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Yakima Bishop Now Cardinal Vatican Ceremony Salutes Rise Of The Former Small-Town Cleric

SUNDAY, FEB. 22, 1998

About 80 people from Central Washington traveled to Vatican City to watch former Yakima Bishop Francis Eugene George’s formal elevation to cardinal Saturday.

Pope John Paul II elevated Archbishop George of Chicago, 60, and 21 other new cardinals at St. Peter’s Cathedral. He placed the red, three-cornered hat on their heads to symbolize their role as the “princes” of the church.

Representing the Diocese of Yakima were Bishop Carlos Sevilla, some 20 priests and several parishioners, diocese officials said. George spent five years as bishop of Yakima.

Among the clergy were monsignors John McDonnell of Yakima and Martin Skehan of Moses Lake, both in their 80s.

McDonnell had health problems last month, but “the thought of a trip to Rome seemed to revive him. Just to see the Sistine Chapel one more time,” said the Rev. John Murtagh of Yakima’s Holy Family Parish.

Since leaving the 70,000-member Yakima diocese in 1996, George has enjoyed an astonishingly rapid climb in the church.

After serving as archbishop of Portland for a year, he was appointed as the successor of Chicago’s popular Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died in November 1996.

“We’re going to Rome out of a great love for (George). … He’s a dear friend,” said Monsignor John Ecker of Yakima’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. “He still has quite a following here.”

During his years as spiritual leader of the Yakima diocese, which is 60 percent Hispanic, George built a legacy of racial healing.

From mountain parishes in the Cascade Range to the fields of the Yakima Valley, George became known colloquially as “the good bishop.”

“We like to take the credit for training him,” joked Peggy Roy, who works in the Yakima diocese’s financial office.

The pope named the new cardinals in January. As a cardinal and leader of the United States’ second-largest archdiocese, George will be one of 123 prelates worldwide eligible to vote for the next pope.

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