Born to Italian immigrant parents in South Carolina, Bernardin studied at Mt. St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore and Catholic University of America. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Charleston in 1952. The youngest bishop in the Uniteds States at the time of his ordination as an auxiliary bishop of Atlanta in 1966, Bernardin ascended successively to the sees of Cincinnati and Chicago. He was president of the USCCB from 1974–1977, and was made a cardinal in 1983. He was one of the most widely recognized American bishops of the post-Vatican II twentieth century; he was known especially as an advocate of the "seamless garment" or consistent ethic of life approach to public policy and social issues.