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Gala Celebrates Cardinal George’s 50 Years As Priest

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George is celebrating half a century in the priesthood.

He’s not only celebrating 50 years as a priest but most likely his final year as Archbishop of Chicago.

At age 75, he is awaiting the acceptance of his required resignation and the naming of a replacement by Pope Francis.

Bishops, archbishops and American Cardinals came to honor the man who’d been a mentor to many, and as one-time U.S. Bishops’ Conference president, leader of all.

George’s career began with his ordination at a Northwest Side neighborhood church and will end at Holy Name Cathedral, the epicenter of the Chicago Archdiocese.

He is Chicago’s first native son to be named archbishop.

“Years ago, I never dreamed I would be celebrating this,” George said. “I became a priest because I realized it fit, and it still does.”

The cardinal is asked if he had to do it all over again, would he do it?

“Oh, of course,” he said. “Would I do it differently? Yes. I’d do it, this is where i was supposed to be.”

What would he do differently?

“Well, as you go back point after point, you say what a stuffed shirt, what a prig, you look at yourself and decisions and say, ‘How could have you have done that?’

“I regret some things. Other things, with the grace of God, have gone well.”

Wednesday’s turnout of both fellow bishops and local church leaders seems to indicate much more has gone well than not.

“Like Pope Francis, we see in you a generous heart and missionary spirit,” said Joseph Kurtz, the archbishop of Louisville, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Three of those believed to be on the shortlist to replace Cardinal George were full of praise for the Cardinal Wednesday: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta and Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle.

In an interview with CBS 2’s Jay Levine, Cardinal George promised to help whoever’s chosen to succeed him.

“There were many times when I first got here when things started to work in way I never expected that i would have asked Cardinal Bernardin had he been alive why did you do make this decision? What is this about? What is the history?’ and that’s a service I’d like to perform, if I live long enough for whoever follows me,” said George.

The decision is not imminent. It follows an involved process which leads to 3 candidates for the Pope to choose from. Cardinal George told Levine that even though he turned in his resignation nearly two years ago, as required when he turned 75, the process has not yet begun.