George William Mundelein

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George William Mundelein

George William Mundelein (1872-1939) was an outstanding American Roman Catholic prelate and an outspoken foe of totalitarianism in the 1930s.

Born in New York City on July 2, 1872, of American-born parents of German descent, George Mundelein was raised by his maternal grandmother. After graduating from Manhattan College in 1889 he spent 3 years at St. Vincent's Seminary in Beatty, Pa. He completed his studies at the Urban College of the Propagation of the Faith in Rome, receiving a doctor of divinity degree, and was ordained in 1895. He returned to his diocese of Brooklyn to serve as secretary to Bishop Charles E. McDonnell, becoming chancellor and auxiliary bishop in 1909. Mundelein succeeded James Edward Quigley as archbishop of Chicago in 1915.

Mundelein was noted as an administrator and fund raiser. He built hundreds of schools, churches, hospitals, and charitable institutions to keep pace with the needs of his rapidly growing archdiocese. He founded Quigley Preparatory Seminary in 1918, and it was soon the largest in the nation. In 1921 he established a seminary, St. Mary of the Lake, which he regarded as the major achievement of his career. When he was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1924, his supporters donated $1 million for the seminary. Two years later he presided over the Eucharistic Congress in Chicago, one of the largest religious meetings in history. In 1918 he launched the Associated Catholic Charities of Chicago; he supported the work of Big Brothers, in which Holy Name Society men served as friends and advisers of needy young men. He sponsored the first diocesan council of the Legion of Decency. After the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, diocesan agencies worked closely with governmental programs aimed at relief and reform.

Always aware of the existence of social injustice, Mundelein warned against the exploitation of labor and warmly supported the New Deal administration of Franklin Roosevelt. A close friend of the President, he defended Roosevelt's program against Catholic critics, notably the radio orator Father Charles Coughlin. In 1937 Mundelein warned against isolationism and vigorously denounced Nazism and Adolf Hitler. His diocese was a center of social action programs, with Catholic priests and other leaders supporting the unionizing drives of the new Committee for Industrial Organization and participating in efforts at civic improvement and social reform. Mundelein died in Chicago on Oct. 2, 1939, on the eve of a planned radio address supporting a more vigorous American policy of resistance to totalitarianism.

Further Reading

Mundelein wrote two books, Two Crowded Years (1918) and Letters of a Bishop to His Flock (1927). The only biography of him is Paul R. Martin, comp., The First Cardinal of the West (1934), a laudatory testimonial.

Additional Sources

Kantowicz, Edward R., Corporation sole: Cardinal Mundelein and Chicago Catholicism, Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983. □

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George William Mundelein

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