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Biographies of Current, Past Chairmen, and Founder

Catholic Common Ground Initiative
Biographies of Current, Past Chairmen, and Founder


Reverend Michael Place, Chair of the CCGI from 2017- present

Father Place is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and was ordained in 1970. He has a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Catholic University of America and several other degrees. In addition to his nearly fourteen years on Cardinal Bernardin’s personal staff, Father has taught and been in academic administration in several institutions. For seven years he served as President and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United and for ten years served as Chair of the International Federation of Catholic Health Institutions. Currently he serves as Corporate Ethicist and Director of the Franciscan Leadership Program for Franciscan Alliance, a system of Catholic health institutions headquartered in Mishawaka, IN.

Father Place served as Cardinal Bernardin’s theologian and consul when the conversations that resulted in the launching of the Initiative began, participating in almost all of those conversations. At the time of the launching of what was then known as the Common Ground Project, which was shortly before the Cardinal’s death, Cardinal Bernardin asked Father Place to become a member of the Advisory Committee. Father has served on the committee since then and has been actively involved in helping to shape the work of the Initiative.

Most Reverend Michael Warfel, Chair of the CCGI from 2011 – 2017

Most Reverend Michael Warfel grew up in a family where religion was not often practiced at home. However, even at a young age, he felt a call to the Church. He was officially baptized as Catholic at age twelve. In college, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam and Korea before being honorably discharged. After the service, he inquired about religious life and eventually entered a diocesan seminary. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from St. Gregory.

During his studies, he often visited his sister in Alaska and soon decided he would like serve there. He began working for Catholic Social Services in Anchorage and was eventually ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. He learned Spanish so that he could better serve his community. He also received a Masters of Theology from St. Michael’s College in Vermont and participated in the Jerusalem Scripture Study Program at St. John’s University in Minnesota.

He was ordained as the Forth Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau. He also served as the Interim Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Fairbanks. In addition, he served as the Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Evangelization. He has served on many other committees as well, including International Justice and Peace and the Diaconate and World Missions. He currently serves as the Bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. He served as the Chair of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative for six years.

Most Reverend Daniel Pilarczyk, Chair of the CCGI from 2003-2011

Most Reverend Daniel Pilarczyk was born in Ohio. He entered St. Gregory Seminary at age fourteen. He then studied in Rome, where he received a Licentiate of Philosophy and Sacred Theology. After he became a priest, he continued schooling to receive his Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Urban College. He later also taught Latin and Greek at St. Gregory Seminary.

He was first appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Cincinnati and then later Archbishop of Cincinnati. He was ordained by Cardinal Bernardin, whom he later succeeded. He served in various forms with the USCCB, including as the chair of the Committee on Education, and both Vice President and President of the USCCB (when it was NCCB). He has written many books on the Catholic faith. He was also one of the person people that Cardinal Bernardin approached to join the Advisory Committee when the Initiative was first launched.  He served as the Chair of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative for seven years.

Most Reverend Oscar Lipscomb, Chair of the CCGI from 1996-2003

Most Revered Lipscomb began his seminary studies at St. Bernard Junior Seminary and College in Alabama and soon transitioned to the Pontifical North American College Seminary in Rome. He was ordained to priesthood and began to serve in the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham.  He received a Masters of Arts in History and a Ph.D. in History from Catholic University of America. He also taught at McGill Institute and Spring Hill College. H was eventually appointed Archbishop of Mobile. He was the first archbishop. He was also a member of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Founder of the Catholic Common Ground Initiative

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin began his young adult life studying to become a doctor. He soon realized, however, that his desire was to serve others, which prompted him to go into the seminary. He was ordained a priest for his home diocese of Charleston. Joseph found a mentor and friend in Bishop Hallinan. Together, the two began to work for racial integration into their diocese. Fourteen years later, he became, at the time, the youngest bishop in America. He served the Archdiocese of Atlanta. In Atlanta, he continued he work with civil rights and racial integration. Although his efforts were not always met with good response, it was clear to all of his desire for peace.

Six years later, he served as the Archbishop of Cincinnati. He continued his work to improve the Catholic-Jewish relationship and the Protestant-Catholic relationship as well. During this time, he also began to develop his consistent ethic of life, or seamless garment.

Ten years later, he came to serve Chicago as the fifth Archbishop. Just six months later, he was elevated to Cardinal. He continued his work with the seamless garment and improving relationships. He was also involved with the initiation of Theology on Tap and created an AIDS taskforce to find ways to better care for those inflicted with AIDS.  He soon became a very influential clergyman.

In 1992, the Cardinal issued a statement in concern for the controversies present in the local churches, stemming from the Second Vatican Council. Msgr. Philip J. Murnion shared his concerns and together, they made the steps to create what would become the Catholic Common Ground Initiative. They called together Catholics from all over the globe to a dialogue which created the document, Called to be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril.

In 1995, the Cardinal had surgery for pancreatic cancer. However, just one year later, it had returned. Weeks before receiving the news of the cancer’s return, the Cardinal held a conference about the Catholic Common Ground Initiative, then called the Catholic Common Ground Project, stating its’ importance. The Cardinal died later that year, on November 14.

For a more complete biography, read Joseph Bernardin: Seeking Common Ground (People of God) by Dr. Steven P. Millies. It won first place in the Catholic Press Association’s biography category in 2017. Read the Cardinal’s personal reflections in The Gift of Peace