What memories would you like to share about Mundelein Seminary?
Although I had lived at Mundelein for over two years as a theology student in 1979-1981, I don’t think I really appreciated the significance of the place until I gave my visiting parents and their four lifelong childhood friends a “behind the scenes tour” at the beginning of my third year. The six of them grew up in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, breathing the very Catholic air of a southside community with Catholic churches on every other corner. While they were all born into very modest households, they had emerged into the culture’s middle class, thanks in large part to the Catholic education they had received. These were serious Catholics, some getting their first look at the seminary.
They were awestruck. The grounds, the bridges, the sprawling campus, the Main Chapel, the Pier. I think for these second and third generation Catholics, Mundelein symbolized the great victory the Catholic Church had won in a culture that had been hostile to their immigrant parents. Like the Church in America, these six friends had “made it,” and they were very proud to be Catholic. And seeing Mundelein through their eyes, I was proud, too.
In 1980 the seminary looked much different than it does today. The Philosophy side was shuttered. The Bridges were in some disrepair. The Auditorium was, by and large, out of use. The capital improvements begun by Rev. John Canary, and continued under Father Denny Lyle, Bishop Robert Barron and now Father John Kartje have restored the campus to an unprecedented beauty. It is a jewel. I return to the “Big House” every year with around 10 fellow former Quigley, Niles and Mundelein alums to go on retreat.
We wonder at the beauty of the place and marvel at the more disciplined culture of the seminary life. While the buildings were in poorer condition 40 years ago, the seminary was very much alive. The teaching and spiritual guidance of John Canary, Ray Webb, Jack Shea, Lou Camelli, Mike Place, Bill Carroll, Gus Belauskas, and Jack Wall set many hearts on fire with a passion for the Gospels. Some of these burning hearts were ordained, some were ordained and subsequently left the priesthood, some left before ordination. But nearly all of them have been faithful to the lessons they learned in the seminary.
Like my parents 40 years ago, I am proud of the seminary. Both as it was then and as it is now. I pray for the priests, living and dead, who formed me. I pray for my contemporaries, living and dead, who have spent the last 40 years sharing the lessons learned at Mundelein. And I pray for the students being formed as priests now. We are one Mundelein.