Man of many hats: Archbishop Cupich’s elevation to cardinal welcomed by DePaul community

DePaul President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider C.M. has a story about Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich. They were in a car about a year ago on their way to a meeting when Holtschneider said to Cupich “The word on the street is that the Cardinal title is coming in the next year sometime.”

The Archbishop laughed and said “I hope it’s not too soon. The minute you become a Cardinal, you start having responsibilities in Rome and I need to spend as much time as I can in Chicago.”

Well, the Archbishop will have to have at least one trip to Rome scheduled. Pope Francis announced on Oct. 9 that Archbishop Cupich, along with 16 others, would be elevated to the title of Cardinal on Nov. 19 at the Vatican.

Archbishop Blase Cupich leaves a news conference following Mass Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016 at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. The Vatican announced Sunday that Chicago Archbishop Cupich will become cardinals in a Rome ceremony Nov. 19. Pope Francis named 17 new cardinals Sunday.(Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune via AP)
Archbishop Blase Cupich leaves a news conference following Mass Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016 at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. The Vatican announced Sunday that Chicago Archbishop Cupich will become cardinals in a Rome ceremony Nov. 19. Pope Francis named 17 new cardinals Sunday.(Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune via AP)


Archbishop Cupich was named the Archbishop of Chicago on Sept. 20, 2014. He was the successor to Archbishop Francis Cardinal George, who had handed in his resignation due to illness. Cupich had previously served as bishop of Spokane, Washington, and Rapid City, South Dakota before then.

“(Cupich) had a prayer service in the Cathedral the night before he was installed and what struck me that evening was that I had never heard that much laughter in the Cathedral in all the time I’ve lived here,” Holtschneider said. “They weren’t formal jokes, but he was humorous and welcoming and warm and you could just see the room was just loving who he was as a person.”

Cupich made an immediate impact when he announced he would not stay in the Gold Coast mansion that had typically hosted the Archbishop of Chicago, but rather would live in a suite of rooms at Holy Name Cathedral. It showed humility, which he has continued to show during his time as Archbishop.

“He’s come every time we’ve asked him to come say Mass for the students. He drives himself here, he doesn’t bring a lot of people with him,” Holtschneider said. “He comes and he’s a parish priest for an evening.”

Rev. Jeremy Dixon, C.M. has been the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul parish next to DePaul’s campus since 2013 and said there have been some notable differences between Cupich and his predecessor.

“There’s a lot of energy,” Dixon said. “He brings a lot of energy and excitement, and he’s been really involved all around the Archdiocese, not just with the Church things but with civil society too.”

Cupich’s role in the church has also meant a larger role for women. Amanda Thompson, director of Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM), worked at the Archdiocese before Cupich’s arrival and played a role in his installation. She said  Cupich listens to and appreciates women.

(Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune via AP)

“His installation was the first time that women were allowed to participate in the ceremony,” Thompson said. “He surrounds himself with men who validate and affirm the place of women in the church.”

In general, the Archbishop has been perceived by many in the Church as welcoming and friendly.

“Cardinal George loved the Church but was much more of a formal man,” Holtschneider said. “Archbishop Cupich is kind of a warm person that you would enjoy having a beer with.”

Becoming a Cardinal is more of an elevation of title rather than a promotion. The hierarchy of the church starts with priests on the bottom of the pyramid, and priests are typically pastors of parishes, such as St. Vincent de Paul parish; however, many priests belong to orders such as the Vincentians, Jesuits or Benedictines, and do not belong to a diocese.

A diocese is a group of parishes, like a district or a county. Dioceses are overseen by a bishop, and many metropolitan areas are categorized as Archdioceses and are overseen by an Archbishop, which may have auxiliary bishops in different areas of the diocese. Chicago is an Archdiocese overseen by Archbishop Cupich, and has six auxiliary bishops. There are 5,100 bishops in the world.

Then, there are a select group of bishops that belong to the College of Cardinals. There are currently 211 Cardinals in the world, which will become 228 in November. The Cardinals remain in their dioceses that they oversee, but have additional responsibilities, namely they get to vote in the papal elections as long as they are younger than 80 years old, which 111 currently are.

The Pope sits on top of the hierarchy as head of the Catholic Church on Earth.

Since Chicago is a large area with a substantial Catholic population (approximately 38 percent of the city identifies as Catholic), the Archbishop of Chicago has typically been named a Cardinal in the past. Dr. Scott Moringiello, an assistant professor in the Catholic Studies department, said that it also speaks to Pope Francis’ opinion of Archbishop Cupich.

“The U.S. has a few important sees and Archbishop Cupich is the first appointment that Pope Francis has made,” he said. “So I think for Pope Francis to elevate Archbishop Cupich is recognition that (Cupich) is someone that Pope Francis has admired for a long time and wants to continue working with him, not just in Chicago but for the worldwide Church.”

“The Pope views him as a leader within the Church,” Thompson said. “The Pope has his pulse on the needs of the flock.”

Moringiello said that the Archbishop of Chicago usually has a noticeable voice in the American Catholic hemisphere, but also said that Cupich’s elevation will give him more stature.

“I think it’s the sort of thing where his voice will be amplified a bit,” he said. “His first and primary responsibility is to the people of the Archdiocese of Chicago, but now in that capacity the sorts of things he says and does in Chicago will be noticed in a way that might not have been if he was not a Cardinal.”

While Cupich will gain more stature with his elevation, the needs of the Archdiocese will still be his primary focus. There are a lot of issues, particularly financial, that need to addressed.

“He’s got to help the Archdiocese of Chicago make some tough financial decisions,” Holtschneider said. “Because there’s just too many churches in the wrong places and his predecessor did not engage those questions. So, poor Cardinal Cupich is going to have to engage the question of closing down parishes and politically that’s going to be very, very hard.”

Some of those financial decisions sting.

“What we have now is too many parishes with a lot of duplication and stretching too thin of resources,” Dixon said. “So the idea is to see what needs a change because the Church is always reforming and always growing.”

The Archbishop has already started the process. Through a “Renew My Church” initiative, the Archdiocese is looking at how to best manage resources and provide vibrant parishes to best serve the community.

“I think the main thing that’s changed is there’s been a focus on how do we reorganize in order to fulfill the mission,” Dixon said. “In terms of organizing the central office and putting more resources to the local level. I think the Archbishop wants to decentralize a lot of the things that had accumulated in the downtown office. That’s a big difference from before.”

The Archbishop has been to DePaul multiple times in the past, and has already accepted another offer to come preside at Mass on March 1 for Ash Wednesday. He’ll still likely drive himself, but will be wearing a different color on his head.