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Hello, 120! For the first time since the last consistory, the number of cardinal electors is back at the maximum allowed number of 120, as American-born Cardinal James Stafford celebrates his 80th birthday today.
Born in the cradle of the Catholic Church in America, Baltimore, James Francis Stafford was the only child of a furniture store owner of Irish descent. After his high school days he intended to study medicine at the Jesuit Loyola College in Baltimore, but a close friend’s death in a car crash caused him to enter St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.
After two years of study, the archbishop of Baltimore, Msgr. Francis Keough, sent him to Rome’s Pontifical North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1958, James Stafford earned his Licentiate of Sacred Theology from the later institution.
The rector of the North American College, Bishop Martin O’Connor, ordained James Stafford to the priesthood in 1957, alongside one Edward Egan who would later become a fellow cardinal. Upon his return to the US, Father Stafford became an assistant priest in his native Baltimore until 1962. He then went to study at the Catholic University of America, earning a Master of Social Work in 1964. For the next two years, Fr. Stafford served as assistant director of the archdiocesan Catholic Charities and as an assistant priest, once again in Baltimore. Cardinal Lawrence Shehan appointed him as director of Catholic Charities in 1966, a position Fr. Stafford would hold until 1976. He earned he title of Monsignor in 1970 when Pope Paul VI made him a Chaplain of His Holiness. As president of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Presbyteral Senate since 1971, he helped reorganise the central services of the archdiocese.
In 1976, Msgr. Stafford was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Baltimore. He was granted the titular diocese of Respecta, which today belongs to Dutch-born Bishop John Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane, Australia. Archbishop William Borders consecrated Bishop Stafford on 29 February. Upon his appointed, he became the vicar general of Baltimore. From 1978 to 1984, he led the commission on Marriage and Family Life of the American bishops’ conference, and in 1980 he attended the Fifth Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, on the Christian Family, in Rome.
In 1982, Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Stafford as Bishop of Memphis, Tennessee, where he was installed the following January. There, he focussed on restructuring, improving and evangelisation, especially among African Americans. During his time in Memphis, Bishop Stafford also chaired the Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB from 1984 to 1991.
Bishop Stafford moved even further west in 1986, as he was appointed archbishop of Denver. High point of his time in that see was the 1993 World Youth Day. which saw half a million young Catholics gather in the Archdiocese of Denver.
In 1996, Archbishop Stafford was called to Rome, to lead the Pontifical Council for the Laity. In this role, he was responsible for the organisation of the 1997 World Youth Day in Paris, the 2000 WYD in Rome and the 2002 WYD in Toronto. In the consistory of 1998 he was created a cardinal and became the cardinal-dean of Gesù Buon Pastore alla Montagnola. In 2003, Cardinal Stafford became the Major Penitentiary, one of the highest positions in the Curia.
In 2007, Cardinal Stafford turned 75 and submitted his resignation , which Pope Benedict XVI accepted in 2009. On 1 March 2008, Cardinal Stafford made use of the option to be promoted to cardinal-priest, and was granted the titular church of San Pietro in Montorio.
In 2008, Cardinal Stafford spoke prophetic words as he compared the election of President Barack Obama to the Agony in the Garden. The president’s consistent steps to curtail religious liberty and freedom of conscience seem to prove the cardinal’s opinion.
Cardinal Stafford was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the Special Council for Oceania of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.