Msgr. Meyer, archdiocese’s oldest priest, dies at 100

By Chicago Catholic
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Msgr. Charles Meyer vitae card with a photo taken of him around the time his ordination in 1945. (Courtesy of Archives and Records)

Msgr. Charles R. Meyer, who had been the oldest living archdiocesan priest, died Oct. 15. He was 100 years old and had been a priest for 75 years.

Msgr. Meyer was born in Chicago and attended St. Andrew School.

According to information provided by Father Thomas Baima, provost of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, the young Charles Meyer met Cardinal George Mundelein while serving Mass at St. Andrew. Cardinal Mundelein said to him, “You should be a priest. You should go to Quigley.” 

Msgr. Meyer did just that, then attended Mundelein and was ordained in 1945.

He continued his studies at USML and earned a doctorate in theology before doing post-doctoral studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University and in the Vatican Library in Rome. 

He also studied library science at Rosary College (now Dominican University). During that period, he was resident priest at St. Luke Parish in River Forest. His next assignment was as associate pastor at Holy Name Cathedral. He also served briefly at St. Gertrude Parish on Glenwood Avenue.  

He joined the faculty of Mundelein Seminary in 1949, serving first as assistant librarian, then as dean of discipline, in the philosophy department and in the theology department. As a professor, he taught church history, liturgical rubric and dogmatic theology. Beginning in 1966, he served as archdiocesan archivist, as the archives were located at the University of St. Mary of the Lake for a time. 

From 1976 until 1981, he served as academic dean of Mundelein Seminary. He then returned to classroom teaching as a full professor of dogmatic theology before retiring in 1991.

As professor emeritus of dogmatic theology, Msgr. Meyer continued to teach seminars and electives part-time. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI named him prelate of honor of His Holiness for his long service to the seminary. Msgr. Meyer continued to teach until 2014, when his health required that he enter nursing care.

While serving at Mundelein, Msgr. Meyer assisted at St. Edna Parish, Arlington Heights, on weekends, and he was active with the Women’s Theology Group at Mary, Seat of Wisdom Parish in Park Ridge and, given his life-long interest in science, with a group of physicians and other medical professionals in a study group on religion and science.

An active scholar as well as a teacher, Msgr. Meyer wrote many scholarly articles and authored six books: “The Thomistic Concept of Justifying Contrition” (1949), “Contemporary Theology of Grace” (1971), “Touch of God: A Theological Analysis of Religious Experience” (1972), “Man of God: A Study of the Priesthood” (1974) and “What a Modern Catholic Believes about the Holy Spirit” (1974).

His last book, “Religious Belief in a Scientific Age” (1983), sought to offer a “reasoned engagement” with science and theology, Baima said.

“This would be one of the earliest books on the religion/science question,” Baima said. “When I had him as a teacher, he always lamented that the scientists writing about religion came from biology or paleontology. He argued that the proper starting point for scientific engagement with theology was physics.”

Little did he know, Baima continued, that one day one of his students, an astrophysicist named John Kartje, would become a priest and biblical scholar with doctorates in both disciplines.

Kartje is now president/rector of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary.

On the occasion of Msgr. Meyer’s 60th anniversary of ordination, a special issue of Chicago Studies magazine was filled with articles on topics Msgr. Meyer had studied or written about. Msgr. John Canary, then president/rector of USML/Mundelein seminary, said, “He has been a great influence on the lives of thousands of priests. The seminary has been richly blessed by his presence. He has been a great model, an effective preacher, an exceptional teacher, an enlightened theologian, a wise spiritual guide, and a genuine pastor of souls. May God grant him the joy of knowing the fruits of his labor.”

Msgr. Meyer was also featured in a 2015 issue of Bridge magazine, published by Mundelein seminarians. In that article, he shared some advice for new priests.

“A priest should always be a student of theology, there is always something to learn even when you have exhausted St. Thomas Aquinas like me!” Msgr. Meyer said.

He also said that seminarians and priests should always study Greek and Latin to better understand Scripture.

“The translations are not always that good, so to be able to study them in those languages is important,” Msgr. Meyer said.

But it’s also important to build bonds of friendship among priests.

“Having a good fellowship among the clergy is important, groups of priests that you can trust and talk to, even something as simple as meeting to go out to dinner once a week,” he said in the Bridge article. “It’s important.”


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  • mundelein seminary

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