Friday, September 15, 2006
Mundelein Still Shows a Flaccid U. S. Hierarchy How to Bishop.
He Taught Us that the Church is No Democracy.
[Another article from The Wanderer, Americas Oldest National Catholic Weekly.]
By Thomas F. Roeser
CHICAGOMore than six decades agoso far distant that few Chicagoans have more than a glimmer of his memoryCatholicism here was truly run as a Church Militant. It was led by an archbishop known as the Builder, the Dutch Master and, behind his back, as His Prominence. He was George Cardinal Mundelein, a rotund bespectacled New York City-born German, raised on the lower east side. Short of stature, he was ever inch a bishop, the Chicago Daily News said of him.
As a kid of 11, I stood in line outside Holy Name cathedral with my mother for three and one-half hours on the first morning when his body went on exhibit for a wake that would last three full daysas a million people shuffled past his bier, the Chicago cops standing in the vestibule of the church, nudging us roughly to keep moving.
Mundelein was not cuddly. Nor was he a political conservative. He was a Democrat and friend of Franklin Roosevelt. The route he took to Chicago was stunning. It all started when as a young man he was considered for an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy. George Mundelein wanted to go but he wanted to be a priest more. He went to Annapolis to check the place out and his Prussian soul thrilled to the cadets marching in orderly lines and following harsh military discipline.
When he studied for the priesthood, he followed a personal regimen akin to the military. A bright scholar but no soupy-minded intellectual, he so impressed his seminary teachers that they sent him to Rome to be ordained. In Rome they saw in him someone they felt would advance. And advance he did. Assigned to the Brooklyn diocese, he became Chancellor after only two years following ordination. Then things went even more quickly: a monsignor at 34, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn at 37, holding a total of ten jobs in the chancery: sometimes three at a time. His military-style cadence, his Prussian efficiency set an example.
His boss the bishop of Brooklyn wisely gave his young auxiliary free rein. Mundelein reorganized the finances and planned a prep seminary. He took an unfinished Queen of All Saints cathedral, stalled for decades due to lack of funds completed it with Teutonic efficiency. Not only that, its French gothic-style embellishments, a Mundelein idea, won an architectural prize. Whats more, 14 magnificent stained-glass windows that he commissioned captured front page attention in the New York Times. And to top it off, the cathedral was finished without debt. He built it pay as you go.
Shortly after the cathedral was finished, J. Pierpont Morgan, the rascally old banker with the bulbous nose who felt every man had a price, came calling on Auxiliary Bishop Mundeleinnot requesting Mundelein come to his mansion as he did businessmen. He came pretending to view the famous windows. But he really came to take the measure of Mundelein. Together they climbed up the steps to the massive belfry. And like another reptilian arch-materialist nineteen hundred years earlier who took another Man of Vision to a mountain-top, Morgan spread his arm out, beyond the young man, at the huge city that lay before them like a carpet. With your sense of planning, he told Mundelein as his arm took in the whole city in an arc, planning as you did this building, like a military campaign, I hope you understand that someone of these talents could make millions working with and I dont mean for me. There was the offer. An offer which was just as rapidly declined. Not just declined: dismissed. Auxiliary Bishop Mundelein was not for sale. Not for rent. Thank you very much.
Morgan expected to be turned down but no harm trying. He had rightly appraised the young bishop as a magnificent leader because of his military formula. Rome did, too. At age 43 the name of Auxiliary Bishop Mundelein was pushed ahead of others. He was about to be named Bishop of Buffalo, New York. But then Rome put a hold on the appointment.
It was 1915 and Europe was engulfed in World War I. Canada, jewel of the British commonwealth, was bitterly anti-German. Hamilton, Ontario was just across the border; many Catholics from there went to church in Buffalo. But Canadian prelates said: no, not to a German. Rome agreedbut it would not hear of Mundeleins progress being halted. Rather it boosted him higher. It made him not a bishop but archbishop. Archbishop of Chicago. The youngest archbishop in Americaby far.
So thats how George Mundelein came here. The Vatican picked him and no one else for the toughest job in America. This citys Catholicism was a cauldron of warring pastoral egos. The city was torn with dissent against the hierarchy. Believe it or not, Irish parishes were convulsed with inter-nationality rivalry. The Irish had always been strong in Chicago but among the Irish there was internecine war. Some churches insisted on Irish-born pastors. Others wanted only pastors of Irish descent. New immigrants insisted on pastors who came over on the boat as they did. Older Irishmen who wanted to Americanize wanted American-born Irish priests but Irish they must be: priests of other nationalities need not apply.
When Chicago archbishops did not adhere to their wishes, they threatened revolt. The same nationalities wars was occurring with other ethnic groups. German, Bohemian, Slovak, Lithuanian and Italian parishes would not accept directions from any pastors not of their nationalities. Bricks and stones were flailed between the neighborhoods. The ethnic derivative of a priest was his most important quality. Failing to bring peace, one early bishop resigned; another went insane. Archbishops Feehan and Quigley were Irish but nevertheless antagonized the rebellious pastors. One priest became a revolutionary and was excommunicated.
Not only thatbut the city was boiling over because of trusteeship. It started as a perceived good thing. Immigrants who came to Chicago without clergy demanded priests who spoke their language. The immigrants built churches with their hard-earned savings and sometimes with their own volunteer labor. They sent back to the old countries for priests. When the pastors came, the immigrants treated them as scullery artisans, lodgers, renters, mere employees in churches the immigrants had built. The congregants ruled the roost with the pastors becoming indentured servants. Some pastors rebelled; some bishops, weaklings, threw up their hands and said they could do nothing.
To try to correct things, some U. S. bishops instituted what they called corporation sole which made the bishops presidents of the parishes. Chicago was technically one of those. But nobody had the guts to try it, to pull the trigger. Who could sell that idea in the hey-day of Chicago nationalist rivalry and immigration wars?
Into that cauldron walked Mundeleinnot Irish, not Slavic, not Bohemian, not Lithuanian, not Italian but a German-American: right in the middle of immigrant parishes that felt they owned immigrant pastors.
Immediately there was an attempt on his life. It came at his very installation dinner by an anarchist. The anarchist escaped and was never apprehended. It was the firstand onlytime that an attempt was made on the life of an American bishop.
The newspapers run by Hearst and McCormick had a field day. Mundeleins picture was front-page. Who tried to kill him? While the city roiled in dispute and the Church split in near anarchy over who was responsible for the attempted murder, Mundeleincalm, Germanic, marched in military cadence up the steps of the county courthouse. There he asked to be sworn inand was: as Corporation Sole. Then, confronting the dissident Catholic laity, he announced he had just taken over ownership of all their parishes in corporate, not personal, name. He said bluntly he now held the purse strings over all the parishes. The angry Catholics rose up.
They wanted their parishes back.
Thats when he gave them Dutch hell: an education in two lessons, in theology and Germanic firmness. He told them the Church was not set up as a democracy of warring principalities by its Founder. He said the Church is, by the will of God, structured as a hierarchy. He insisted that along with the Pope, the bishops are the only teachers constituted by divine right and their authority comes from God. Bishops are not pawns of the clergy, nor representatives, nor politicians who strive to please the clergy or the people. He warned themin a warning that carried across the city and silenced dissenters for a timethat the authority of the bishops comes not from below where the congregants were but from above.
Then, very much the military commander issuing the Orders of the Day, he cited Matthew XVI: 15-16 in the Douay version. Christ asks who do you say that I am? Peter: Thou art Christ the Son of the living God. Then to XVI: 18-19: And I say to thee, Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I shall give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.
With that firmness, Mundelein seized the rebels by the scuff of their necks. If churches wanted to expand, they would have to submit their budgets to him and he would either approve or reject. Obedient priests were favored; disobedient ones were transferred. With that phenomenal display of guts, he broke the back of the strike.
It is said that Mundelein the Builder put the Chicago archdiocese on the mapand he did, becoming the first Cardinal of the West. But he did far more. As the buildings went upQuigley preparatory seminary on the near North Side, a Catholic seminary and university in a rural location 40 miles north of the citynot only did Chicagos priests and laity bend to their unified tasks, but Chicagos civic and political leadership marveled. Not only was he obeyed, this New York City German with the Prussian bearing became beloved. So much so that the small Protestant country town of Area, Illinois where he built his seminary asked for permission to adopt his name as theirsMundelein. And Mundelein, Illinois it remains today.
Today, after misinterpretation and mistranslation of Vatican II and a world-wind of social revolution, the Church in Chicagoand elsewhereis in disarray. Bishops have tried to flatter, then appease dissident clergy and laity. They have sought to butter them upespecially the mediaby seeking to install democratic procedures. Greater lay participation is essential but not shared governance. As Mundelein instructed us Chicagoans in a lesson that has been sorely forgotten, this is not a democratic Church. Authority of the Church is supposed to be a work of servicefirst of all, service to Christ to carry out His mission not a service to priests nor to congregants or to get good press or to be popular or to square with modern trends. Thats what Mundelein would say: and it applies to almost all other dioceses (I make exception for such ones run by Mundelein tenets--such as Lincoln, Nebraska). But this Wanderer writer longs for return of Mundelein in the town he governed so well. And extension of Mundelein-ism in dioceses across the nation. It is not too late.
I am sure George Cardinal Mundelein was not a perfect human beingbut after studying his life and work intensely, I think he very nearly was. Such imperfections as he had were so microscopic that they could hardly be discerned next to weak hierarchal, wishy-washy media-centric vacillations of today. Did Mundelein so concentrate on brick and mortar to the detriment of providing spiritual leadership? Nope. Mundelein published Letters of a Bishop to his Flock, a book that is still vital and fresh today. Nine letters emphasize the need for Catholic charity; nine provide catechetical instruction for sermons by priests at Sunday Mass; ten on the First World War and the postwar period; three on the Eucharistic Congress, the first and only one, held in this city.
Because he was so successful a prelate, was he smitten by ego? Nope. Askedindeed, begged by admirersto write an autobiography or memoir of his work and times so he could leave lessons for future bishops, he declined, saying simply with incredible understatement: [There are] really no outstanding events in my life! Then he added: and there is the ever-present danger of taking too much to ourselves the credit for what has been accomplished through us by the Holy Spirit.
Because he was so imbued with Prussian sense of military order, was he unfeeling for social justice? Nope again. He wrote tirelessly during the Depression about the responsibilities the Church and all of us have to serve orphans in the Chicagoland area. He reinvigorated and reorganized Catholic Charities, determined to move the Church in uniquely humane ways to serve the poor. Finally, was he so imbued with administrative procedure that he neglected the human quotient? Not at all. Wrong: He knew all his priests personally by name, when there were more priests than there are nowan outstanding trait that has never been duplicated.
Therefore, its difficult to imagine that he would be content as a participant in the oracular cave of winds that has become the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with its cavernous headquarters in Washington, D. C. set up as a kind of UN Security Council, with padded chairs, microphones for each bishop and staffs of clerical and professional assistants. And it is certainly impossible to conceive that he would have sacrificed his power as bishop to obey priest-ordered pastoral term limits, requiring pastors to be transferredparticularly those doing a good job. Mundelein recognized that for good priests, a parish is the nearest thing to his family and stability should be maintained for the good of both congregants and priests.
If it is impossible to think hed buy term limitswhich sprang from the wishes of liberal priests who challenged authorityit would be stunning to imagine that he would accept term limits for some priests and not for chancery favorites. And certainly not the refusal of dissident priests who refuse to be transferred, such as Fr. Michael Pfleger, the blond-haired white demagogic pastor of an all-black church who, if corrected, threatens to leave the Church and start his own religion. Fr. Pfleger would be shown the door. Mundelein would know as some current chancery officials do not that Pflegerism as a religion would be as phony on its own as Scientism.
What then can be cited as an example of Mundeleins human qualityan instance where he goofed up? There is one. Its legend in this archdiocese. A phenomenally colorful priest in Mundeleins time was Fr. Patrick J. Molloy, known to his priest colleagues as Muggsy. Endowed with a truly gregarious personality and infectious Irish wit, Fr. Molloy won city-wide attention for his outstanding traits as pastor of a church on the South Side and later on the North Side. Particularly, during the Depression era he ran parish benefits and Bingo games that raised money in enormous amounts. His weekly Sunday collections had baskets filled to overflowing with big money. Mundelein kept a close eye on him because Fr. Malloy was close to men with pointy-toed shoes and colorful, checkered suits as well as pasts, i.e. a group which in Chicagoese has always been known as the Outfit.
Not that Fr. Malloy was a participant but that he knew all the Outfit players well and at his Masses, gentlemen whose surnames often ended with vowels would unload wads of cash into the collection baskets; When he held Bingo, the Outfit would see that their minions flooded to the church basements to playoften donating big bucks before and after the games.
Once when he was visiting the chancery, Fr. Malloy was told by the Chancellor that a car was stolen from the parking lota car belonging to the Vicar General. Fr. Malloy asked what kind of car it was and was told it was a Packard (then top-of-the-line in automobiles). He followed up by asking the color, the make and year. Finally he asked for the license plate. These things he was given. Whereupon he excused himself and went to a pay phone where he was engaged in a whispered conversation for a long time. When the Vicar General came to work the next morning, the Packard was sitting in the lotwashed and waxed. When asked, Fr. Malloy expressed gratitude that the thief evidently had suffered a pang of conscience. But Mundelein pondered the case long and hard.
In early 1923, one Dion OBanion, a former altar-boy turned prominent Outfit mobster, took a job in a florist shop across from Holy Name cathedral, at 738 North State Street, to add a touch of legitimacy to his work, the florist shop becoming a command center for the North Side mob. Someone from the Capone wing of the mob took umbrage at OBanion and riddled his body with slugs the following November (a few bullets chipping the façade of the Cathedral).
Outraged at the gang, Cardinal Mundelein ordered that OBanion not be buried with the spiritual consolation of the Church since his life had been a public scandal. The OBanion mob was disconsolate since religious burials meant very much to its members. OBanions body was waked, then mysteriously disappeared, then reappeared at an out-of-the-way church in the suburbs where Fr. Malloy offered requiem Mass, supposedly in secret.
But the Cardinal found out.
In that era, a Prince of the Church could banish a priest to any part of the world where another prelate would willingly receive him. Mundelein decided to banish Fr. Malloy for his disobedience to do penance in the nation of Panama, to a tiny church near the Canal. Ten years later, the Cardinals sisters came to dinner with their brother at the archbishops residence. They had just returned from a vacation trip to several countries in central America. They told their brother, the Cardinal, that before going through the Panama Canal, they went to Mass at an out-of-the-way church and found there a very ingratiating and charming Irish priest who told them he was affiliated with the archdiocese of Chicago.
The Cardinal clapped his hand to his forehead and said, My God! Muggsy Malloy! I forgot all about him! He ordered Fr. Malloy brought back. He told the priest that the penance was concluded but that the Cardinal would watch him closely. Cardinal Mundelein died in 1939; Patrick J. Molloy, none the worse for wear and brimming with fresh stories from central America, was made a monsignor on his 40th anniversary as a priest by Mundeleins successor, Francis Cardinal Stritch. It is fair to surmise that Mundelein would not have approved.
The lapse in memory about Fr. Malloy was the only failing this Wanderer reporter could turn up concerning George Cardinal Mundelein, the man who tamed the warring dissident priests, put Chicago in the Churchs big leagues and flourished without arrogance the miter of rule as he walked with Prussian authority down the aisle of Holy Name cathedral.
God love and keep him. He typified by example that the Chicago Church, by the will of God, is not a democracy but is hierarchically structured as its Founder intended. May it return to that state againhere in Chicago and across America.