Cardinal James A. Hickey, former head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., died last Sunday in a local nursing home at the age of 84.

Hickey was well known for his efforts locally to help the poor through massive buildup of Catholic social services during his tenure.

Hickey, a native of Midland, Michigan, joined a seminary at age 13. In 1946, he earned a degree in sacred theology from Catholic University and was ordained as a priest.

He was prominent for his conservative Catholic beliefs and adherence to the dogma of the church and loyalty to the Vatican.

Hickey served as the head of the Archdiocese from 1980 to 2000, when he stepped down and was succeeded by current Archdiocese head Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

“He set a fine example of leadership for the archdiocese,” John Coghlan (COL ’06), grand knight of the Georgetown chapter of the Knights of Columbus said. “His presence is still felt in the archdiocese and especially through Cardinal McCarrick.”

Coghlan added that he felt that many students at Georgetown did not know about Hickey because his tenure as the head of the Archdiocese was “before our time.”

The Cardinal was admired for his unfaltering service to the homeless, and his relentless pursuit of what he believed to be the duty of the Catholic Church.

“We serve the homeless, not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic. If we don’t care for the sick, educate the young, care for the homeless, then we cannot call ourselves the church of Jesus Christ,” Hickey once told The Washington Post.

But Hickey was not without his critics. His fervent and unrelenting support of Catholic dogma, one of his most defining characteristics, estranged some people in the Archdiocese, including among the university communities of both Catholic University and Georgetown.

Hickey is remembered on campus primarily for his role in the 1991 controversy over the creation of GU Choice, a pro-choice group on campus.

The Cardinal called then-Dean of Student Affairs John J. DeGioia’s decision to approve the creation of the group “inconsistent” with the aims of a Catholic university. Later that year, students, faculty and alumni formed the Ignatian Society and brought a canon lawsuit against GU Choice to the attention of Hickey.

Hickey, however, decided in December 1991 that he lacked “juridical competence” on the matter due to Georgetown’s special status as a canonical university which is allowed to confer pontifical degrees in theology and philosophy. The canon lawsuit reached the Vatican one year later and then-university President Leo J. O’Donovan was told by the Jesuit hierarchy during his visit to Rome to “terminate” GU Choice.

In April 1992, the administration decided to revoke funding for the organization on the grounds that it violated its agreement with the university to refrain from the advocacy of abortion, a requirement of university-funded student groups in accordance with Georgetown’s Catholic tradition.

Members of GU Choice later banded together to form H*yas for Choice, a pro-choice group that does not receive university club benefits or direct funding from the Student Activities Commission.

In response to this debate, Hickey dedicated a mass one Sunday throughout his archdiocese to reparations for Georgetown’s transgressions.

The Cardinal was also one of the earliest to recognize and caution against the problem of sexual abuse, particularly of children, amongst the clergy. He was active in making the clergy and public aware of this problem in the early 1980s.

In 1987, Hickey refused to allow a Catholic openly gay and lesbian student group called Dignity to hold mass on campus. That same year, Hickey forced Catholic University theology professor Charles Curran, who disagreed with the church’s ban on contraception, to leave the school.

In 1989, the Washington Post asked Hickey what he would want people to remember him by after his passing.

“First, I’d like them to say that he was always loyal to his church. Second, that he was a friend to Catholic education,” Hickey said. “And third, if they don’t want to say the first two, at least I hope they would chisel on the stone, `He served the poor.'”

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