We looked at Cardinal George Mundelein’s grandiose projects in the building of the Seminary at Saint Mary of the Lake in Area, IL—a town that would exchange its name for that of the Cardinal in tribute for the prominence to which Mundelein brought the town by locating his new seminary there. Mundelein would thank the town for the honor by buying its first fire-engine.
But since we are focusing on episcopal lifestyles and residences in this series, let’s look for a moment at Mundelein’s living arrangements. I had once heard that the residence of the Archbishops of Chicago had been given to the Archdiocese by a wealthy family but with the stipulation that should it cease to be the archiepiscopal residence, it would revert to the family’s ownership. In other words, it was sort of on loan to the Archdiocese for an official residence but not actually owned by them. However, a look at the Archdiocesan webpage about the residence unmasks that legend. (cf. http://www.archchicago.org/about_us/archbishopsresid.shtm)
The truth is that when Chicago was raised to an Archdiocese in 1880, its new Archbishop, Patrick Feehan, decided to commission a residence suitable for a prelate of such stature. The residence was built in 1885 and was designed by Major James H. Willet and is three stories of red brick banded by white stone. The building can be said to be in “Victorian eclectic” style that tries to integrate (somewhat unsuccessfully) architectural features from a variety of earlier periods—in this case Italianate villa and French chateau along with English Tudor. There are 19 chimneys to suit the many interior rooms and a porte-cochère to allow the Archbishop or his guests to alight from their carriages without the inconvenience of snow, rain, or other inclement weather. The Archbishop’s suite occupies sections of the mansion’s second and third floor.
The Fire Truck the Cardinal
donated to Mundelein IL
While this house suited Mundelein’s grandiose scale, he—like Archbishop Myers—wanted a country retreat. And so he built a second mansion on the grounds of his seminary at Saint Mary of the Lake. Across the lake from the seminary complex, Cardinal Mundelein’s “villa” in red brick was modeled on Washington’s Mount Vernon. It was a favorite residence of the Cardinal and it was there he died suddenly on October 2, 1939.
Monsignor John Tracy Ellis (died 1992), the dean of American Church historians, would tell a story of how the Cardinal died under rather shameful circumstances and that how, to avoid an embarrassing inquest in the predominately Protestant Lake County, the body was rolled up in a carpet and driven to Chicago where a friendly coroner could be counted on to mask the circumstances of his death. I had always taken this story—which admittedly I heard years back second hand from a priest friend who had just returned from having lunch with Monsignor Ellis—at face value.
But in checking the newspaper accounts of
Mundelein’s death, it was always openly stated that he had died in his villa at
the seminary. The story is often
repeated, however, among historians (and gossipy clergy) and I suspect that
only an exhumation and examination of the Cardinal’s remains could determine
its truth. I have always subscribed to
the dictum that one should “never let the truth spoil a good story,” but alas—as
a historian I have to try to get the facts straight even if my interpretation at
times is biased. Too bad—because it is a
The Residence of the Archbishops