New book offers photo history of Mundelein Seminary

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Sunday, October 19, 2014

When Gail Kahover of St. Joseph Parish in Libertyville enrolled in the archdiocese’s lay ministry formation program at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary she found herself spending lots of time on the historic grounds.

So much so that the former journalist and amateur photographer wondered if anyone had done a history book of the seminary. No one had so she pitched the idea for a photo history of Mundelein Seminary and it was accepted. “Mundelein Seminary” was recently released by Arcadia Press ($21.99) with all proceeds from the book going to a fund for seminarians.

Kahover calls the book a “culmination” of her faith walk at Mundelein.

“It’s a really easy, fun way to learn about an integral part of the Archdiocese of Chicago,” she said.

In 1921, then-Archbishop George Mundelein opened St. Mary of the Lake Seminary at its present location under the original 1844 charter of St. Mary’s College. In September 1929, Cardinal Mundelein obtained from the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities in Rome a fiveyear grant for the theological faculty to confer the baccalaureate, the licentiate and doctorate in theology. In September 1934, this temporary grant was made permanent, and the seminary became the first American institution to be honored as a Pontifical Theological Faculty.

Cardinal Mundelein deliberately had the buildings designed in a Colonial style to combat the anti- Catholicism at the time, which said you couldn’t be Catholic and American. The interiors are decidely Roman in style.

Today, men from 33 dioceses around the world are studying at Mundelein, which is the largest seminary in the country.

Seminarian scrapbooks

Many of the book’s images and much of the research came from Feehan Memorial Library at Mundelein. Kahover also went through “boxes and boxes” of photos from the archdiocese’s Bernardin Archive Center.

She hit pay dirt in scrapbooks the seminarians kept from the 1920s through the 1960s.

“That is where the real treasure was because it was all written by the seminarians about their lives as seminarians,” she said, adding that the passion the seminarians had for their vocations came through in the scrapbooks.

Some interesting stories from the seminary surfaced during Kahover’s research.

For example, in the 1940s cadets from the nearby Glenview Naval Air Station often flew over the seminary during maneuvers. In 1943, the cadets came up close to the seminarians.

“One day one had to make an emergency landing on the ball field. But because these seminarians kept such good records in these scrapbooks, they went out and took pictures,” Kahover said. Photos of the plane are included in the book.

There are photos of the young men having fun with each other and wearing black cassocks and birettas. There are also photos of them at a camp in northern Wisconsin where they all went during the summers.

“There are a bunch of photos showing the guys just having fun,” Kahover said.

Included in the book are photos from the 1926 International Eucharistic Congress held on the grounds.

Mundelein’s vision

Kahover said she learned much about Cardinal Mundelein while researching the book.

“Back in the 20s he had an international reputation. He was very good friends with FDR,” she said. “He really had some political clout.”

When he came to Chicago as archbishop he told everyone he was going to build a major and minor seminary. Right away he started building Quigley Seminary, which is now one of the archdiocese’s two pastoral centers. By 1920 he had work started on the seminary.

“He really had this vision,” she said. “I think he really wanted to make the Chicago archdiocesan priests American priests — 100 percent American priests. They came from the neighborhoods. They went to Quigley, they came to the seminary and they went back to the parishes.”

In their scrapbooks, the seminarians wrote “lovingly” of Cardinal Mundelein, she said.

“Even though he wasn’t from Chicago he sure made himself a Chicagoan by the end,” she said.

Kahover said seminary life is different today with the seminarians coming in at later ages and with more technology and experience but the “joy of vocation,” remains, and “the faculty are still living the vision that Cardinal Mundelein had.”

To order Mundelein Seminary, visit


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