USML | Mission and History

Mundelein Seminary

Mission and History


The University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary prepares candidates for the diocesan priesthood and provides initial, post-graduate or ongoing formation for priests and those who collaborate with them in ministry.




The Lord founded the Church with a sacred ministry of bishops, presbyters and deacons. At the core of its mission, Mundelein Seminary prepares men to be priests of Jesus Christ, priest, teacher and shepherd. It educates men for parish pastoral ministry as co-workers with their bishops in the service of the Catholic Church.

The Holy Spirit calls forth diverse gifts and ministries within the Church; Mundelein Seminary also educates leaders for pastoral ministry as co-workers with the bishop and his priests in service to the people of Christ. It does this through distinct programs of formation for each ecclesial role.

The people of Christ deserve ministers committed to life-long learning and growth in holiness. Mundelein Seminary provides post-graduate and advanced ministerial degree programs, as well as ongoing formation for all engaged in ministry.



1. To provide a comprehensive program of theological studies that: (a) supports students in the conscious appropriation of the Catholic faith and prepares them to proclaim and to teach God's Word; (b) imparts a way of understanding, reflecting upon, interpreting and proclaiming the Catholic faith in parish ministry.

2. To provide a spiritual and human formation program that: (a) helps students grow in liturgical and personal prayer, celibate chastity and readiness for diocesan priestly life; (b) promotes self-awareness, competence and confidence, psychological integration, healthy sexual maturity and the capacity to relate to others; (c) fosters simplicity of life, obedience and pastoral service.

3. To provide a pastoral formation program that: (a) prepares students for the ministry of priestly leadership with and for others in the Church; (b) fosters the pastoral integration of theological and spiritual formation; (c) promotes habits of prayer, study and reflection in ministry; (d) develops pastoral skills and attitudes to meet the needs of the Church in evolving, complex and multicultural settings.



University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary is the major seminary and graduate school of theology for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Many of the students will serve as priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago; however, many others are studying for 33 other dioceses in the United States and abroad.

University of St. Mary of the Lake had its beginning in 1844 as St. Mary's College. Founded by the first bishop of Chicago, Bishop William J. Quarter, D.D., St. Mary's College was granted a charter by the State of Illinois, with power "to confer...such academical or honorary degrees as are usually conferred by similar institutions." Chicago welcomed St. Mary's as the first institution of higher learning in the city. St. Mary's flourished until 1866, when financial difficulties forced it to close.

In 1921, Archbishop George Mundelein opened St. Mary of the Lake Seminary under the original 1844 charter of St. Mary's College. Archbishop Mundelein was proud to show off his new seminary in 1926 when it was used as a site for the International Eucharistic Congress.

In September 1929, Cardinal Mundelein obtained from the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities in Rome a five-year grant for the theological faculty to confer the baccalaureate, the licentiate and doctorate in theology. In September 1934, this temporary grant was made permanent, and the seminary became the first American institution to be honored as a Pontifical Theological Faculty under the new Apostolic Constitution Deus Scientarium Dominus. The well-known Reverend Monsignor Reynold H. Hillenbrand was appointed Rector in 1936.

In 1961, under Albert Cardinal Meyer, the seminary opened a second campus in Niles, Illinois. The Niles campus offered liberal arts programs for the first two college years, while the Mundelein campus program encompassed 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. St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, now exclusively a graduate school of theology, seminary and an ecclesiastical faculty, began a revision of the graduate and theological curriculum. 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, the Mundelein Seminary School of Theology became affiliated with the Association of Theological Schools of which it is an accredited member. Very Reverend Thomas J. Murphy was appointed the fifth Rector in September, 1973.  1976 saw two milestones, in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Chicago's Center for Pastoral Ministry. Mundelein Seminary began a program of study leading to the Doctor of Ministry. Also, in September, the Seminary celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first ordinations to the priesthood at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.

In July 1978, the Very Reverend James P. Keleher was appointed the sixth rector, replacing the Most Reverend Thomas J. Murphy, who was named Bishop of Great Falls, Montana.

In the fall of 1982, under Cardinal Cody's successor, Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, the Mundelein 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 objectives set forth in the Third Edition (November 30, 1981) of The Program of Priestly Formation.

In November, 1984, the Rector, the Very Reverend James P. Keleher, was named Bishop of Belleville (IL) by Pope John Paul II. In December, Cardinal Bernardin appointed The Very Reverend Gerald F. Kicanas as the seventh Rector of St. Mary of the Lake.

Cardinal Bernardin announced a new development in April, 1986, which would include a new center for ministry formation: The Center for Development in Ministry (CDM). The CDM's purpose would be the ongoing development of all those in ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. In addition, the new center would host a variety of archdiocesan programs.

In January, 1995, the Very Reverend Gerald Kicanas was named by Pope John Paul II as an Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago. In February, the Very Reverend John Canary was named as the eighth Rector of Mundelein Seminary.

During the spring quarter of 1996, members of the Bishops' Seminary Committee visited the Seminary. After an extensive series of meetings with faculty and students, the members of the committee gave a strong recommendation to the seminary program.

The appointment of Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. as the eighth Archbishop of Chicago was announced by Pope John Paul II on April 8, 1997. He succeeded the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin who was the Archbishop of Chicago from 1982 until 1996.

The present Chancellor of the University of St. Mary of the Lake is Blase J. Cupich. His appointment as the ninth Archbishop of Chicago was announced by Pope Francis on September 20, 2014.

Currently the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary has 210 students studying for the diocesan priesthood. Seminarians come from 33 dioceses in the United States, as well as many international dioceses. Mundelein Seminary is the largest priesthood preparation program in the United States.

At the direction of the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal George, in February, 2000, the Archdiocese dissolved the Department of Ministry Formation in the Pastoral Center and transferred the Diaconate Formation Program, the Lay Ministry Program and the Instituto de Liderazgo Pastoral to the University of St. Mary of the Lake.  These three agencies became programs of the University.  While remaining separate and distinct from the Priestly Formation Program, all are to cooperate under the University aegis in advancing the efforts of ministry preparation and formation for all those involved in pastoral ministry.

In the following year, Cardinal George established the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake.  The Institute is dedicated to training, research, and publication in the fields of sacramental theology and liturgy.  The Institute offers three programs:  an M.A. in Liturgy, an M.A. (Liturgical Studies), and an S.T.L. 

Of particular note is the Feehan Memorial Library. Designated in 2010 as one of 250 World's Great Libraries by the American Library Association, Feehan maintains some of the country's finest collections in the fields of Patristics, Church History, and Canon Law. The Library holds over 200,000 volumes and over 430 subscriptions to journals in theology and related fields. Through the Library's partnerships with the Association of Chicago Theological Schools (an ecumenical consortium of eleven seminaries) and the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois, students and faculty have further access to endless number of books or periodicals throughout North America.

On the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 2004, Cardinal George dedicated the William and Lois McEssy Theological Resource Center.  This addition to the Library increases storage capacity and study space, as well as bringing state of the art technology to the study of theology.

In 2005, the archdiocesan programs for Ongoing Formation were placed under USML’s direction.  The additional programs and the Conference Center were reorganized as the USML Department of Ministerial and Continuing Education, which oversees all non-degree programs.   

In 2006, the Very Reverend John F. Canary was named Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Chicago.  Cardinal George named the Rev. Msgr Dennis J. Lyle as Rector/President of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary.  Father Lyle is the seminary’s ninth Rector. He was succeeded on July 1, 2012 by the Very Reverend Father Robert Barron, who was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on September 8, 2015.

The current rector of Mundelein Seminary is Very Reverend John Kartje. 

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