In Chicago, there’s a new man in town: Archbishop Elect Blase Cupich. Since the announcement of his appointment to succeed Francis Cardinal George, American Catholics have been buzzing about him almost non-stop. Some have called him America’s Pope Francis. While he has created a veritable storm of media excitement, he’s also gotten Catholics thinking and talking about the future of the archdiocese he’s about to lead.
That future will now pass through the pastoral prism of Archbishop Cupich. But, in order to be an effective pastor, he’ll have to turn toward reliable people. That’s one reason the Archbishop has been conducting a listening tour of sorts since he arrived in the Windy City, visiting parishes and schools across the archdiocese. Last week, he stopped over at Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary, the Midwest’s premier center for priestly formation. There, he had a chance to sit down with media magnate and Chicago priest, Fr. Robert Barron.
Under the leadership of Fr. Robert Barron, the author of several books, including Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, which was the basis of a popular PBS mini-series, Mundelein – shorthand for the University of St. Mary of the Lake – has been undergoing a revival of faith and culture. Poised to become this century’s capital of creative, but faithful, Catholic scholarship, it is located in northern Illinois, not far from St. Louis, Missouri, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and South Bend, Indiana, which were the headquarters of last century’s Thomistic Renaissance. Offering a wide variety of ecclesiastical and civil degrees to both seminarians and lay students, Mundelein houses a university, a seminary, and the celebrated Liturgical Institute, which has become a veritable center of an authentic liturgical renewal in the heart of the Church.
Fr. Robert Barron became the Rector of Mundelein Seminary and the President of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in July of 2012. He received his appointment from Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George who served as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ President between 2007 and 2010. Coming to his current post with a doctoral degree in Sacred Theology from Paris’ Institute Catholique and having completed assignments at two Roman institutions – St. John Paul II’s alma mater, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (also known as the ‘Angelicum’), and the North American College, the Vatican’s elite seminary for US priests – as well as the University of Notre Dame, Fr. Barron is no freshman academic, but an established veteran of ecclesiastical scholarship. Fluent in multiple European languages, including French, German, and Spanish, Fr. Barron is also a master of the new language of social media communications. His Word on Fire website draws in seemingly countless visitors each month. And, his YouTube videos on all matters of faith attract an audience that rivals some television networks. During his time as Rector, Fr. Barron has drawn upon his popularity and extensive academic connections in order to attract a blue ribbon panel of Catholic scholars to Mundelein. The noted Catholic author Scott Hahn now teaches there.
But, more than a competent academic and sound administrator, Fr. Barron has evidenced that he is also a faithful priest with a deep prayer life. Mundelein’s chapel most clearly attests to that fact.
At the spiritual center of Mundelein stands the St. John Paul II Chapel. Its construction was a labor of love for Fr. Barron, Mundelein’s Rector, who envisioned it as an embodiment of the New Evangelization. A sort of gold standard of sacred architecture, the chapel was constructed with diligent care for and faithfulness to Church liturgical directives and it was built out of precious materials, reflecting the high value of the spiritual life.
In its beautiful and inspiring elegance, it awakens the soul to the rich heritage of Catholicism. As images of the Church’s saints look out upon visitors to the chapel, holding them in a warm and welcoming gaze, an invitation is extended and a challenge is sounded. Break free from the confines of the post-modern malaise sunken in the egocentric predicament of consumerism and indifference. Leave behind the beige and colorless faith that searches for a God conformed to the image of man and that imposes no demands on its adherents. And, enter into the high adventure of Catholic faithfulness. It is the faith of the chapel’s architects and financiers that this invitation and challenge – communicated like a sermon written into the architecture of the chapel – will revive and reawaken Mundelein and its larger environs.
Prominent among the saints depicted are the chapel’s namesake, John Paul II, and the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux. Together, the saints depicted call visitors to the great task of renewing the Church from within through the formation of an authentic culture of life and a civilization of love, rooted in the personalistic norm. The sacredness of the space grounds such a high minded task in mindfulness of the transcendent and adoration of the divine, maintaining the proper relationship between God and man. In this manner, the ornamental images of the saints bear witness to the power of the Gospel to heal the ills of our age through a new awakening of faith in the heart of the American Catholic Church at this hour.
While the chapel is a liturgical space where the priests, seminarians, and visitors to Mundelein can gather to celebrate the Church’s Eucharist, it is also a place for personal devotion. In fact, it is becoming a kind of pilgrimage site for people seeking spiritual renewal.
Making room for both communal and private devotion, the chapel unites and holds the two together. But, more than this, it roots private or personal devotion in the public and communal worship of the Church. For, if the New Evangelization is to build a culture of life and a civilization of love, then it must do so through a renewed commitment to keeping alive the memoria Dei in the heart of the communio of the universal Church as she goes out on mission to all the corners of the world. After all, it is through drawing closer to one another in the heart of the Church and through recommitting ourselves to lives of tireless service to God, each other, and the world that a new culture – rooted in the Gospel – can be born among us. This is the aspiration of the St. John Paul II Chapel, planted like a seed in the spiritual heart of Mundelein with its doors open wide to the Church in America.
To learn more about the chapel and to see images of its interior, please visit the webpage of Mundelein Seminary.