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Mundelein left a legacy in the town that bears his name
By Vincent Pierri | Daily Herald Staff

Mundelein's crypt is behind the main altar.


Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

Cardinal George William Mundelein is credited for the reviving and building of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake Mundelein Seminary. He died in 1939.


Photo Courtesy of University of St. Mary of the Lake

Cardinal George William Mundelein is buried in the main chapel at the University of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary.


Vincent Pierri | Staff Photographer

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Published: 8/19/2009 12:01 AM

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In its early years, the town had a bit of an identity crisis.

It was first called Mechanics Grove, then Holcomb, Rockefeller and Area before finally settling on Mundelein.

As the village enjoys its centennial year, some of the 34,000 people in town may not know much about the man behind the name.

According to an entry in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, it's not surprising George William Mundelein had a town named in his honor. He accomplished much in his 67 years.

Born in 1872, he was the son of Francis and Mary Mundelein. They sent him to St. Nicholas School in Manhattan. He graduated from Manhattan College in 1889. After spending three years at St. Vincent's Seminary in Pennsylvania, he moved to Rome and completed his studies at the Propaganda College. He was ordained in 1895 and said his first Mass at St. Peter's tomb under St. Peter's Basilica.

Returning to the states two years later, Mundelein was elevated to archbishop of Chicago in 1915. At 43 years old, he was the youngest archbishop in the United States.

While archbishop, Mundelein was drawing up plans for a major seminary, which the archdiocese needed since the former University of St. Mary of the Lake had closed several years earlier.

Land was purchased near Area in 1920 and the project moved forward.

Fourteen buildings were built on the site over the next 14 years. Avoiding European styles, Mundelein intentionally chose a distinctly American architecture. The move was designed to make a statement that the Catholic Church in America was maturing and here to stay. The school opened in 1921.

The town changed its name to honor Mundelein in 1924. He was elevated to Cardinal that year.

If becoming an archbishop, founding a seminary and having a town named for him wasn't enough, Mundelein is remembered for starting Catholic Charities. The social service agency survived and thrives to this day.

A short time later, he began planning what would be one of the largest religious gatherings in the history of America.

In a kind of world's fair for Catholics, more than 1 million people, including 12 cardinals, 64 archbishops, 309 bishops, 500 monsignors, and 8,000 priests, came to Chicago for the 28th International Eucharistic Conference in 1926. Major events were held at Soldier Field and Mundelein Seminary.

Mundelein's organizational feat was recognized by Time magazine. He was featured on their cover that year.

His influence extended to the White House, as he fostered a friendship with Franklin D. Roosevelt. The two lunched together when Roosevelt was in Chicago in 1937.

Mundelein suffered a heart attack and died in 1939.

His final resting place is appropriately in the town that bears his name. He is buried behind the altar of the main chapel at The University of St. Mary of the Lake.