The University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary is the major seminary and graduate school of theology for the Archdiocese of Chicago. The students here will go on to serve as priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago and for nearly 30 other dioceses across the country.


Founded by the first bishop of Chicago, Bishop William J. Quarter, D.D., the University of Saint Mary of the Lake was granted a charter in 1844 by the State of Illinois, with power “to confer…such academical or honorary degrees as are usually conferred by similar institutions.” Chicago welcomed it as the first institution of higher learning in the city, and it flourished until 1866, when financial difficulties forced it to suspend operations. One of its four schools, the Divinity School, which would become Mundelein Seminary, continued to operate for another year until 1867.

In 1921, Archbishop George Mundelein opened the schools of philosophy and theology as St. Mary of the Lake Seminary under the original 1844 charter. Archbishop Mundelein had a grand vision for the impact of the new seminary, and he was proud to dedicate it on May 25, 1924, and show it off in 1926 when it was used as a site for the International Eucharistic Congress.

In September 1929, Cardinal Mundelein obtained a five-year grant from the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities in Rome to establish a Pontifical Faculty of Theology at Mundelein, with the power to confer the international degrees of the Catholic Church, 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. A proponent of both the liturgical movement and specialized Catholic Action derived from the papal social encyclicals, Msgr. Hillenbrand anticipated the directions which the Church would take in the decades that followed.

Samuel Cardinal Stritch became Archbishop of Chicago and chancellor of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake after Cardinal Mundelein’s death in 1939. Cardinal Stritch began a period of expansion of the Archdiocese of Chicago. A much beloved pastor, Cardinal Stritch’s episcopate represented a period of stabilization of the Archdiocese.

Cardinal Stritch appointed Msgr. Malachy P. Foley as the third rector. Msgr. Foley was known for his personal piety and priestly example. During his long administration, the United States would enter World War II. The need for military chaplains drew many priests into the service, which required the seminary to accelerate its training to fill the positions which they left. This period exemplified the generous support which the Archdiocese of Chicago had for the military, evidenced by the large number of priests who were released to serve as chaplains.


The Most Rev. Albert Meyer was named Archbishop of Chicago in 1958. 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 undergraduate years, while the Mundelein campus program encompassed upper class college studies in philosophy followed by a four-year theology curriculum. Cardinal Meyer was perhaps the most important U.S. cardinal at the Second Vatican Council, serving as one of the council presidents. As a former seminary professor and rector, Cardinal Meyer strongly condemned racism and was instrumental in the Council’s theological work and in its declaration on religious freedom.

Under Cardinal Meyer’s successor, John Cardinal Cody, the undergraduate program at Niles was affiliated with Loyola University Chicago, becoming Niles College of Loyola University. He also appointed Msgr. John R. Gorman as rector. 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 and formational aspects guided by The Program of Priestly Formation of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the directives of the Sacred Congregation for Education. Around the same time, many of the faculty who had staffed Saint Mary of the Lake were reaching retirement age. Amid the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council, the Society of Jesus was unable to staff both their own seminaries and our diocesan seminary. The Jesuits recommended that the Archdiocese appoint diocesan priests to these roles. Among his accomplishments is Msgr. Gorman’s direction of this transition from Jesuit to diocesan leadership, which also led to the inclusion of religious and lay professors and formators joining the faculty. In 1971, Saint Mary of the Lake 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. Under Father Murphy, a comprehensive formation program was conceived and implemented. It anticipated the approach of the future Program on Priestly Formation, which sees formation as having four dimensions: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. Father Murphy’s passion for parish ministry led to an emphasis on supervised field education as part of the seminary program.

The year 1976 saw two milestones. In cooperation with the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Center for Pastoral Ministry, the seminary began a program of study leading to the Doctor of Ministry degree. 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. Father Keleher began a national outreach, offering the programs of the seminary to dioceses around the country.

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 10 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 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. Father Kicanas developed the seminary’s outreach to other dioceses, both nationally and internationally, building the foundation for our service today of nearly 30 dioceses.

Cardinal Bernardin announced a new development in April 1986, which would include a new school: 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. The University of Saint Mary of the Lake now consisted of three schools: Mundelein Seminary, the Pontifical Faculty of Theology, and the Center for Development in Ministry.

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 and president of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.

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.

Under the direction of 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 Saint Mary of the Lake. These three agencies became programs of the University. While remaining separate and distinct from the priestly formation program, all were 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 Saint Mary of the Lake, which was dedicated to training, research, and publication in the fields of sacramental theology and liturgy.

Father Canary also led the University through reaccreditation and its first comprehensive strategic planning process. One of the outcomes was the decision to undertake a major campaign for the renovation and restoration of the Feehan Memorial Library. This was the first building program since 1939 when the auditorium was completed. The plans called for an 18,000-square-foot addition and an update of the old library to provide new lighting in the main reading room, air conditioning and humidity controls, a new elevator, and a museum section to display many of Mundelein’s treasures.

On the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 2004, Cardinal George dedicated the renovated Feehan Memorial Library and the newly constructed William and Lois McEssy Theological Resource Center. This addition to the library increased storage capacity and study space, and also brought 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, overseeing all non-degree programs.

In 2006, Francis Cardinal George named the Very Rev. John F. Canary the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Chicago and appointed the Rev. Dennis J. Lyle as the ninth rector/president of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. Father Lyle devoted his rectorship to further developing the seminary board as an effective advisory body for the Archbishop and rector. He also attended to the care of the physical plant, increased staff development, and spent much of his time giving individual attention to seminarians. During his time as rector, the seminary undertook its reaccreditation by the Association of Theological Schools. He also changed the daily schedule to better prepare graduates with the habits needed for ordained ministry in the 21st century. He conducted an extensive review of the seminary program, seeking consultation from bishops and alumni. He also oversaw the implementation of the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal into campus liturgical life and programs.

In July 2011, the programs of the Department of Ministry Formation were fully integrated into the university structure as separate institutes. Additionally, the Cardinal established a new Office of Academic Affairs, which oversaw all academic programs of the University. The Rev. Thomas A. Baima was named vice rector of academic affairs for the University. The Rev. James Presta was appointed vice rector for administration and the Rev. Ronald Hicks became dean of formation.

In May 2012, Francis Cardinal George appointed the Very Rev. Robert Barron as the tenth rector/ president. Under Father Barron’s direction, the formation programs were given a new integrating logic and the academic program underwent a curriculum revision. Father Barron also led a restoration of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and a renovation of the Theology House Chapel. The Theology House Chapel had never been dedicated to a saint. Under Father Barron’s leadership, planning was undertaken to rededicate the chapel to Pope Saint John Paul II, and to express the great theme of his papacy, the new evangelization. Nineteen new stained-glass windows were commissioned commemorating the great figures of history whose lives and ministries exemplify evangelism. Additionally, he focused on establishing endowed chairs in dogmatic theology, biblical theology and preaching. Dr. Matthew Levering was named the Perry Foundation Professor of Theology. Seminary enrollment increased under Father Barron’s leadership.


The present Chancellor of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake is Cardinal Blase J. Cupich. His appointment as the ninth Archbishop of Chicago was announced by Pope Francis on September 20, 2014. Archbishop Cupich called on the Rev. Ronald Hicks to serve as the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He was succeeded by the Rev. Brian Welter as dean of formation. In July 2015, the Very Rev. Robert Barron was named by Pope Francis to be an Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles.

In September 2015, Archbishop Cupich named the Rev. John Kartje as the eleventh rector/president. Father Kartje brings a unique background to the role. He came to the faculty after many years of work in pastoral ministry, most recently as director of the Sheil Catholic Center and chaplain to Northwestern University. Additionally, he has long been involved with the Institute for Priestly Formation in Omaha, teaching and offering spiritual direction in the summer program for seminarians. Father Kartje was originally an astrophysicist before discerning his vocation to the priesthood. When he joined the Mundelein faculty, he took over teaching the course on philosophy of nature, which he revised to take into account the modern developments in cosmology and science, so that seminarians could be truly conversant with the issues posed by natural science.

As rector/president, he has overseen the building of an addition to the campus refectory (cafeteria) which became Mundelein Hall and now houses a new campus welcome center, bookstore, alumni room and multi-purpose gathering space. His leadership is guided by the Vatican document The Gift of Priestly Formation, which “sets out an integrated vision of future clerics, taking full account of all four dimensions that involve the person of the seminarian, human, intellectual, spiritual, pastoral.” This is captured in Father Kartje’s vision for USML, “Formed in Tradition | Trained in Compassion | Prepared to Shepherd: Together in Christ, We are Mundelein. We form parish priests and those who collaborate with them in ministry.