WASHINGTON — When he was running for re-election in 1992, President George H.W. Bush told Catholic News Service that he believed that a strong religious faith could provide “an extra shot of strength when you need it.”
“I don’t believe you can be president without having faith. I really strongly feel that,” Bush said in a telephone interview that October as he flew en route from a campaign appearance in Kentucky to scheduled stops in Florida.
That religious faith which sustained him and his family and was clearly evident during his years in the White House — and more recently as he mourned the April 17 death of his beloved wife of 73 years, Barbara — is being noted by many in paying tribute to his life and legacy after his death late Nov. 30 at age 94 at his home in Houston.
At President Bush’s funeral, his son, former President George W. Bush, praised his father as “a great and noble man.”
“Dad could relate to people of all walks of life,” he said. “He valued character over pedigree and looked for the good in each person -- and he usually found it.”
Catholic leaders, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis, joined in “grieving the loss of one of our nation’s leaders.”
“We remember with gratitude this great man who spent his life selflessly in service of his country,” the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Dec. 3. “With an unwavering commitment to building bridges of peace and ensuring our nation’s freedoms, he also inspired many as a devoted husband, father and family patriarch.”
“On behalf of my brother bishops of the United States, we pray for the repose of the soul of our 41st president as we remember a life well lived,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, who heads the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. “We also offer our deepest sympathy and prayers for his bereaved family and all those who mourn his passing. May you find peace and comfort in the consoling love of Jesus Christ.”
Pope Francis sent a telegram to Cardinal DiNardo stating he was saddened to learn of the death of the former president and offered his condolences and assurance of prayers.
Born in Milton, Mass., June 12, 1924, Bush delayed entrance to Yale University to volunteer for service in World War II. At 18, he was one of the Navy’s youngest pilots. After several flying successful bombing missions, he was shot down during one in 1944 and was rescued at sea. The rest of his flight crew perished.
After graduating from Yale, he became an oilman in Texas, but after his successful stint in the oil fields, he spent most of the rest of his life in public service — including as a two-term congressman from Texas, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, an ambassador, vice president under President Ronald Reagan (1980-1988) and finally president (1988-1992).
He and Barbara married Jan. 6, 1945. As a young couple they suffered through the death from leukemia of daughter Robin at age 3. Throughout their lives they and their whole family mourned her loss. Bush is survived by son George W., the nation’s 43rd president, and four other children; 17 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren; and two siblings.
“We are guided by faith,” Bush said of his wife and family in 1992. “We (are) regular attendees at church and that gives us strength every Sunday. And we just feel that it’s important as a family to pray together. We still say our blessings at our meals and we still say our prayers at night.”