CHICAGO (CBS) — Fifty years ago this December, a young polio victim beat the odds and was ordained a priest at his family’s Northwest Side parish.

Now the Chicago archdiocese is preparing to honor Francis Cardinal George at an event to mark the anniversary.

But, CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, it could also mark the start of an unofficial countdown toward the naming of his replacement.

The party is Dec. 18. His successor? Only the Pope knows for sure who that’ll be and when it will happen

Not since Cardinal George’s own installation as archbishop, has there been a collection of church leaders like the one expected for the anniversary Mass a week before Christmas.

As many as 150 cardinals and bishops from the United States and beyond are expected at Holy Name Cathedral, where the cardinal introduced himself to Chicago back in 1997.

“If it’s alright with you, I will say only that I am Francis your neighbor,” he said at the time.

The celebration will include lunch at Roy’s across from Holy Name Cathedral and a reception and dinner at the Drake Hotel.

Organizers stress that the entire cost will be covered by private donations and dinner tickets, which will range from $300 apiece to $10,000 for prime tables.

A portion of the proceeds are expected to go to Catholic schools.

The cardinal isn’t ready to talk about the event, or the timing of his retirement.

When he reached the church’s mandatory resignation age of 75 two years ago, he told CBS 2: “You submit your letter of resignation, and they wait about … two to three years” before naming a successor.

Two years would be this January, which may fit his personal timetable better than three. George turns 77 next month.

It will also be Pope Francis’ first significant U.S. appointment.

And it would be a first for Chicago. Every other cardinal has died while still serving as leader of the Chicago Archdiocese–before the mandatory retirement age of 75.

There are a number of potential candidates with strong Chicago connections. George, it should be noted, was born here.

That list includes:

  • Archbishop Wilton Gregory, a former Chicago seminarian and auxiliary bishop, now Archbishop of Atlanta. Like Cardinals George and Bernardin, he’s a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  • Jerome Listecki, another Chicago seminarian, is now archbishop of Milwaukee.
  • Springfield Illinois Bishop Tom Paprocki, a Blackhawks fan and so-called “Holy Goalie,”  is another former Chicago auxiliary bishop.
  • Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio. He learned to speak Polish while auxiliary bishop here, out of respect for Chicago’s huge Polish-American population.

Perhaps the strongest candidate, some believe, was born in Memphis but also spent time in the Chicago area. Archbishop of Seattle, J. Peter Sartain, served as Bishop of Joliet.

Irish-born Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas is another possible candidate.

Others will undoubtedly surface as well.

Though, given the new pope’s recent comment that bishops should worry more about their current jobs than campaigning for their next one, the process will be even quieter than usual.

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