Mundelein Seminary Historical Timeline

One hundred years ago, the first group of seminarians entered a philosophy classroom on the campus of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake at what would one day be known as Mundelein Seminary, located in what would one day be known as Mundelein, Ill. The audacious dream of George Cardinal Mundelein to build a Catholic seminary that would serve the whole nation was just getting started. One hundred years and thousands of ordained priests later, Mundelein’s dream is alive and well. Browse the timeline below to learn more about the people and events that make Mundelein Seminary such a unique and holy place.

June 3, 1844

The University of Saint Mary of the Lake is founded by Bishop William J. Quarter, the first bishop of Chicago. It is the first institution of higher learning in Chicago.

One of its four schools, the Divinity School, which would become Mundelein Seminary, operated until 1867. The university closed and the building was destroyed in the Chicago Fire in October 1871.


A site for a major seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago is found in the little village of Area, Illinois, about 40 miles northwest of Chicago.

The village was named after a local business school that once stood on the seminary grounds. The name stood for Ability, Responsibility, Endurance and Action.

Summer, 1919

Cardinal Mundelein commissions Joseph W. McCarthy, a Catholic architect who apprenticed under Chicago planner Daniel H. Burnham, to develop plans for St. Mary of the Lake. McCarthy was Mundelein’s go-to architect, designing 28 new churches across the Archdiocese of Chicago between 1916 and 1945.

In this 1922 photo, McCarthy (left) walks the seminary grounds with Archbishop Edward Hanna and Rev. J. Gerald Kealy, Mundelein’s first rector.

April 27, 1920

As the Archdiocese of Chicago celebrates its diamond jubilee, Cardinal Mundelein announces plans to revive the University of Saint Mary of the Lake under the original 1844 charter. A donation of $500,000 from Edward Hines of the Hines Lumber Company would be used to start construction of the major diocesan seminary on property in the town of Area.

Today that sum would be equivalent to a gift of $6.8 million.

A letter of gratitude from Cardinal Mundelein to Edward Hines in recognition of his $500,000 gift to begin construction.

Spring and Summer 1920

The process of draining and cleaning the property, re-damming the lake and installing the infrastructure of roads, bridges and utilities for the seminary begins.

October 5, 1921

Saint Mary of the Lake starts its first year of operation with 50 philosophy students and five priests. Initially, an old school building is used. A large classroom and study hall are located on the first floor and sleeping quarters on the second floor.

This photo is from the first day of class.

Monsignor J. Gerald Kealy is appointed first rector of the seminary. Read More

January, 1922

Students move into the new Philosophy Dormitory


Theology students begin their studies and the civic boosters of Area rename their community as the village of Mundelein.

May 25, 1924

Days after Mundelein returned from his installation as a cardinal at the Vatican, a ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception takes place, marking the official dedication of the seminary. A crowd of 30,000 attend the ceremony.

The interior of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in April 1925.

June 7, 1925

The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, the centerpiece of the seminary campus, is consecrated at ceremonies on Trinity Sunday.

Modeled after the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme, Connecticut, which Cardinal Mundelein had visited as a boy, the main chapel fulfilled his architectural vision for the seminary as distinctly representing American Catholicism, which coincided with his dreams of the seminary one day forming priests for dioceses across the country.

The chandelier hanging in the chapel is one of two given by the Austrian government to hang in facilities in the United States. The other hangs in the White House in Washington, D.C.

June 24, 1926

The 28th International Eucharistic Congress holds its concluding ceremonies at Mundelein Seminary. The ceremonies attract an estimated 800,000 pilgrims to the seminary grounds. Read More

Throngs of people descended upon Mundelein Seminary via car and rail. In this photo, people are even up in the chapel’s belfry.

September 18, 1926

Eleven members of the first class of St. Mary of the Lake are ordained by Cardinal Mundelein.


The Dioceses of Springfield, Belleville, Rockford and Peoria, which together with the Archdiocese of Chicago form the ecclesiastical Province of Illinois, begin sending candidates for the priesthood to St. Mary of the Lake.


St. Mary of the Lake Seminary grows to become the largest diocesan seminary in the United States and becomes the first American institution to be honored as a Pontifical Theological Faculty, authorized to confer the degrees of Bachelor, Licentiate and Doctorate in Sacred Theology.

The Auditorium is completed, bringing the total number of buildings on campus to 14.


Reverend Monsignor Reynold H. Hillenbrand is appointed rector. A proponent of both the liturgical movement and specialized Catholic Action derived from the papal social encyclicals, Msgr. Hillenbrand shaped an entire generation of Chicago priests.

His charismatic leadership helped to make Chicago a laboratory for social action and Church reform, which in many ways anticipated the Second Vatican Council. Read More

October 2, 1939

Cardinal Mundelein dies of a heart attack in his home at the seminary at the age of 67. He is buried in a tomb located behind the main altar of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.

March 9, 1943

A Navy airplane made an emergency landing atop a parking lot on the seminary campus. The event was recorded in the Philosophy Chronicle, a scrapbook kept by seminarians for many years throughout the institution’s early years. The report noted that “the only casualties were one slightly damaged plane and one very frightened, but very fortunate young Navy cadet.”


Samuel Cardinal Stritch, the successor to Cardinal Mundelein, appoints Msgr. Malachy P. Foley as the third rector. Msgr. Foley was known for his personal piety and priestly example. During his long administration, the United States would enter World War II. The need for military chaplains drew many priests into the service, which required the seminary to accelerate its training to fill the positions which they left.

May 1955

Bishop Fulton Sheen visits campus and addresses the seminarian community. Sheen encouraged the seminarians to be good speakers, but to “be humble about it. God will be working through you.”

Outside lecturers frequently addressed the seminarians, including Dorothy Day in 1938, the first time a woman ever spoke at the seminary.


Under Albert Cardinal Meyer, the seminary system is reorganized with the opening of a second minor seminary called Quigley South and a two-year liberal arts college seminary called Niles College. The Mundelein campus program now offers upper-class college studies in philosophy followed by a four-year theology curriculum.


Msgr. John R. Gorman is named fourth rector of St. Mary of the Lake and leads the seminary through the turbulent transitions of Vatican II.

Read his #Mundelein100 reflection


Father Thomas J. Murphy becomes the fifth rector of the seminary. Under Father Murphy, a comprehensive formation program was conceived and implemented. It anticipated the approach of the future Program on Priestly Formation, which sees formation as having four dimensions: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral.

Father Murphy’s passion for parish ministry led to an emphasis on supervised field education as part of the seminary program. Read more


In cooperation with the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Center for Pastoral Ministry, the seminary began a program of study leading to the Doctor of Ministry degree.

Also, in September, the seminary celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first ordinations to the priesthood at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.


The Very Reverend James P. Keleher was appointed the sixth rector. Father Keleher began a national outreach, offering the programs of the seminary to dioceses around the country. The number of sending dioceses ultimately increased to the point that seminarians from other dioceses outnumbered Chicago seminarians by the mid-1980s.


In December, Cardinal Bernardin appointed the Very Reverend Gerald F. Kicanas as the seventh rector of St. Mary of the Lake. Father Kicanas developed the seminary’s outreach to other dioceses, both nationally and internationally, building the foundation for our service today of around 30 dioceses.


Cardinal Bernardin announces a new development in April 1986, which includes a new school: The Center for Development in Ministry (CDM). The CDM’s purpose would be the ongoing development of all those in ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The University of Saint Mary of the Lake now consisted of three schools: Mundelein Seminary, the Pontifical Faculty of Theology, and the Center for Development in Ministry.

The Albert Cardinal Meyer Lecture Series is established.


In February, the Very Reverend John Canary is named as the eighth rector of Mundelein Seminary and President of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.

Father Canary led the University through reaccreditation and its first comprehensive strategic planning process. One of the outcomes was the decision to undertake a major campaign for the renovation and restoration of the Feehan Memorial Library, the first building program since 1939.

Read his #Mundelein100 reflection


Under the direction of Cardinal George, in February 2000, the Archdiocese of Chicago dissolves the Department of Ministry Formation and transfers the Diaconate Formation Program, the Lay Ministry Program and the Instituto de Liderazgo Pastoral to the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.


Cardinal George establishes the Liturgical Institute at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, which was dedicated to training, research, and publication in the fields of sacramental theology and liturgy.


On the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Cardinal George dedicates the renovated Feehan Memorial Library and the newly constructed  William and Lois McEssy Theological Resource Center. This addition to the library increased storage capacity and study space, and also brought state-of-the-art technology to the study of theology.


Cardinal George appoints the Rev. Dennis J. Lyle as the ninth rector/president of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. Father Lyle devoted his rectorship to further developing the seminary board as an effective advisory body for the Archbishop and rector. He also attended to the care of the physical plant, increased staff development, and spent much of his time giving individual attention to seminarians.


Cardinal George appoints the Very Rev. Robert Barron as the tenth rector/ president. Under Father Barron’s direction, the formation programs were given a new integrating logic and the academic program underwent a curriculum revision. Father Barron also led a restoration of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and a renovation of the Theology House Chapel, rededicating it to Pope Saint John Paul II and the new evangelization. Nineteen new stained-glass windows were commissioned commemorating the great figures of history whose lives and ministries exemplify evangelism.

Additionally, he focused on establishing endowed chairs in dogmatic theology, biblical theology and preaching. 

The beautiful Pope Saint John Paul II Chapel in the seminarian residence building.


Archbishop Cupich names the Rev. John Kartje as the eleventh rector/president of Mundelein Seminary. He has overseen the building of an addition to the campus refectory which became Mundelein Hall and now houses a campus welcome center, bookstore, alumni room and multi-purpose gathering space.

His leadership is guided by the Vatican document The Gift of Priestly Formation, which “sets out an integrated vision of future clerics, taking full account of all four dimensions that involve the person of the seminarian: human, intellectual, spiritual, pastoral.”


Responding to the call of Pope Francis, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) convenes for seven days of prayer and unity at Mundelein Seminary from January 2-8. The preacher to the Papal Household, Reverend Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., serves as the retreat director. The bishops gathered in prayer seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to respond to crises facing the Church in the United States.


Through the generosity of the seminary Board of Advisors, investors and other partners, a cross-shaped solar array is installed on the northern end of the university campus to provide 20 percent of the institution’s power and save around $1 million over the life of the system.

It is the first solar array on a Catholic seminary campus in the United States and is visible from 20,000 feet above. Read More

“The selection, the training, the formation of the future leaders of the million and more citizens who form the rank and file of the membership of the Catholic church…that is the contribution I would leave behind me as archbishop of this great diocese of Chicago.

That is the work that will last and keep known to men my name long after the scarlet robes I wear have molded in the tomb, and the red hat of the Cardinal swung high in the vaulted heights of my Cathedral.”

George Cardinal Mundelein

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