Today, April 17th is the birthday of our Dear Friend and Associate, Rita Tierney. It is also a very sad day for Chicago with passing of Francis Cardinal George, a great friend to Eli’s and to Rita.
The story starts in February of 1998 when it was announced that Francis Cardinal George, the first Chicago born Archbishop of Chicago, was going to Rome for his induction ceremony. Rita, then 80 years old, went to work figuring out a way to get Eli’s Cheesecake to Rome for the Celebration. 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 made all the arrangements for transit and personally tracked the cheesecake from their departure from Eli’s to arrival in Rome. We heard initially that 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, then Publisher of Crain’s Chicago Business to a 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.
After that visit, we continued to stay in contact with Cardinal George—sending him and his Associates Eli’s Cheesecake for his birthday and other special events. We also continued our support of the New Horizon Center and dedicated the Atrium at the Center, which is right next to Eli’s, in honor of Rita. We invited the Cardinal to the dedication of the Atrium in February of 2007 but his schedule did not allow it. In March 2009, we were so fortunate to host Cardinal George for lunch at Eli’s Cheesecake and for a visit to the children at the New Horizon Center. The Cardinal, who grew up in the nearby St. Pascal Parish, could not have been nicer. He took pictures, it seemed with everyone at the Bakery, blessed so many objects and then walked over to greet the children at New Horizon. Such a wonderful man.
We have continued to send Eli’s Cheesecake’s to the Cardinal and have joined all Chicago in praying for his recovery. We mourn his loss today but can’t think of how he reached out to console us with the loss of Rita and today we know that Rita is welcoming him!