Elmhurst College presented the Niebuhr Medal posthumously to Joseph L. Bernardin at the College’s Schade Lecture on November 24, 1996. Cardinal archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Bernardin died 10 days before he was to deliver the College’s Schade Lecture. George Murry, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, accepted the award on Bernardin’s behalf and delivered the lecture that the archbishop had prepared.
Beloved by many in Chicago and beyond, Cardinal Bernardin had a distinguished career in the Church. At age 38, he became the youngest bishop in the nation, consecrated in the Atlanta archdiocese. He was assigned to Chicago in 1982, was named cardinal within a year, and set about to strengthen the Chicago archdiocese.
A compassionate statesman within and beyond the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Bernardin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed on individuals who have made significant contributions to their communities and the nation, in 1996. In awarding the Medal, President Bill Clinton lauded Bernardin for his dedication to racial equality, arms control and social justice.