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Building Bernardin.

Chicago, like so many other older American cities, continues to rebuild its city center. Down come commercial buildings of modest height and up go residential buildings that scrape the sky. Each new building gets named by its developer, much like parents naming their newborn.

Just around the corner from my office downtown is one such project--a row of low-rise storefronts was torn down to make way for 171 luxury apartments complete with retail space and parking for 201 cars. It's now halfway to the sky, and the usual gawkers, myself included, check on its progress almost daily.

What makes this building project unique is its name, the Bernardin. Chicagoans of all faiths still remember fondly Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the Catholic Archbishop of Chicago from 1982 to 1996. The Bernardin building sits only a stone's throw away from Holy Name Cathedral where Bernardin's red hat is suspended in the sanctuary along with the hats of other deceased cardinals of Chicago. An apartment with a west or south view can see its cathedral neighbor.

In addition to presiding over Chicagoland with the charm and grace of a skilled diplomat, Bernardin took on several controversial issues. He was the major architect of the U.S. bishops' 1983 pastoral, The Challenge of Peace, a visionary document, particularly in the current geopolitical situation. He also spoke up to his fellow bishops years ago about the then-smoldering sexual abuse scandal that eventually ignited into a full-fledged inferno. Bernardin instituted policies to protect children from pedophile priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago years before other bishops admitted a problem existed.

Chicago, that toddlin' town, is also a very Catholic town, and some notable Catholics are memorialized in its very fabric. The missionary explorer Father Jacques Marquette has a road named for him on the South Side. Father Arnold Damen, founder of Loyola University in Chicago, has an avenue named for him that stretches the entire length of the city. Far north of Chicago, Cardinal Mundelein has an entire town named after him, but local lore claims he engineered that deal himself by donating a fire truck to the town.

One wonders, then, why the Archdiocese of Chicago tried to stop the developer from naming this building after Bernardin. There is no copyright on the name as there is on Coca-Cola or Kleenex. Did they think people might move into the building believing it was a church-owned project? Not to worry, people with the amount of money to spend on rent in fancy apartment buildings like the Bernardin don't easily get confused over such matters. In fact, the archdiocese ended its objection once they realized they didn't have a prayer.

The Bernardin, now advertised as "Chicago's first boutique Apartments," will stand as a unique memorial to a visionary man who significantly touched the lives of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. I would love to live in a building named for the cardinal, but I'll have to be content with strolling by, recalling the man who should be a role model for the contemporary Catholic hierarchy and praying a prayer of thanksgiving for the churchman who stood taller than the building now named after him.

PETER GILMOUR ( teaches at the Institute of Pastoral Studies of Loyola University Chicago.
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Title Annotation:Odds & Ends
Author:Gilmour, Peter
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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