Javier Campos was working as a cook at the Gale Street Inn, a restaurant frequented by Mundelein faculty, when he decided to take a drive around the campus of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake. While walking the grounds, he struck up a conversation that ended in a 3-month, part-time gig on the grounds crew. One week later, his brother Tony was hired for a similar, short stint, focused on cleaning up the abundant juniper bushes on campus.
“When I first started here, there were holes in the ground, missing patches of grass, and lots of debris. After our first three months on the job, we were hired full time and haven’t looked back since. God is very good to us, and to me, the way we started working here was a miracle. Everything changed for my family once I started working at Mundelein.” said Javier.
Thirty years later, Javier and Tony are still at it – you can find the brothers doing everything from planting flowers to plowing snow, all with a smile and admirable dedication to their craft. Together with only three other full-time groundskeepers, they maintain the hundreds of acres of land that are home to the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary.
“We change jobs so much, one day we plant, the next we mow, the next we trim trees and bushes. Everybody works together to get everything done. I enjoy doing everything…except pulling weeds. Some days it’s a lot, but it all has to get done,” said Tony. “I like the variety, it’s not the same thing all the time. We are so happy to work here.”
From the moment you pass through the gates of USML/Mundelein, the beauty of the land plus the 125-acre lake is striking. Healthy trees, manicured green grass and bright flowers complement the colonial-style buildings and structures in the summer. Autumn brings a stunning variety of color, and the blanket of winter snow is a striking contrast to the red brick buildings.
“When we hear people say, ‘Oh this place looks nice, it’s so beautiful,’ we feel good. We love to hear that because we do the best we can to make it look better every day. We are proud of the work that we do and how we do it. We have extra help in the summer, and we try to teach these young guys the way to do the job right,” said Javier.
Every tree on campus is planted with soil and seeds from somewhere else on the grounds. Oak, maple, fir, and balsa trees are harvested from the woods and planted in other locations. This sustainable practice helps keep disease away from the native plants and maintains the integrity of the landscape.
In the brutal winter, seminarians wake up before sunrise, bundle up in their winter coats, scarves and gloves, and trek across campus in the cold for morning prayer and Mass. The walk itself is easy, because sidewalks are already cleared, ice has been scraped away, and salt has been sprinkled for sure footing, thanks to the grounds crew.
“I’m proud of Javier, Tony, and their team. They are acutely aware of the intricate details and innovation necessary to preserve wildlife and cultivate a safe, beautiful environment for our seminarians, students and guests,” said Jim Heinen, Chief Operating Officer for USML. “They really see Mundelein as their family, and their work ethic, forward thinking, and positive attitudes are an inspiration to everyone here.”
With so many years of memories at Mundelein, it’s hard for the Campos brothers to choose favorite places or moments. One of Javier’s treasured experiences was being invited to take up the gifts at a special Mass with Francis Cardinal George, OMI, and being thanked for all of his work.
As for Tony’s favorite spot on campus, it’s at the end of the pier, overlooking St. Mary’s Lake and far away from any weeds. “I sometimes bring my family on my days off to sit out here and watch the lake and see the fish jumping. I love it here.”