When President George H.W. Bush was running for re-election in 1992, he 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 phone interview that October as he flew from a campaign appearance in Kentucky to 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 his home in Houston. He was 94.
The cause of his death was not immediately available, but he had been in failing health the last few years. In 2012, he announced that he had vascular Parkinsonism, a condition that limited his mobility and required him to use a wheelchair most of the time.
“Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear Dad has died,” said former President George W. Bush, the late president’s oldest son. “George H.W. Bush was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for.”
President Donald Trump designated Dec. 5 as a national day of mourning. He and first lady Melania Trump planned to attend the state funeral at the National Episcopal Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The flags at the White House were lowered to half staff.
Air Force One, technically called “Special Air Mission 41,” flew to Houston to bring the body of the late president back to Washington, D.C. After arrival at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington, D.C. late in the afternoon Dec. 3, his body was transported to the U.S. Capitol Rotunda to lie in state through the early morning of Dec. 5.
The final “Special Air Mission 41” flight was to return the president’s body to Texas late Dec. 5 for funeral services the next day in College Station, Texas. He will be laid to rest the afternoon of Dec. 6 at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, where wife Barbara and their daughter Robin, who died at age 3, are buried.
Catholic leaders, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 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,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “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.”
Bush told some 3,000 cheering, flag-waving Knights of Columbus and their families in New York in 1992 that he would hold fast to his stand against abortion “no matter the political price.”
His address on Aug. 5 of that year was a highlight of the Knights’ 110th convention, held at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan’s Times Square. He also reaffirmed his support of school vouchers and voluntary prayer in school and his opposition to condom distribution plans.
Bush served as a keynote speaker at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in Manhattan in 1982, 1988 and 2004. He and Mrs. Bush visited Covenant House in Manhattan in 1989.
He received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1992; he had visited the campus more than any other U.S. president.
The National Right to Life Committee, a federation of state right-to-life affiliates and more than 3,000 local chapters, also mourned Bush’s death and praised him for a number of pro-life measures he supported as president.
It cited among other actions his administration urging the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to pass laws to protect unborn children. He used “the power of his veto to stop 10 bills that contained pro-abortion provisions, including four appropriations bills which allowed for taxpayer funding of abortion,” NRLC said in a statement.
While in office, Bush stated that the “protection of innocent human life—in or out of the womb—is certainly the most compelling interest that a state can advance,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life.
With regard to capital punishment, Bush differed with the Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty, telling CNS that he supported it “in certain instances because I think if somebody murders a police officer that that person ought to pay with his life.”
Bush was criticized by Catholic and other faith leaders as well as peace activists for his decision to go to war in the Persian Gulf after then-Iraq President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Some months before the U.S.-led war began Aug. 2, 1990, St. John Paul II pleaded for peace in the Gulf. The war ended Feb. 28, 1991.
During his pontificate, St. John Paul met with Bush twice at the Vatican, first when Bush was vice president and then when he was president.
Born in Milton, Mass., 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 flying several 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, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, vice president under President Ronald Reagan (1980-1988) and finally president (1988-1992).
He and Barbara married in 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.