Cardinal Bernardin's Christmas Tree Brings Hope and Joy to Cancer Patients
MAYWOOD, Ill. -- '"Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.' That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." For those who remember the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Linus' quote from the Gospel of Luke was much more than the meaning of Christmas, it was the driving force for his life and ministry. During this season of goodness and giving Loyola University Health System's Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center remembers his legacy of joy, peace and compassion by placing his Christmas tree on the center's main floor. A symbol of hope, the tree brings comfort to patients and family members dealing with a difficult and daunting illness. Donated to Loyola by the Cardinal's friend Tom LeClair the tree and ornaments are a special holiday treat to staff and patients alike. "Every time we bring it out it makes people smile. We hear all kinds of âoohsâ and âaahhsâ and people saying, 'It's so beautiful,'" said Barbara Buturusis, RN, executive director of cancer services at the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center. "This tree is something very personal and the Cardinal was someone we all admired. It is a reminder of the way he lived his life and his charge to us to continue to give wonderful care." The tree towers over the patient waiting area, awakening joyful memories that cause moments of reflection. "The tree is very special and has a different look than any other in the center. People are just drawn to it. They often stop and bow their heads for moments of silent prayer," said Buturusis. "Several patients have told us that the memory of the Cardinal as the tree imbues it has inspired hope. It gave them a sense of him being present in a special way." This connection maybe due to the Cardinal's fondness for his tree as remembered by his friend Tom LeClair. "He loved his tree and every year he would painstakingly put the ornaments in just the right place. We were both very proud of our trees. I would razz him that our Christmas tree was better than his," said LeClair. "Just before he passed away he told us he'd like us to have his Christmas tree. It was such an honor to have it in our house." In tune with the Cardinal's heart Tom and his wife knew this symbol of Bernardin's joy was something that needed to be shared and decided to donate it to the cancer center that bears his name. "He was overjoyed with the care he received while at Loyola," said LeClair. "We knew of his love for Loyola and compassion for people fighting cancer and it hit us-this is what he'd want, to let everyone enjoy it." Now a tradition, Tom comes each November to decorate the tree in a way his friend would have wished. The eclectic ornament collection includes ornaments that adorned Bernardin's childhood tree to an image of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, representing the Diocese of Charleston, where he was ordained as a priest to ornaments from his time as the Archbishop of Chicago. "Each ornament represents a person or part of his life and really meant something to him," said LeClair. "The tree symbolizes his goodness and care for all people. That spirit continues. People who were inspired by him continue to reach out to the poorest of the poor." In that same spirit the tree is yet another symbol of hope within a center that provides care and comfort to people who are often in their darkest hour. "It personifies the Cardinal and is such a wonderful gift. I really believe he would've liked that it's here acting as a beacon of hope. It's a reminder of what the Cardinal believed, that no matter where our journey ends it can be made better by the people who care for and surround us," said Buturusis.