When a seminarian comes to Mundelein for the first time and enters through the main gate, he eventually passes over a stately white bridge that brings him to the heart of campus and the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. If he wanders the few short yards from the chapel to the Administration Building and enters the rector’s office, he is immediately greeted by the portraits of all of Mundelein’s previous rectors, from Msgr. Kealy (1921-1936) to Bishop Barron (2012-2015). Aside from their tenure as rector, what they have in common is that nearly every one of them began their own ministry in the Church as a parish priest, and all of them were responsible for forming holy, joyful, dynamic and competent diocesan priests. This triad of “heart,” “bridge” and “parish priest” beautifully captures both the reason that Mundelein Seminary exists and the mission the Holy Spirit impels us to carry out. As I begin my term as Mundelein’s rector, my vision for the seminary is that we will form men with an identity ever more firmly grounded in a deep understanding of how these three concepts are woven together.
Everything begins with the heart. In the Second Vatican Council’s great document on priestly formation, Optatam Totius, the seminary is described as “the heart of the diocese.” The heart stands at the very core of the body, drawing in the lifeblood from all regions and reinvigorating it with new energy, only to send it out again in service once more. At Mundelein, we receive men from parishes and dioceses throughout the world, but we also receive countless prayers, support and visitors from those parishes. Here, all these elements come together as the seminarians are given the intellectual, spiritual and pastoral foundations and nurturing necessary for the formation of diocesan priests, ready to be sent by their bishops out from this “heart” into parish ministry throughout the universal Church.
But no matter how healthy the heart may be, it is useless without an effective means to reach all parts of the body. The seminary heart can only serve the diocesan body if there is someone to bridge the two together. This is precisely the role of the parish priest. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Program for Priestly Formation states that a priest is meant to be a bridge to help others encounter Jesus Christ. He does that by first grounding his own life in prayer, which serves as a bridge between his heart and the heart of Christ. From there, his intellectual and pastoral formation will enable him to be a man who can connect well with the women and men of his parish, leading them ever closer to Christ — meeting them in the very midst of their questions, fears, grief and joy.
You will find powerful illustrations of how Mundelein is preparing men to serve as bridges to and from the heart of their dioceses. Our students have traveled to such places as Birmingham, Alabama; Havana, Cuba; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to encounter local parishes and the universal pontiff. Our community has been enriched by men from a number of newly represented dioceses, both in the U.S. (e.g., Wichita and Baton Rouge) and abroad (e.g., South Africa). And our faculty has been bolstered by the addition of Fathers Ed Pelrine and David Olson, diocesan priests who bring academic excellence and years of pastoral parish experience. In short, the mission of forming men who will serve as bridges between the hearts of their people and the heart of Christ is thriving and well at Mundelein — at the heart of every diocese we serve.
This article originally appeared in The Bridge, a publication of University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. The entire magazine can be viewed here.