Mundelein Seminary marks 100 years of forming priests

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Mundelein Seminary marks 100 years of forming priests

Mundelein Seminary celebrated its 100th anniversary with a Mass Oct. 17, 2021 in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, D.C., was the main celebrant. A Chicago native, Cardinal Gregory is a graduate of Mundelein Seminary. Cardinal Cupich concelebrated the Mass. The Mass kicks off a year of events to celebrate the seminary's anniversary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Guests including Little Sisters of the Poor sing during the entrance procession. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Chicago Auxiliary Bishops Raymond Goedert (left, retired) and Robert Casey, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Chicago, process into Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of choir sing during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A priest holds the worship aide for the Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father John Kartje, rector/president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary since 2015, gives opening remarks at the beginning the Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Gregory leads the congregation in prayer. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Gregory incenses the altar. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The Mass was held in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception on the campus of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
At the beginning of Mass, Cardinal Cupich reads a letter to the seminary from Pope Francis. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Bishops from the Archdiocese of Chicago listen to Cardinal Cupich reading the letter from Pope Francis. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Juan Carlos Villota, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, delivers the first reading. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich listens to the readings. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Casey Flack, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, delivers the second reading. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Gregory blesses Deacon Joe Wagner of the Archdiocese of Atlanta before he proclaims the Gospel. Wagner is a seminarian studying at Mundelein. Prior to becoming archbishop of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Gregory served as archbishop of Atlanta. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Wagner processes to the ambo with the book of the Gospels. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Wagner proclaims the Gospel. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Gregory delivers the homily. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Gregory delivers the homily. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Seminarians prepare the altar for the liturgy of the Eucharist. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
With the sun shining on him through the church windows, Cardinal Gregory incenses the altar. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Gregory, class of 1973 at Mundelein Seminary, celebrates the Eucharist. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Kartje distributes Communion. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cardinal Cupich prays during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Priests sing during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Guests pray during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Hundreds of alumni, benefactors and guests gathered on the crisp morning of Oct. 17 to celebrate the beginning of University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary’s centennial year.

The day included Mass celebrated by Washington, D.C., Cardinal Wilton Gregory, an alumnus of the seminary, and Cardinal Cupich; trolley tours of the grounds; and talks about the history of the university, founded on its current campus by Cardinal George Mundelein under the 1844 charter of the University of St. Mary of the Lake.

The seminary educates future priests for dioceses around the United States. This year, it has about 116 seminarians from 24 dioceses.

Cardinal Gregory graduated from Mundelein and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1973.

As a seminarian and young priest, he said, he talked with his elders who had known Cardinal Mundelein, who died in 1939 after 23 years leading the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“I don’t recall them using the word ‘intimidating’ to describe him,” Cardinal Gregory said in his homily. “But he was a man who exuded confidence.”

Cardinal Mundelein was sent to what was still very much a frontier diocese in early 1916, a diocese whose first three bishops lasted less than 15 years put together and whose Catholic population was dominated by immigrants from Ireland, Poland, Italy, Germany, Lithuania and “a dozen more European countries,” Cardinal Gregory said.

Those groups often brought their own priests with them, along with orders of women and men religious, he said.

Cardinal Mundelein “needed to prepare an American clergy,” Cardinal Gregory said. “Even one who spoke a variety of languages. Mundelein Seminary was his answer and his dream of creating a united presbyterate. Mundelein Seminary would remind seminarians and visitors that this was an American institution, and it was to create servant-leaders.”

The cardinal spoke in a full Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, a building modeled on the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Even Pope Francis acknowledged Cardinal Mundelein’s insistence on building in an American style.

In a congratulatory letter read by Cardinal Cupich, the pope referred to the university’s “unique architecture, so expressive of the American spirit.”

Preaching on the Gospel text from Mark, in which Jesus tells the apostles that whoever would be great must be a servant, Cardinal Gregory spoke of the nature of priesthood, what it is and what it is not.

“The priesthood initiates a new relationship with the Lord,” Cardinal Gregory said. “It leaves us human. We were gifted with no special sanctity because of our ordination.”

Rather, over the years of his priesthood, Cardinal Gregory said he has been impressed with the holiness of God’s people.

Priests, he said, by virtue of their ordination, are not just servants of the Lord, but friends, and as friends, they are called on to accompany Jesus and his church even in difficult times, no matter the crosses they are asked to bear.

“I am not a brave man,” Cardinal Gregory said. “I would much prefer to be a friend of someone in ascendancy than someone in decline.”

Father John Kartje, rector/president of the university, welcomed all the guests, speaking of the scaffolding that shrouded the chapel’s steeple and forced guests to enter through the side doors.

He was upset, he said, when he learned that the scaffolding would still be in place for the Oct. 17 celebration. But then he considered the meaning of scaffolding.

“It’s setting up a structure in which something new can grow,” Kartje said. “I hope you all realize how critical a part of the scaffolding here you are. A seminary like this only happens because of the work of many hands.”

That includes not only donors, students and academic faculty and staff, he said.

“If this grand old place looks pretty good,” he said, it’s because of the work of the groundskeepers, kitchen staff, housekeepers and others. “It’s primarily because of their efforts, day in and day out.”

After the Mass, Tom and Madelyn Tirpak enjoyed brunch on the lawn with their six children. The family, parishioners at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview, are longtime supporters of the seminary.

They come to the seminary often, Tom Tirpak said, to support the seminarians and to pray for vocations, including praying that if one of their children is called to the priesthood or religious life, they will be open to it.

Ronald Ziemba, co-chairman of the Illinois State Council of the Knights of Columbus Vocation Support Committee, came to the Mass from his home in the Diocese of Joliet to show continued support for the seminary.

His group matches seminarians to local Knights’ councils to help them with spending money and expenses.

“When they need something, they call me,” he said. “And we can usually find them a match.”

“We also give them Christmas presents, birthday presents, graduation presents,” said his wife, Diane Ziemba. “We remember their special days.”

In addition to the seminary and its associated graduate school of theology, the university now includes institutes for the education and formation of deacons and lay ecclesial ministers, the Liturgical Institute and the Instituto de Liderazgo Pastoral, as well as the Joseph and Mary Retreat House.


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