The Passing of a Leader

Traveling across the country during the 1996 Presidential campaign, I saw almost no yard signs or bumper stickers with the names of the presidential nominees on them. Exit polls showed that the clear majority of the 48 percent turnout had little enthusiasm for either choice. Even the candidates' most partisan supporters would never have suggested that Bill Clinton or Bob Dole possessed the qualities of a great leader.

But about 10 days after the lackluster election, we witnessed a dramatically different and rather amazing drama unfolding in Chicago. After a six-month vigil with lethal cancer, Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin died. The thousands of people who lined up for days to say goodbye to the beloved Catholic prelate went far beyond the confines of his own church to include virtually every religious tradition in the city, and many who claimed no religion at all. His brother bishops, meeting in Washington, D.C., left his chair empty and halfheartedly carried on their business without the one who was at the same time the most influential bishop in the country and the one who had showed the most capacity to bring them together.

The nation mourned the passing of a man who was something very rare in both church and state today—a leader. It is worth reflecting on the qualities of leadership that Joseph Bernardin exemplified.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1997
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