A Look Back at Historic Retreat for USCCB Bishops

Posted on November 12, 2019

Last Winter the USCCB Bishops Gathered at Mundelein for Prayer, Unity and Divine Guidance
By Father Tyler Raymond (’19 Dubuque)
Photos provided by Catholic News Service

Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, and Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, official preacher of the papal household, concelebrate Mass in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

In January 2019, a group of seminarians, along with the staff of Mundelein Seminary and many volunteers in the area, hosted a retreat at University of Saint Mary of the Lake. This was not a typical retreat. This retreat was unique in the life of the American Church. It was also an experience of the power of Mundelein.

“I have not come here to advise or chastise; I have come to encourage and to suffer with you.” These were the opening words of Father Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap, the retreat master for the gathering of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at Mundelein. This message of solidarity is unusual for the start of a retreat, but it was necessary for those gathered at the seminary in early January of 2019. The Church again was going through a time of renewed crisis of accountability and credibility; for the Church in the United States had struggled with how to face this issue. While many in the U.S., including bishops, were calling for comprehensive action to deal with renewed crisis, the bishops were gathered at Mundelein at the request of Pope Francis. Why? Would he fraternally correct them through the papal preacher, offer a step-by-step plan for reform or perhaps even ask for their resignations?

U.S. bishops attend a prayer service in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Mundelein Seminary (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The pope revealed his intentions in a letter he wrote to the bishops on retreat: “At times of great confusion and uncertainty, we need to be attentive and discerning, to free our hearts of compromises and false certainties, in order to hear what the Lord asks of us in the mission he has given us. Many actions can be helpful, good and necessary, and may even seem correct, but not all of them have the ‘flavor’ of the Gospel … we have to be careful that ‘the cure does not become worse than the disease.’ And this requires of us wisdom, prayer, much listening and fraternal communion.”

The gathering at Mundelein was to recenter and focus the American bishops at this time of crisis, so that they could discern where Jesus Christ was leading through prayer and fraternal communion. One of the bishops on retreat, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago Ronald Hicks, commented, “While we need to concern ourselves with many important things, we need to make time to pray, reflect and center our lives on Christ, the source of all life and hope.”

This made Mundelein not only a good venue for a gathering of this size, with its secluded beautiful grounds and enough lodging for hundreds of bishops, but a spiritually appropriate location. What the pope was asking the bishops to do — listen to Jesus to free their hearts so that they can discern the mission God is calling them to as a community — is the purpose of Mundelein Seminary. Usually, Mundelein serves seminarians preparing to minister as priests and co-workers with these bishops. Discernment by coming closer to Jesus and renewing their relationships with Him is an ongoing process, for seminarians — and for bishops.

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle, second from right, smiles as the homily is delivered during Mass in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at Mundelein Seminary (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

This retreat, though not meant for seminarians, still made me reflect again on my time here, and the way in which Mundelein, the place and the community, gave me the opportunity to come to know Jesus so that I could, with my brothers, discern what mission he had called me to. That is the power of Mundelein that can be felt by anyone who steps on campus. Bishop Hicks, a former faculty member and alumnus, said that he “was very proud to share [Mundelein] with my brother bishops from across the country. For many of them, it was there first time visiting. It provided a perfect setting for prayer, reflection and fraternity.” Even amid chaos and confusion, Mundelein is a special place where listening, praying and communion can happen. Mundelein is a place of discernment, for any and all who come to campus.

This article originally ran in the Fall 2019 issue of the seminarian-produced BRIDGE magazine. The full magazine can be viewed here.