and confirmations, at Roman Noon tomorrow Pope Francis is expected to name Blase Joseph Cupich, the 65 year-old bishop of Spokane, as ninth archbishop of Chicago.
A moderate and keen "conference man" repeatedly nominated for the USCCB presidency over recent elections, the appointment of the Omaha-born prelate – a liturgist by training – was first reported by Associated Press, and has now been confirmed by several Whispers sources.
Possessed of a richly varied background – serving by turns as a local aide at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, rector of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus and pastor of two parishes in his hometown – in 1998 the apparent archbishop-elect was named as bishop of Rapid City, one of the nation's smallest, poorest dioceses, comprising the western half of South Dakota.
Eleven years later, Pope Benedict transferred Cupich – by then the chair of the US church's child protection efforts – to Spokane in the wake of the diocese's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to a crush of some 180 civil suits. Before that move, however, it is intriguing to note that Cupich was reportedly blocked from being named archbishop of Milwaukee – an even more prominent diocese which entered bankruptcy reorganization – in the later stages of that process.
In the Washington State post, the bishop garnered wide notice for advancing a pastoral strategy of mediation to settle the claims as opposed to resorting to legal processes. Just yesterday, Cupich issued a pastoral letter to the diocese to launch Spokane's pastoral plan for the next several years.
All in all, the choice serves to reflect of one of Francis' key emphases over his 18-month pontificate: that of a church geared toward the "periphery" as opposed to being locked in its "sacristies." Put another way, Cupich's experience before landing in the nation's third-largest diocese speaks to another of the Pope's lead threads – a premium on missionary pastors for a missionary church.
With the move on-deck, Cupich would become the first Chicago archbishop since George Mundelein in 1916 who was not previously a metropolitan elsewhere. The architect of the "corporation sole" behemoth that made the Windy City the most centralized and complex diocesan shop on these shores, next month marks the 75th anniversary of the death of the first cardinal, who was an auxiliary of Brooklyn at the time of his appointment and was subsequently given the use of Illinois license plate "1," a perk his successors enjoyed into the 1970s.
Given the tribal name wakiya ska – "White Thunder" – by Rapid City's Lakota Nation, Cupich has shown little reluctance for the public square, albeit in a markedly different style from his predecessor-to-be, Cardinal Francis George. A regular contributor to the Jesuits' America magazine, among other pieces there, the pick raised eyebrows in the run-up to the 2008 election by raising the specter of racism in at least some of the opposition to Barack Obama. In a 2011 piece, meanwhile, he laid out "12 things" the US bishops had learned from the sex-abuse crisis.
With the appointment, George will become the first Chicago archbishop in the diocese's 172-year history to hand off the reins in life. The cardinal's retirement suite is already said to be prepared in a church-owned facility near Holy Name Cathedral.
While his successor now arrives as "Francis' man" launched to the fore of the Stateside bench, the Ninth Archbishop will inherit the famous "House of 19 Chimneys" on North State Parkway (above) and alongside Lincoln Park, where the city's chief shepherds have resided since the 1890s.
For his part, though the outgoing archbishop floated the idea of selling the landmark house, citing his simple style as a religious and the popular expectations for a bishop in the modern church, the cardinal's thought was memorably nixed after protests from the descendants of the poor whose "pennies" built the place.
MORE TO COME.