Although my family traveled around the Chicago area quite a bit when I was a youngster, I don’t recall ever visiting Mundelein with them. Being from the West Ridge neighborhood of the far Northside of Chicago, we often went even further north to see the sights and try out the restaurants that were plentiful. My mom, being a teacher in the public school system, had said that if we could go somewhere as a family after Mass on Sunday, and have a nice early lunch or dinner, she was all for it. Cooking on Sunday was not her favorite sport. Yet with all our traveling around, I don’t ever recall making it to Mundelein Seminary.
I was thinking about priesthood as a possible vocation for myself from somewhere around the sixth grade. The Sisters of St. Joseph, who taught in our parish school, encouraged me to go to Quigley, and my family was supportive of that, and so I went. I had taken piano lessons from one of the sisters, and eventually switched to the organ, and so when I went to Quigley, Msgr. Meter, the music director, latched on to me to be part of the choir. I guess I could sing okay, too.
One of the great traditions at Mundelein was a day each year when Mass would be celebrated in one of the Eastern Rites of the Church. The whole seminary community would be in attendance. The liturgical music that needed to be sung was in a Slavic language, and was always music written for SATB choirs. (For the un-initiated, that is Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass voices in a four-part choir. ) Since Mundelein had only tenors and basses, the Quigley kids who were still singing boy soprano and alto parts at the Cathedral every Sunday–myself included–took the bus ride to Mundelein, to complete the choir.
That was my first visit to the University of Saint Mary of the Lake. The beauty of the place was amazing to me, and I was struck by the commitment to priesthood, and the joy of the seminarians I met that day. I knew some of them from my own parish, St. Margaret Mary, and it was great to see where they were now, since they had previously attended Quigley as I was presently doing. The whole community welcomed us, and we shared lunch with them, and then were able to use the gym and the ball fields, and even explore the grounds until we had to leave again later in the afternoon.
I remember one other thing from that day so well. Msgr. Meter said that around 1 p.m. he would be over in the Auditorium playing the Wurlitzer Theater Organ installed there since it was built in 1934. Being a fledgling organist, I certainly wanted to hear that played, because it is such a unique instrument in the world of pipe organs. What a thrill that was for me. He played a number of show tunes, and even part of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. As I found out later, he had played that organ many times for Cardinal Mundelein, when he was simply Charlie Meter, a theology student at Mundelein. Cardinal Mundelein, who lived at the seminary, would sometimes return late from the city, but not be quite ready to retire for the night. He would ask someone to “go get Mr. Meter out of bed because I would like to hear the organ.” Msgr. Meter told us years later that the Cardinal loved to hear marches played, and so he learned every march he could–just to be ready to play for the Cardinal. After Meter was ordained, Cardinal Mundelein sent him to further music studies in Rome, and eventually made him director of music for the Archdiocese of Chicago and Holy Name Cathedral.
Of course, I have spent many days since then on the campus at Mundelein. It remains for me a place of wonder, of beauty, of prayer, of serenity, and of learning, where I was able to move toward priesthood, something that has profoundly been my life for over 50 years.