How George H.W. Bush Surprised Me at My Diaconal Ordination in St. Peter’s Basilica


National Catholic Register, 4 December 2018

COMMENTARY: A generous gesture in 2001 tells a tale of the importance of faith, family and friendship to the late president, who died Nov. 30 at the age of 94.

George H.W. Bush, who died Nov. 30, was kind enough to come to my ordination as a deacon. To be sure, during the actual ordination Mass he had a meeting with St. John Paul II, so he came after it was over to congratulate us.

He had no reason to know anything about us in particular. But it was a generous gesture typical of a kind gentleman, and we appreciated it. Therein lies a tale of the importance of faith, family and friendship to the late president.

Along with 39 of my classmates at the Pontifical North American College, I was ordained a deacon in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 4, 2001. It was just weeks after 9/11. Many of our families that had traveled overseas did so nervous about the new lethality of airborne terror.

Immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush prepared for war against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The decision was taken that the war would start Oct. 7.

The U.S. diplomatic apparatus began to notify allies around the world of what was going to happen and when. The task could have been entrusted to the U.S. embassy to the Holy See. The American secretary of state, Gen. Colin Powell, could also have personally telephoned the Vatican.

But such was President George W. Bush’s esteem for Pope John Paul II that he asked his father, President George H.W. Bush, to travel to Rome to brief the Holy Father in person. Bush 43 wanted John Paul to hear such a somber and historic message from his own father, Bush 41.

The meeting was set for Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Years later, I would read in the younger Bush’s memoir, 41: A Portrait of My Father, that one of the elder Bush’s favorite quotations was “Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words” — a phrase often attributed to the Poverello of Assisi.

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