All of us at Eli’s join people from around the world in mourning the loss of Pope John Paul II.
For us, it brings to mind a very happy time for us at Eli’s when Francis Cardinal George became the first Chicago born Archbishop of Chicago. It was February of 1998 when the ceremony was planned in Rome and I asked my dedicated associate, Rita Tierney, then over 80 years old, if she could figure out how to get our cheesecake to Rome for the celebration that would accompany this momentous event for Chicago. For days, Rita stayed up most of the night speaking to Vatican officials and transportation companies finding a way to get Eli’s treats to Rome. Just when we thought it would be impossible, Rita found a staff member at the Pontifical North American College in Rome who thought Eli’s would be a perfect addition to their event for Cardinal George. Rita then maade all the arrangements for transit and personally tracked the cheesecake from their departure from Eli’s to arrival in Rome. We heard initally everything went well but then found out what a major impact Rita’s hard work had made.
Shortly after returning to Chicago from Rome, Cardinal George spoke at the opening of the Lawson House YMCA, just several blocks west of Eli’s the Place for Steak on Chicago Avenue, and an important community center for serving the housing and social needs of the needy in our community. Cardinal George opened his remarks by thanking all of us at Eli’s, as a Chicago company and a member of the Greater North Michigan Avenue community, for providing that great dessert for his induction and that Eli’s had become a favorite for many of the priests attending the event.
Several weeks later, the following letter came to me from Cardinal George sharing his joy and pride in our participation in his important celebration.
The story continues four years later in March of 2002, when I was invited by David Blake, the Publisher of Crain’s Chicago Business toa small luncheon with other business leaders of various faiths and backgrounds to meet Cardinal George and to discuss many of the pressing issues in our community. Just as I was leaving for the lunch, I received word that Rita, at the age of 85, had passed away after an extended illness. I shared Rita’s story with the Cardinal and how she had worked so hard to see those cheesecakes get to Rome.
The Cardinal expressed his condolences and then asked me to schedule a lunch with him to celebrate Rita’s life. A month later, my mother, my wife, Maureen, my associates, Lisa Ripka and Mary Gale (both dear friends of Rita’s) and one of Rita’s sons, and me, were fortunate to have Cardinal George join us for lunch at Eli’s the Place for Steak. The Cardinal could not have been nicer expressing his compassion over the loss of such a dear person and honoring Rita for her commitment to Eli’s, to her community and to her faith.
At Eli’s, we continue to honor Rita’s legacy with a commitment to dedicate the Rita Tierney Social Center at the new New Horizons for the Developmentally Disabled facility that is going to be built directly west of our bakery. It is fitting that our bakery and New Horizons are both in the parish of St. Pasacal’s where Cardinal George attended grade school and that the New Horizons facility is now literally our next door neighbor. Rita would very proud!
We wish Cardinal George great strength as he attends to the very serious business of mourning the Pope and electing his successor and we look forward to sharing many happy days with him upon his return to Chicago.