It was with deep sadness that I learned of the death of a long-time friend and Ordination classmate, Archbishop George H. Niederauer. May God’s warm embrace encircle him unto eternal life.
Archbishop Niederauer, and his close friend from St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, William J. Levada [later Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Archbishop of Portland, Archbishop of San Francisco, and Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith], joined our class in 1954 to begin the study of philosophy at Queen of the Angels Seminary in San Fernando. After two years, we moved to St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo.
His engaging wit and humor became hallmarks of his open and loving personality, and he always had just the right words and the turn of a phrase to help defuse tensions and to uplift people—no matter what cloud was overhead. His studies of English literature gave him a unique repertoire of quotes to embellish his conversation.
Ordained a priest of Los Angeles April 30, 1962, then Father Niederauer spent a single year in a parish assignment before beginning doctoral studies at USC where he majored in English literature. Upon his graduation in 1965, he began teaching at St. John’s Seminary College for the next seven years. In 1972 he was named Spiritual Director of the Seminary College where he served for five years.
After a special study year, he was assigned as the Spiritual Director of St. John’s Seminary theologate, where he carried out this ministry for nine years. In 1987 it was my privilege to appoint him as Rector of St. John’s Seminary, which role he performed for five years. He spent a total of 27 years serving our two Archdiocesan Seminaries.
After a sabbatical year, in 1993 he became the Co-Director of the Cardinal Timothy Manning House of Prayer for Priests, a role he carried out until November of 1994 when he was appointed as the next Bishop of Salt Lake City. Ordained in January of 1995, he served there until appointed Archbishop of San Francisco, where he served until retirement in 2012.
Archbishop Niederauer was one of the most intelligent people I have ever known. His command of English literature, his love for reading—he devoured books and articles weekly, and his abilities as a spiritual leader and director equipped him well for the many ministries into which God would lead him over the years. We served together with various projects in the Seminary, and remained good friends after our ordinations.
His 27 years at the Seminaries endeared him to generations of seminarians and priests, and his engaging style of teaching and leading made him one of the most popular Seminary professors and Rectors ever.
After his Ordination as Bishop of Salt Lake City, he early on established special relationships with the leadership of the Mormon Church, a role which he carried out during his years in Utah. With the increase of Spanish-speaking parishioners across the state, he added more Spanish Masses to accommodate this population.
In San Francisco he was well known for his outgoing and engaging pastoral style, and he worked well with the priests and lay leaders to continue the outstanding pastoral renewal of his predecessors.
During his years as Bishop and Archbishop, and after retirement, he continued to give retreats for priests all across the country. His spiritual presentations for priests were eagerly and well received by priests, and this special ministry was one of his greatest loves as a priest and Bishop.
A special and unique Church leader has returned home to God, and his 55 years of priestly and episcopal ministry have enriched the Church and its members across the western states and beyond.
May he continue to intercede for us as he resides in the presence of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.