Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Mundelein Seminary: A century of service

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

On April 21, Mundelein Seminary alumni, benefactors and friends gathered to celebrate its centennial. It was a moment to recall the rich history of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, the official name of the seminary, the largest in the United States.

That history began with the vision of Cardinal George Mundelein, whose legacy was recalled in a particular way at the celebration. In fact, as we posthumously honored the late cardinal, we had the honor of presenting the As Those Who Serve Award in his memory to his great niece, Mary Kelling, and his great-great- niece, Mary Sheahan.

Not only was he the founder of the magnificent campus of the university in Mundelein, but he also built the Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary, a national landmark in downtown Chicago that now serves as one of two pastoral centers for the archdiocese.  

A native of Manhattan, George Mundelein first served as auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn. At age 43, he became the youngest archbishop in the country when he was named the third archbishop of Chicago in 1915.

Elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1924, he became the “first cardinal of the West.” More than a million people lined Chicago’s streets to greet him upon his return from Rome. To honor the archdiocese’s first cardinal, local Catholics contributed $1 million to help with the costs of completing the new seminary, which in today’s dollars would amount to nearly $17 million.

His vision for the future inspired the faithful and their pastors to invest in the seminary because they saw it as an investment in the future of the local church. They understood that priests formed at the seminary would serve their communities.

Two years later, Cardinal Mundelein presided over the International Eucharistic Congress with hundreds of thousands of people from around the world descending upon the seminary grounds for the closing Mass.

His bold dream of a seminary with a uniquely American style of priestly formation helped raise the seminary’s national stature. To complement that approach, he graced the campus with colonial architecture. It was his way of saying that the American experience of Catholicism has something to contribute to the universal church. He firmly believed that it was possible to be a good Catholic and a good American at the same time. 

We are indebted to his forward-thinking approach on behalf of the seminary and the archdiocese. Closest to his heart was forming priests to serve the Catholic faithful as pastors, which he counted as his most important legacy as archbishop.

Thanks to his commitment, thousands of priests have been prepared, to serve not only in the Archdiocese of Chicago, but also in many dioceses in the United States and around the world.

Mundelein priests have brought great creativity to the church and blessed countless communities. They have raised awareness of social justice issues and fostered new initiatives such as the Christian Family Movement, Cana Conference and helped to develop the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Theology on Tap.

Under the able leadership of Father John Kartje, rector, the seminary continues to provide an excellent education and formation for those who will lead our church wherever they serve.

Like Cardinal Mundelein, who valued the diverse ethnic groups of our local church, the priests of tomorrow are preparing for ministry in multi-cultural parishes. The seminary’s focus on pastoral leadership development and its ability to promote partnership with parishioners bodes well for our renewal efforts encouraging people to nurture a personal relationship with Christ and build vibrant parish communities.

Mundelein Seminary’s mission is more vital than ever, and the next generation of priests is counting on our support as they continue their discernment, education and formation. The need for your support is greater now than when the seminary opened a century ago. I am deeply grateful to all who support the seminary.

Preparing priests for the 21st century church may be daunting, but we are confident Mundelein Seminary is well suited to form well-rounded parish priests who will serve with integrity, lead with insight and share Christ’s love with compassion. No doubt, Cardinal Mundelein would be very pleased.


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