Monsignor John Canary ’69 | Rector, 1995-2006

“This place is really holy ground.”

This is a comment I heard many times when people would visit Mundelein Seminary. There is something prayerful and spiritual about Mundelein Seminary that people can actually sense.

I have been blessed to arrive on these holy grounds three different times.

I first set foot on the grounds of Mundelein in 1963 as a seminarian. I had never been to Mundelein in spite of the fact I had been a seminarian for six years. I knew immediately I was in a special place.

We were quickly immersed in some unusual older customs. We all wore cassocks from day one. We had Military Cadet style capes for colder weather. All of our classes were taught in Latin. And there was a daily schedule that was rigidly followed for prayer, classes, recreation, study, rising and retiring. And there was something called ‘The Great Silence’ which began after dinner and lasted through breakfast in the morning. We were to be completely silent during this period. No visiting. No conversations. Just to be silent.

We were preparing to be ‘Soldiers for Christ’ and the training model was a military model.

Truly this model required real discipline and it aimed to help us form habits that were intended to support our future ministry.

After two years under this model, a major shift occurred in our training at Mundelein as a new rector was appointed. Msgr John Gorman (now Bishop Gorman), a trained psychologist, brought to the seminary a new model of training, one of growth in personal responsibility and accountability for the elements of our personal, intellectual and spiritual formation. We were given much more freedom to learn how to manage the many demands of formation and to be accountable for our growth and preparation to be good priests. It was a different model of developing foundational habits.

Msgr. Gorman also introduced many opportunities for pastoral engagement with the parishes that we all hoped to serve in the future as priests. The people also began to form us.

It was a major shift from a military model to a growth model that was needed and welcomed at the time.

The truth is that I am grateful that I was trained in both models of formation at Mundelein. Each model gave me something that has helped me to be the priest I am.

The second time I set foot on these holy grounds was when I joined the faculty in 1975. The rector at that time was Fr. Tom Murphy. He was looking for a way to develop a program of personal and spiritual and pastoral formation that would be integral with the academic formation that was so necessary for our future priests.

Fr. Lou Cameli, who was trained in spiritual theology, and I joined the faculty at the same time. Soon we were joined by Fr. Clete Kiley. Across the next several years, we worked as a team, together with the full faculty, to develop a comprehensive overview and program of formation that aimed to integrate the personal, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral components of the preparation for priesthood that we believed was needed at that time. These days were a labor of love. And eventually the program at Mundelein started to receive some national recognition. The Catholic Bishops Conference published an outline of the program of formation at Mundelein Seminary.

The third time I set foot on the holy ground of Mundelein was in 1995. Cardinal Bernardin asked me to return to Mundelein to be rector. I was excited to come back to Mundelein.

Fr. Richard Schroeder who had been ‘procurator’ at the seminary for many years, called me when I returned as rector. He said he wanted to let me know that there was a lot of work that I would need to do to address many postponed capital projects. I wasn’t sure exactly what he was speaking about (and I thought the rector’s job was more pastoral!) but I would soon find out about all the physical needs that were calling for attention. They were many and very costly.

Fortunately for me, the seminary was in the process of establishing a lay Board of Advisors. These were very competent people who had much experience in the business and financial world and these people would become great advocates for the seminary and help with the raising of funds to address all these physical needs.

Over the next 10 years, these dedicated men and women would raise $1 million to restore the main chapel, the heart of the prayer life on campus. They helped to raise $3.5 million to rebuild four of the bridges on campus that add such character to the grounds. They helped to raise almost $2 million to replace all the windows on campus. They raised all the money that was necessary to put new roofs on each of the 12 principal buildings on campus. And finally they helped to raise almost $11 million to build the McEssy Theological Resource Center. Truly this building is a treasure that enhanced the seminary campus and preserved its architectural integrity. Most importantly, it added an invaluable resource for the seminarians in their preparation for priesthood.

Indeed Fr. Schroeder was right. There were a lot of postponed capital projects. Thank God for the dedicated men and women on the Board of Advisors.

One important initiative during my time as rector was the beginning of a scripture study program in the Holy Land for the third theologians. God bless Fr. John Lodge who was the academic dean at the time. I simply ‘dumped’ all the responsibility on him to make it happen, and he did it with great ability and success. This experience added so much to the seminarians’ program of preparation.

But the real blessing of my last time on campus was the seminary faculty and the seminarians. My classmates like to kid me by saying, “You have never been a Pastor!” (which is true) But I always tried to approach my work as rector as if I were a pastor to the faculty and students. I loved working with them as we sought together to provide the best preparation possible for men who were preparing for priesthood. It was a grace to be a colleague with such talented and faith filled people.

Mundelein Seminary really is a holy place. It has been a joy and a blessing to walk these holy grounds.

Msgr. John Canary

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