University of St. Mary of the Lake

Mundelein Seminary

The University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary is the major seminary and school of theology for the Archdiocese of Chicago.  Many of the students will serve as priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago; however, many are studying for 46 other dioceses in the United States and abroad.

 The University of St. Mary of the Lake had its beginnings as Saint Mary’s College.   In 1844, the first bishop of Chicago, the Right Reverend William J. Quarter, D.D. received from the State of Illinois a charter giving the university the power “to confer . . . such academical or honorary degrees as are usually conferred by similar institutions.”  Chicago welcomed Saint Mary’s as the first institution of higher education in the city.  The University of St. Mary of the Lake flourished until 1866, when financial difficulties forced it to close.

In 1921, Archbishop George Mundelein opened a new seminary forty-five miles northwest of the original campus.  Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary would operate under the same charter originally granted to the University of St. Mary of the Lake, making it the longest continuous academic charter in the State of Illinois.  In 1926, the new seminary was host to the world, as one of the sites of the International Eucharistic Congress.  The campus made transportation history with that event for it required the largest movement of people by rail in the history of the country. 

In September of 1929, the seminary received a second charter, this time from the Holy See.  Cardinal Mundelein obtained from the Sacred Congregation for Seminaries and Universities the authority to grant the international academic degrees of the Holy See.  In 1934 the Ecclesiastical Faculty of Theology at Mundelein was honored with a permanent grant of this authority.  The seminary became the first American institution to be honored as a pontifical theological faculty under the Apostolic Constitution Deus Scientarium Dominus.

Under the leadership of Albert Cardinal Meyer, in 1961 the seminary opened a second campus in Niles, Illinois.  The Niles campus became the site for the two-year liberal arts program.  The Mundelein campus included the upper class college studies in philosophy followed by a four year theology curriculum.  Under Cardinal Meyer’s successor, John Cardinal Cody, the undergraduate program was affiliated with Loyola University of Chicago and became Niles College of Loyola University.  Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary was now strictly a graduate school of theology.  The program which resulted from that revision continued to be implemented for more than a decade, its academic, formation/spiritual and pastoral aspects guided by the Program of Priestly Formation of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the directives of the Sacred Congregation of Education.

In 1971, Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary became affiliated with the Association of Theological Schools of the United States and Canada, which is the accrediting body for theological seminaries and divinity schools. 

1976 saw two milestones in the seminary history.  In cooperation with the Center for Pastoral Ministry, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s continuing education school, the seminary began a program of studies leading to the new doctor of ministry degree.  Also in 1976, the seminary celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first ordinations held in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.

In Fall of 1982, under the direction of Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, the seminary faculty initiated a thorough revision of the program which had been in place for ten years.  The changes had as their goal the better implementation of the objectives set forth in the third edition of the Program of Priestly Formation. 

Cardinal Bernardin announced a new and exciting development in April of 1986.  The University of St. Mary of the Lake would be revived with the addition of the continuing education school, renamed the Center for Development in Ministry, to the campus.  The new center would continue the work of continuing education for priests which was the mission of the Center for Pastoral Ministry, but would now expand to offer continuing education to all those in ministry, clergy, religious and laity.  Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary again adopted the name on its original 1844 charter, the University of St. Mary of the Lake, and honored its second founder by renaming the graduate school as Mundelein Seminary

During the spring of 1996, Mundelein Seminary was visited by members of the Bishops’ Committee on Seminaries.  After an extensive series of meetings with faculty and students, the members of the committee gave a strong recommendation to the seminary program.

Francis Cardinal George continued this development of the university in February 2000 by transferring the Archdiocese of Chicago’s programs of ministry formation to the seminary.  Three former agencies of the Pastoral Center were transferred here to become programs of Mundelein Seminary.  Joining USML that year were the Lay Ministry Formation Program, the Diaconate Formation Program and the Instituto de Liderazgo Pastoral.  While remaining separate and distinct from the priestly formation program, all are to cooperate under the seminary aegis in advancing the efforts of ministry preparation and formation for all those involved in pastoral ministry.  Plans were also begun to separate the continuing education programs of the Center for Development in Ministry from the university and to relocate them as an agency of the Pastoral Center.  These same plans included the continued operation of a Conference Center at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.  This would make Mundelein Seminary the center for all basic formation for ministry, while leaving continuing formation to other agencies.  To reflect this evolution, the Board of Advisors decided to adopt a compound name, the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary.  This follows the style of most of the pontifical universities which have a formal name and a common name which become interchangeable.

Also in 2000, Cardinal George established the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary.  This is the first step in a new vision of the cardinal to expand the university to include specialized institutes to support the major ministries of the archdiocese.  The Liturgical Institute has its own faculty and is dedicated to training, research and publication in the fields of sacramental theology and liturgy.  The Institute offers a professional master of arts in liturgy, an academic master of arts (liturgical studies), and a licentiate in sacred theology.  All degrees are awarded by the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary.