Honoring a Legacy: The Francis Cardinal George, OMI Memorial Garden

Posted on October 28, 2019

When visitors arrive to Mundelein Seminary, they are usually struck by the vast landscape of trees, towering over winding roads that lead to a row of century-old red brick buildings. The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Roman obelisks, belvedere and pier are the striking elements of a campus where thousands of parish priests have been formed since George Cardinal Mundelein realized his vision 1921.

But nestled between the impressive architecture are a series of gardens, thoughtfully designed to make the entire journey across campus a prayerful one. The most recent addition to campus is the Francis Cardinal George, OMI Memorial Garden, dedicated on behalf of all the Mundelein seminarians who were ordained as priests during his tenure as Archbishop of Chicago from 1997 to 2014.


The gardens were made possible through the generosity of William McEssy, who served on the seminary’s Board of Advisors for 14 years and as Chairman of the Board for 10 years, under the leadership of Cardinal George.

“Cardinal George was an exceptional man – very impressive, learned, and extremely intellectual,” McEssy said. “He was fully invested in the success of the seminary and the men who studied here. He wanted Mundelein to be the best seminary in the country.”

“He was a deeply religious man, and his memory will be honored as people pray and reflect along the stations and as priests he ordained celebrate Mass at the Grotto.”

The Cardinal George garden features new paths between the Stations of the Cross, Saint Pope Pius X statue, and the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto. With the addition of benches along the path, installation of a drainage system, and the planting of trees around Grotto seating, access to this area is no longer weather-dependent.

“If it rained, the ground was wet for days. If it was too hot, the sun was overwhelming,” McEssy said. “In the short time that the garden has been installed, we’ve seen enough rain to test that the drainage works. We hope that more people are inclined to come to campus, walk through the Passion of Jesus, and take time to pray at the Grotto.”

A statue of a young Jesus with Joseph near the garden entrance was originally stationed at St. Joseph Seminary, the minor seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Additionally, a large crucifix that stood at both Niles College and St. Joseph Seminary has a permanent home next to the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. Most priests who were ordained by Cardinal George studied at the college seminary before enrolling at Mundelein, so the placement inside the garden is an intentional and respectful appreciation for the formation and memories of those alumni.

Structural repairs, new buildings, and campus beautification projects were all part of McEssy’s vision to ensure that the seminary campus itself reflected the high quality of faculty and seminarians being taught and formed as future parish priests. Meetings and fundraising between Cardinal George, Board President McEssy, and the current rectors resulted in several significant improvements to campus, including:

  • McEssy Theological Resource Center, a modern addition to the Feehan Memorial Library
  • St. Therese Garden, where her statue stands as a reminder to follow her Little Way through Mary to Jesus
  • St. Mary Garden at the Mall
  • Principal Avenue restoration, planting trees along the road to match original campus design
  • Wayfinding signage planning, which led to current, branded signs throughout campus
  • Welcoming & entrance signs located on Hwy. 176 & 45

Cardinal George’s commitment to future priests of the world was evident through the work he did in all dimensions of priesthood. Fittingly, and even providentially, each of these aspects are imparted to seminarians in buildings located directly across from the garden: Intellectual rigor in the library and classrooms, spiritual development in the chapel, and both pastoral check-ins with formation advisors and lifelong fraternal bonding in the residential buildings.

“Whether you were a priest, bishop, or lay person, Cardinal George was equally friendly and engaging. His knowledge of our Catholic faith was so vast that he could answer complex theological questions quickly and succinctly,” McEssy said. “He truly was a great leader not just here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, but for the Catholic Church worldwide.”

Elements in the Francis Cardinal George, OMI Memorial Garden:

Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes

Mundelein Seminary’s Lourdes grotto is modeled after the Grotto of Massabielle, a Catholic shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in the town of Lourdes, France, where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous several times in 1858. The grotto in Lourdes is a destination for pilgrimages and has been the site of miraculous healings using water found at the shrine.

When Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette for the final time, she said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in the grotto is particularly fitting, as the University of Saint Mary of the Lake is under her patronage.

Jesus and Saint Joseph

These statues were commissioned for Saint Joseph College Seminary, which was located on the Lake Shore Campus of Loyola University Chicago. In this depiction, Saint Joseph is wearing a prayer shawl and Jesus is holding the Torah, as they are on their way to the Temple to pray. They were placed at the entrance of the college seminary, as Jesus and Saint Joseph greeted all who came to visit. Now they are displayed here in the heart of Mundelein Seminary, at the path to the Cardinal Francis George Memorial Garden, home to the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and the Stations of the Cross. We are blessed to display these treasured statues as a sign of Christ’s presence to all who come here.

Crucifix from Saint Joseph College Seminary

This crucifix was originally installed at Niles College Seminary and later at Saint Joseph College Seminary, which was located on the Lake Shore Campus of Loyola University Chicago. In grateful appreciation to the Sierzega and Zamora Families for their generosity that facilitated the move of the crucifix from Saint Joseph College Seminary, we are blessed to display this beautiful statue in the south garden of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception as a reminder of Christ’s sacrificial love for us.



Pope Saint Pius X

Saint Pius X was elected Pope on August 4, 1903 and canonized on May 29, 1954. This statue of St. Pius X was erected in 1954, the year that he was canonized as a saint.  His motto “instaurare omnia in Christo” (to restore all things in Christ) is inscribed beneath his statue. During his papacy, Saint Pius X focused on the reform of seminary education, highlighting the importance of Scripture studies for priestly formation. He appointed Cardinal George Mundelein as a bishop in 1909, and encouraged each Bishop to have some type of residential seminary program in their diocese.