George William Mundelein, third Archbishop of Chicago, was born on July 2, 1872, son of Francis and Mary (Goetz) Mundelein. He was graduated at Manhattan College in 1889, and after preparatory theological studies at St. Vincent’s Seminary, Westmoreland, Pa., was sent as a student from the diocese of Brooklyn to the College of the Propaganda, Rome, Italy, where he was ordained priest June 8, 1895. Returning to Brooklyn, he was appointed secretary to Bishop McDonnell and pastor of a Lithuanian church. In 1898 he was made chancellor of the diocese, and in 1906 a domestic prelate of the Pope, two years later representing the diocese in Rome at the Pope’s jubilee, and receiving then the degree of doctor of theology from the Propaganda. On September 21, 1909, he was consecrated titular bishop of Loryma to act as auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn, and his election was followed by a special audience with the Pope. He is conversant with several languages, and as chancellor of the diocese of Brooklyn he managed the office with a skill and discretion that won not only the approbation of Bishop McDonell, but the esteem of every priest in the diocese. He founded the preparatory seminary of the Immaculate Conception in 1913, and was its first president. In the same year he completed the Church of the Queen of All Saints and also its parish school, two of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in the country. For his brilliant defense of Pope Pius X’s condemnation of Modernism he was made, in 1907, a member of the ancient Roman Academy of Arcadi, an honor never before given to an American. He had previously been nominated, in 1909, by the bishops of the Province of Cincinnati for the vacant bishopric of Louisville, Ky. Few men have been more rapidly promoted in the service of a church which recognizes force and character in its priesthood very promptly, and owes much of its strength to such recognition. He is a very forceful speaker and executive and is noted for the sturdy and aggressive Americanism which he has manifested on a number of occasions in his public addresses. Chicago is one of the largest Catholic communities in the country, having 1,150,000 Catholics, 800 priests, 400 churches, 324 schools with 127,000 pupils.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Being the History of the United States As Illustrated in the Lives of the Founders, Builders, and Defenders of the Republic, And of the Men and Women Who Are Doing the Work and Moulding the Thought of the Present Time (Volume XV) (New York: James T. White & Company, 1916), 36.
George W. Mundelein served as Archbishop of Chicago from 1915 until his death in 1939. In 1924, he became the first American Cardinal from a city West of the Appalachians. During his Chicago tenure, he built hundreds of churches, schools, and other institutions. It was said that he “put the Catholic Church of Chicago on the map.” In 1926, he hosted the 28th International Eucharistic Congress, the first in the United States. Attending were nearly one million Catholics, making it the largest Catholic gathering in the nation up to that point in the nation’s history. (Wags held that he planned to hold the Last Judgment in Chicago.)
Mundelein proved a highly capable administrator who centralized archdiocesan administration and put Chicago Catholicism on a firm financial footing. One businessman remarked to him: “There was a great mistake in making you a Bishop instead of a financier, for in the latter case Mr. Morgan would not be without a rival on Wall Street.” A close friend and supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mundelein caused an international incident when he referred to Adolf Hitler as an “Austrian paper-hanger, and a pretty poor one, I am told.”
A final word on Mundelein’s career. While a student at Manhattan College, he was called into the president’s office. Brother Justin asked him what he planned to do after graduation. The young man said he thought he might enter the seminary for the Archdiocese of New York. Brother Justin advised him against it, arguing that he would be simply placed in a German parish on the Lower East Side and his talents ignored. He suggested going to the Brooklyn diocese, where they might better be put to use. (Lore has it that Mundelein rejected an appointment to the Naval Academy in favor of the seminary.)
Mundelein, Illinois, north of Chicago, was named in his honor.