Mundelein’s Seminary: Worth the Time
If you live in the Chicago area, as I do, or have an occasion to visit, I recommend a trip to Mundelein’s St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. Established in 1844, the Seminary was re-charted in 1929 by Archbishop George Mundelein. The beautiful setting, historically significant buildings, and long tradition of religious education of this Institution, would refresh the soul of any Roman Catholic.
I visited St. Mary last Fall during a scout fishing trip, organized through the Chicago Archdiocese Catholic Committee on Scouting (CCS). It was a truly beautiful day, all pleasant sunshine, and still a bit warm for mid-September. We drove a little over an hour north of our homes in the south suburbs, and soon entered the 600 acre campus with its forest preserve atmosphere. After an introduction and short program of prayer featuring some of the seminarians, the scouts were free to find a spot and try their luck at fishing the waters of St. Mary’s Lake.
I should point out that fishing the Lake is not always permitted at St. Mary. The scouts obtained special permission through the Archdiocese CCS, and anyone planning a visit should check out their web site or call to check hours and visitor policies.*
Along with a few of our scout leaders, I brought the recent graduates of my summer-long Ad Altare Dei (to the Alter of God) program. Ad Altare Dei is a Catholic boy scout religious awards program, involving a load of work and study for the four young men who completed their awards last summer. They each received medals at a special Mass at Holy Name Cathedral early this year, but last September they were at St. Mary to tour the campus and learn about being a seminarian. I learned a great deal as well.
The seminarian who volunteered to show us around was in his first year at Mundelein. He had completed his undergraduate work at St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University (formerly Niles College Seminary), prior to being accepted at St. Mary.
I was amazed to learn from him the amount of education required of a Catholic priest. Undergraduate studies can take 4-6 years, and a candidate can spend the same amount of time at St. Mary as a graduate seminarian, discerning his vocation and earning the knowledge expected of a diocesan priest. More time, certainly, than it took for me to earn my degree in law. I better understand why support of our seminarians is so important a part of our Faith.
Before making this journey, I took some time to ask a few of my colleagues and my parish priest what to expect. By sheer coincidence, two attorneys I know quite well had spent time at Niles and had visited St. Mary. They regaled me with stories of questionable authenticity. One story was about a haunted dorm room that was home to an exorcist at one time, now long since sealed up. Another legend, this one quite probably true, involved a pair of seminarians who died boating on the Lake several years ago, the robes they wore becoming quickly waterlogged when they fell in. Whether accurate or not, I was intrigued by this font of Catholic wisdom before I first stepped out of my car onto the campus.
That Saturday, we toured the library and some of the dorm buildings with our young seminarian. He proved quite knowledgeable, as one would expect, about the day to day life at St. Mary. The students rely almost solely on support from their home parishes and the Knights of Columbus, and earn little income even as newly ordained priests. As our guide put it, seminarians do not measure success in terms of money, but in the Grace that comes with serving others.
He had heard his call when contemplating the Miracle of Transubstantiation: that part of Mass when the host becomes the Body of Christ. I’ve often told my scouts to pay special attention during this sacred moment, and humbly pray to the Holy Spirit for His gift of Faith as they receive the Sacrifice Most Holy.
During the remainder of the ground tour, our seminarian also related a tradition that involved placing either a Bears or Packers cap on the statue of a cardinal (I forget which one), depending on which team won over the weekend (or which fans gained the upper hand after dark). I also remember the outdoor Stations of the Cross, and the little grotto being renovated nearby.
The Lake itself was a wonder. Built along its shores across from The Chapel of Mary are great stone piers and a boathouse. The three adjoined piers jut out into the Lake in somber elegance, and atop the center pier is a tall gazebo of staid columns.
This center pier, called The Belvedere (see below), offers a magnificent view of the surrounding Lake and forest area, and is well worth the short climb to the top. Of all the memories I have of the outdoor campus, The Belvedere remains the most remarkable in my mind. Its majestic prominence reminds me of the prow of a great ocean liner from a bygone era, bravely sailing from shore into the storms and troubles of the world. Like the seminarians this school trains, nurses, and then casts upon the waters, with the hope they will prove as steadfast.
Also of special note is the Chapel of Mary. Completed in 1925, it was made to honor the Virgin Mother under her title of the Immaculate Conception. This Chapel dedicated to Mary is a true rarity in our western world, and Her numerous titles (in Latin) adorn the upper walls inside. Our seminarian lead us in a prayer service in this hallowed place. We humbly asked Our Lord, through the intercession of Mary, to support our scouts throughout their lives, and for each to be open to whatever God has in mind for them. It was a moment of special grace to hear again the words of Jesus, encouraging all to follow Him.
After our short prayer service, we left the Chapel and enjoyed a picnic lunch near the soccer field. The rest of that afternoon passed in quiet pursuit of the small fish in the Lake. Quite a few of our scouts got lucky, and one boy caught over 20, releasing each one back into the tranquil waters.
I didn’t land any fish that day. Yet, I trust that some of the young fishermen I came with will one day, like the Apostles before them, hear the call of Jesus and become “fishers of men.”
– Pete Murphy April 2014
* The home page of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary is: www.usml.edu/
Telephone (847) 566-6401