Remembering Monsignor Charles R. Meyer, 1920-2020

by on October 16, 2020

The University of Saint Mary of the Lake is saddened to announce the death of our most senior professor emeritus, the Reverend Monsignor Charles R. Meyer, S.T.D., who served on seminary faculty from 1947 until 2014. He was born in 1920, and this year featured his 75th anniversary of priesthood in February and his 100th birthday on September 30.

His passing, at age 100, is also an occasion of deep gratitude for his lifetime of priestly ministry to generations of seminarians. Almost everyone who studied or taught at Mundelein during his tenure can share a Msgr. Meyer story: from his bike-riding being the telltale sign of spring, to his dry humor and wit, to the ahead-of-his-time inventions, to the pain of a thousand hand cramps seminarians felt from taking copious notes on the incredible wealth of knowledge that he so generously shared. Msgr. Meyer was blessed with good friends who called and visited regularly, even recently enjoying socially-distanced conversations on the patio of his residence.

Msgr. Meyer’s love for the Eucharist and the Church was evident, and his teaching was guided by his strong faith. His challenging yet fair method was respected by colleagues and seminarians, and lessons learned in his classes will continue to resonate for the next century. He felt blessed to have been welcomed to the seminary by Cardinal George Mundelein, and the seminary was equally blessed to have him for so many years. May God rest his soul.

The bell in the tower of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception tolled across campus 75 times today in honor of his 75 years of priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago, most of which were served at Mundelein Seminary.

Charles R. Meyer was the son of Francis A. Meyer and Elizabeth C. Meyer. He attended elementary school at Saint Andrew Parish in Chicago. It was there that he met George Cardinal Mundelein who, upon observing young Charles serving Mass, said to him, “You should be a priest. You should go to Quigley.”

He attended Quigley Seminary and then matriculated to Mundelein Seminary for his philosophical and theological studies. He did advanced studies at the Pontifical Faculty of Theology at USML from which he received the doctorate in theology. His post-doctoral studies were in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University and in the Vatican Library.

Monsignor Charles Meyer’s photo is third row from the bottom and last one on the right.

He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1945 and was then assigned to do further studies in library science at Rosary College. During that period, he was resident priest at Saint Luke’s Parish in River Forest. His next assignment was as associate pastor at Holy Name Cathedral. He also served briefly at Saint Gertrude Parish on Glenwood Avenue.

Appointed to the faculty of Mundelein Seminary in 1949, he initially served as assistant librarian, then as dean of discipline, first in the philosophy department and then, subsequently in the theology department. As a professor, he taught church history, liturgical rubrics, and eventually dogmatic theology. Beginning in 1966, he served for a time as archdiocesan archivist, as the archives were located at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.

In 1976 he was named academic dean of Mundelein Seminary and served in that role until 1981. Upon completing his service in academic affairs, he returned to classroom teaching as a full professor of dogmatic theology. He retired in 1991 and was promoted to professor emeritus of dogmatic theology, continuing to teach seminars and electives part-time. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI named him prelate of honor of His Holiness for his long service to the seminary. Msgr. Meyer continued to teach until 2014 when his health required that he enter nursing care.

One thing priests of my era will often remember about Msgr. Meyer was his bicycle.  He would ride about nine miles every day for exercise, which may be why he had such a long and healthy life.  His bicycle, however, was unique.  It had radios, antennae, and a police scanner, all to amuse him as he went about his daily exercise.  It combined both exercise and his hobby of electronics.  It was quite a sight.

Though serving his entire priesthood in the academic life, Msgr. Meyer nevertheless maintained active engagement with parish life. He served for many years as an assisting priest on weekends at Saint Edna Parish in Arlington Heights. Additionally, he was active with the Women’s Theology Group at Mary, Seat of Wisdom Parish in Park Ridge and, given his lifelong interest in science, with a group of physicians and other medical professionals in a study group on religion and science.

An active scholar as well as a teacher, Msgr. Meyer was the author of numerous scholarly articles, many published in Chicago Studies. Additionally, he authored six books, each a timely engagement of the theological currents which shaped the 20th century. In his first publication in 1949, the book based on his dissertation The Thomistic Concept of Justifying Contrition, he approached justification through the lens of mercy, building in part on the insights of Cardinal Franzelin, 100 years earlier. This work was cited by Karl Rahner and later by Scott Hahn, as well as the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition.

A survey of the titles of his other book offers an outline of the theological questions of the 20th century. Msgr. Meyer was a creative thinker with strong intellectual curiosity. His Contemporary Theology of Grace (1971) is a systematic examination of one of the most difficult treatises in theology. Touch of God: A Theological Analysis of Religious Experience (1972), Man of God: A Study of the Priesthood (1974) and What a Modern Catholic Believes about the Holy Spirit (1974).

His next book, Religious Belief in a Scientific Age (1983) was unique in its day. The world was just awakening to the issues which science posed to religious belief. Msgr. Meyer took those issues seriously and sought to offer a reasoned engagement. He engaged the theology of Alfred North Whitehead and the emerging “process thought.” This would be one of the earliest books on the religion/science question.

As his student, I remember a man who was deeply rooted in the classical theology of the Church, especially Saint Thomas Aquinas, and at the same time open to the many currents of thought around the Church in the 20th century.  He was not afraid of new questions, such as posed by religion and science.  At the same time he subjected the new ideas to evaluation by the tradition.  He was a man of both the old and new.

When I had him as a teacher, especially in an elective on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, he always lamented that the scientists writing about religion came from biology or paleontology. He argued that the proper starting point for scientific engagement with theology was physics. Little did he know that one day one of his students, an astrophysicist named John Kartje, would become a priest and biblical scholar with precisely that competency with doctorates in both disciplines. Father Kartje, of course, is the current president of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake and rector of Mundelein Seminary.

The University of Saint Mary of the Lake mourns the death of our most senior professor emeritus and the oldest priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, with gratitude to Almighty God for his many years of faithful priesthood.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.