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It’s not easy to pick a birthday cake for your boss. Trying to balance budgetary considerations, personal tastes, and the judgements of coworkers can be a tricky job.

white cake with chocolate syrup on white ceramic plate
Credit: Unsplash

When your boss is a cardinal of the Catholic Church, that task is undoubtedly even more challenging, in no small part because pictures of the cake might make their way into the public eye.

And if you do have a cardinal for a boss, and it’s his 75th birthday, things are even more tricky — you want to show him that you’re celebrating, but the boss just submitted his retirement papers to the pope, so you don’t want to seem to be celebrating too much, lest he get the wrong idea.

With all that in mind, we at The Pillar were all a little surprised to see this photo of Cardinal Blase Cupich’s birthday cake posted on social media this week, after the cardinal turned 75 on Tuesday:

Cardinal Blase Cupich’s 75th birthday cake. Credit: Archdiocese of Chicago/Twitter.

That cake just seems … a little underwhelming. Especially compared to the 75th birthday cake of Cupich’s predecessor in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George:

Cardinal Francis George’s 75th birthday cake. Credit: Catholic New World.

Naturally, the contrast between the cakes led to some lively newsroom cake discussion, which turned into a deep dive into cardinal cakes ‘round the world.

So without further ado, The Pillar presents a survey of cardinal’s birthday cakes, ranked from best to worst:

1 - Cardinal John Onaiyekan

Cardinal John Onaiyekan’s 80th birthday cake. Credit: Nigeria Catholic Network.

This cake is amazing. It’s celebratory, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s got layers, ruffles, decorations, and even a fondant biretta. Every 80-year-old should get to celebrate with a cake like this.

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2 - Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ 80th birthday cake. Credit: L’Osservatore Romano.

This 80th birthday cake is so beautiful, I wouldn’t want to cut it. Basically a giant cake pop with professional fondant, ornate golden continents, and olive plant springs. For a pope who is so passionate about both ecology and world peace, this is not only a beautiful birthday dessert but a thoughtful one as well.


3 - Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict’s 81st White House birthday. Credit: Alamy.

This is another great cake, which matches the recipient’s personality.

It’s simple but elegant, with a single candle placed at just the right height for Benedict to reach without straining. Just the cake you would want to celebrate your birthday with some bishop friends, and Geroge W. Bush casually cheering you on in the background.

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4 - Cardinal Raymond Burke

Cardinal Raymond Burke’s 70th birthday. Credit: ICKSP

This may be the only time a galero has ever been featured on a birthday cake. Add in the cream puff mountain and ornate flowers, and this photogenic cake is ready to finish off a 70th birthday party with some flair.

5 - Cardinal Luis Tagle

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle’s 63rd birthday cake.

This is a cute cake, and it has a sparkler. Need I say more?

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6 - Cardinal Joseph Zen

Cardinal Joseph Zen’s 90th birthday cake. Credit: Sunday Examiner.

I was a little torn on how to rank this one. The fresh fruit on that cake looks delicious. But it’s a very small cake. Each of the people in the photo (and presumably the one behind the camera) is going to get a tiny piece. Then again, I guess you don’t live to be 90 years old by being gluttonous with your cake.

But what really sold me on this one was the numerous alcoholic beverages next to the cake.

Serving a little cake as an accompaniment to festive birthday drinks sounds like the makings of a great party to me.

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7 - Cardinal Joseph Tobin

Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s 70th birthday. Credit: Jersey Catholic.

This cake is exactly what I would expect in a cardinal’s birthday cake. It’s not overly fancy, but it has the cardinal’s coat of arms, and a number of candles - a feature that many of these cakes seem to lack. This is a totally average cardinal cake.

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8 - Cardinal Arthur Roche

Cardinal Arthur Roche. Vatican Media.

This cake is pretty much the same as the last one, minus the candles.

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9 - Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Dolan’s Italian birthday cake. Credit: Cardinal Dolan/Twitter.

This was another tough one to rank. Who doesn’t want to celebrate a 68th birthday in Italy, as Cardinal Dolan is doing here?

But at the same time…a pistachio cake? This is probably the worst cake Italy has to offer. Pretty much any other Italian dessert would be better.

That being said, you know this cake is finishing off an amazing meal with top-notch vino, so I can’t imagine the cardinal had room for more than a bite or two anyway.


10 - Cardinal Blase Cupich

Cardinal Blase Cupich’s 75th birthday cake. Credit: Archdiocese of Chicago/Twitter.

I don’t know where to begin with this cake. I have nothing against a simple sheet cake, especially if the cardinal has a preference for simplicity when it comes to sugary desserts. 

But the color scheme is unremarkable, at best. And apparently it would have been too much work to include the cardinal’s name?

It looks like someone forgot to place a cake order, and then rushed to make one in their home kitchen, using the only colors they had left in the food dye kit.

This is not a winning cardinal cake.

11 - Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ 79th birthday cake. Credit: Adnkronos

The only thing worse than Cardinal Cupich’s boring cake is a cake bearing the artwork of Fr. Marko Rupnik, a man accused of serial sexual abuse. 

In fairness, this cake predates accusations against Rupnik being made public. Were a similar cake to be created today, it would be a significant source of scandal.

But even then, it was bad taste.

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