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Cardinal George's Red Hat rises to Holy Name rafters

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Cardinal George's Red Hat rises to Holy Name rafters

Posted on Mon, May 18, 2015

from the Chicago Tribune

Eyes gazed skyward — some filled with tears, others with appreciation — as the tasseled red hat of the late Cardinal Francis George rose to the rafters of Holy Name Cathedral on Sunday.

The ceremonial raising of the red hat capped a month of mourning since George, 78, died April 17 after years of being treated for cancer.

"I've been calling this ceremony today the echo of what we did a month ago," said Monsignor Dan Mayall, rector of Holy Name Cathedral. "And it is. But today I started using other words. … It's the punctuation mark of somebody who meant something to our culture, first as Catholics, but to all parishioners, to all people in this part of the world, in this city. He was a historical part of it. He was a graceful part of it."

Although George never publicly wore his wide-brimmed hat — called a galero — it has been tradition to hoist the tasseled silk hats for cardinals to the ceiling of the cathedral during the "month's mind" — the requiem Mass celebrated a month after one's death. That the requiem Mass fell on the Roman Catholic Feast of the Ascension, honoring when Jesus rose to heaven, only added to the ceremony's symbolism.

"Looking at that hat go up to the ceiling today, considering the ascension of the Lord … those of us who believe in that are called to sit tall. You're called to be proud today, not mournful. No, not at all," Mayall said. "As proud as you can be because you're called beyond yourself to a level you never thought you could stand and to a level you never would have been able to achieve on your own."

George's silk sombrero-like hat now hangs alongside those of past Chicago Cardinals Joseph Bernardin, John Cody, Albert Meyer, Samuel Stritch and George Mundelein..

Traditionally, cardinals' hats hover above their crypts or the sanctuary of their former cathedrals, Mayall explained to parishioners Sunday. They stay suspended until they fall, or fall apart.

But the tradition of bestowing the wide-brimmed hat when a churchman entered the College of Cardinals fell by the wayside decades ago when Pope Paul VI replaced it with a silk biretta following the Second Vatican Council reforms.

For that reason, many thought Cody's hat would be the last to rise to Holy Name's rafters. But people within the archdiocese maintained the custom for Bernardin and George.

In fact, Mayall was surprised to learn that George owned two galeros. When he was elevated to cardinal in 1998, seminarians at Mundelein presented him with his own tasseled brim. Benefactors also presented the cardinal with a gift of fancy headwear. It's unclear which one now hangs at Holy Name. The other will go on display at Mundelein Seminary.

Many compare the elevation of the red hat with the raising of a championship banner or flag at a sporting event.

As the choir sang "Christo, Gloria in Ecclesia," a song based on George's episcopal motto, the Rev. Dan Flens, George's longtime assistant, held the galero as it was connected to a cable hanging down from the cathedral's attic.

The priest then let go, clasped his hands and watched as the symbolic tassels rose above his head and out of reach.

Mary Hallan FioRito, who also worked for the cardinal, said the ceremony offered a time to once again reflect on the cardinal's life when emotions are less raw. Now everyone who comes to the cathedral will see a scarlet reminder of what's possible when they give their life to God, she said.

"He wasn't much to stand on fancy hats," FioRito said with a chuckle. "This brings his role in the whole history of the church into focus. We have to move on this world without him."


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