George Mundelein

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George William Mundelein
Cardinal, Archbishop of Chicago
AppointedDecember 9, 1915
InstalledFebruary 9, 1916
Term endedOctober 2, 1939
PredecessorJames Edward Quigley
SuccessorSamuel Stritch
Other post(s)Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria del Popolo
OrdinationJune 8, 1895
by Charles Edward McDonnell
ConsecrationSeptember 21, 1909
by Charles Edward McDonnell
Created cardinalMarch 24, 1924
by Pius XI
Personal details
Born(1872-07-02)July 2, 1872
DiedOctober 2, 1939(1939-10-02) (aged 67)
Mundelein, Illinois
Previous post(s)
MottoDominus Adjutor Meus
(The Lord Is My Help)
SignatureGeorge William Mundelein's signature
Coat of armsGeorge William Mundelein's coat of arms

George William Mundelein (July 2, 1872 – October 2, 1939) was an American cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Archbishop of Chicago from 1915 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1924.

Early life and ministry[edit]

Styles of
George Mundelein
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal
George William Mundelein c. 1916
Mundelein as Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn

George Mundelein was born on Avenue C in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City.[1] He was the only son of Francis and Mary (née Goetz) Mundelein, who were of German descent; one of three children, he had two sisters, Margaret and Catherine.[2] His grandfather fought in the Civil War.[3]

He received his early education at the parochial school of St. Nicholas Kirche. He attended La Salle Academy and Manhattan College, where he befriended Patrick Joseph Hayes (a future cardinal and Archbishop of New York).[4] He graduated from Manhattan in 1889 with high honors. Mundelein also studied at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, where he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Charles Edward McDonnell on June 8, 1895.[5]

Returning to the United States, he then did pastoral work in the Diocese of Brooklyn and served as secretary to Bishop McDonnell until 1897. From 1897 to 1909, he was chancellor for the diocese.


On June 30, 1909, Mundelein was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn and Titular Bishop of Loryma by Pope Pius X. He received his episcopal consecration on the following September 21 from Bishop McDonnell, with Bishops Charles H. Colton and John O'Connor serving as co-consecrators, at St. James Cathedral-Basilica. At thirty-six, Mundelein was the youngest bishop in the country at that time.[5]

Archbishop of Chicago[edit]

Mundelein was named the third Archbishop of Chicago, Illinois, on December 9, 1915.[6] The Holy See had originally intended to appoint Mundelein to the Diocese of Buffalo, and the more experienced Dennis Dougherty to Chicago, but the British government reportedly objected to having a bishop of German ancestry so close to the Canadian border during World War I.[7][8] Thus, Dougherty was named to Buffalo and Mundelein to Chicago.

Mundelein was formally installed as archbishop on February 9, 1916, and was appointed an assistant at the pontifical throne on May 8, 1920.

The archdiocese greatly expanded its charity functions during the Great Depression, rivaling that of Chicago's Associated Jewish Charities. A citywide network of St. Vincent de Paul Societies was established.

Poison plot 1916[edit]

At a large dinner held at the University Club of Chicago on February 12, 1916, an anarchist chef, Jean Crones, slipped arsenic into the soup in an attempt to poison Mundelein and over 100 other guests, including Illinois Governor Edward F. Dunne. The soup was watered down due to the arrival of about fifty extra guests. None of the assembled guests died, as a hastily prepared emetic was supplied by a doctor, J. B. Murphy, who although mildly stricken himself, was able to help the other victims. (Many vomited the poison out of their systems, though suffering considerable agony.)[9][10] Mundelein ate only a bite or two of the soup.[11] Newspapers referred to the mass-murder attempt as the "Mundelein poison soup plot". Jean Crones was suspected at the time of being a German agent but turned out to be an Italian anarchist named Nestor Dondoglio, a member of the Galleanist circle of anarchists who also included Sacco and Vanzetti. Dondoglio allegedly wrote letters to American newspapers after the crime (many of these were hoaxes). He was never apprehended, though police spent years taking men into custody thought to be "Jean Crones".[12] Crones/Dondoglio died peacefully in Connecticut in 1932 "where he had found haven with friends".[13]

Catholic schools[edit]

Almost half the Chicago population was Catholic by the 1920s. Many children--perhaps half--attended public schools. The risk of exposure to Protestant proselytizing was minimal since over a third of the public school teachers were Catholics, along with almost as many principals. The parishes built their own schools, using sisters (who had taken vows of poverty) as inexpensive teachers. German and Polish parents appreciated that the schools taught most classes in their own language. On taking office Archbishop Mundelein promptly centralized control of the parish schools in his own hands. His building committee decided where new schools would be located, while his school board standardized curricula, textbooks, teacher training, testing, and educational policy. Simultaneously he gained a voice in city hall, and Catholic William J. Bogan became Superintendent of public schools.[14]


Pope Pius XI created him Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria del Popolo in the consistory of March 24, 1924. With his elevation, Chicago became the first diocese west of the Allegheny Mountains to have a cardinal.[2] Several years later in 1926, he presided over the 28th International Eucharistic Congress, which was held in Chicago.

In 1933, he was appointed judge for the apostolic process for Mother Cabrini's cause for canonization.[15]

Mundelein served as papal legate to the eighth National Eucharistic Congress in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 13, 1938, and was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 1939 papal conclave, which selected Pope Pius XII.[16]


Mundelein died from heart disease in his sleep in Mundelein, Illinois (a village renamed in his own honor 14 years prior to his death), at age 67. He is buried behind the main altar of the chapel at Mundelein Seminary, which was founded on his initiative.


Church and politics[edit]

Considered a liberal,[17] Mundelein was a friend of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and supporter of the New Deal.[18][19] A staunch supporter of trade unions, the Cardinal once remarked:

The trouble with [the Church] in the past has been that we were too often allied or drawn into an alliance with the wrong side. Selfish employers of labor have flattered the Church by calling it the great conservative force, and then called upon it to act as a police force while they paid but a pittance of wage to those who work for them. I hope that day has gone by. Our place is beside the workingman.[20]

Film industry[edit]

Mundelein commented on the film industry in 1934, saying, "We don't like the Mae West type ... The kind of film in which Will Rogers, Janet Gaynor, and Victor Moore appear is what we have in mind."[21]


In 1935, he said "that not war, nor famine, nor pestilence have brought so much suffering and pain to the human race, as have hasty, ill-advised marriages, unions entered into without the knowledge, the preparation, the thought even an important commercial contract merits and receives. God made marriage an indissoluble contract, Christ made it a sacrament, the world today has made it a plaything of passion, an accompaniment of sex, a scrap of paper to be torn up at the whim of the participants."[22] He was an outspoken opponent of contraception.[23]

Ethnic groups[edit]

During his tenure in Chicago, Mundelein launched an effort to unify ethnic Catholic groups such as the Poles and Italians into territorial, instead of ethnic, parishes with mixed success. St. Monica's parish, however, was endorsed by Mundelein as the city's sole black parish, leading to distaste for the archbishop in both the early 1900s and today. After constructing the landmark Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago, Mundelein built St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, later renamed Mundelein Seminary in his honor, in Area, now Mundelein, Illinois.[24][25] Quigley Seminary was the site of Mundelein's 1937 "paper hanger" speech, criticizing Adolf Hitler. He also organized the construction of other churches in the see, such as the Saint Philip Neri church and the Corpus Christi Church, both designed by Chicago architect Joseph W. McCarthy.[26] He publicly sparred with the Father Charles Coughlin,[27] the Detroit Catholic priest who broadcast anti banking and anti-Semitic views to millions of radio listeners until he was forced off the air in 1939.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bennett, William Harper (1927). Handbook to Catholic Historical New York City. New York: Schwartz, Kirwin & Fauss.
  2. ^ a b "Two Americans". Time. March 17, 1924. Archived from the original on November 21, 2010. Retrieved March 24, 2009.
  3. ^ Walsh, James Joseph. Our American Cardinals. 1969, Ayer Publishing.
  4. ^ "Catholics in Cleveland". Time. September 30, 1935. Archived from the original on November 2, 2012. Retrieved March 24, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Lewis, Michael. "George Cardinal Mundelein (1872-1939)", University of Saint Mary of the Lake
  6. ^ "George William Cardinal Mundelein".
  7. ^ Fogarty, Gerald P. (1989). Patterns of Episcopal Leadership. Macmillan.
  8. ^ Morris, Charles R. (2002). "God's Bricklayer". American Catholic Studies. 113 (3/4): 3–53. JSTOR 44195159.
  9. ^ Avrich, Paul, Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background, Princeton University Press (1991), p. 98
  10. ^ Bruns, Roger A., The Damndest Radical: The Life and World of Ben Reitman, University of Illinois Press (1987), ISBN 0-252-06989-7, p. 154
  11. ^ Norton, W. B. (February 13, 1916). "Mundelein Not Worried By Plot To Poison Diners". Chicago Tribune. p. 4. Retrieved December 19, 2020 – via
  12. ^ "Chicago Daily Tribune". March 22, 1920.
  13. ^ Jacob, Mark (February 10, 2016). "A century ago today, an anarchist tried to kill Chicago's archbishop with soup", Chicago Tribune.
  14. ^ James W. Sanders, The education of an urban minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833-1965 (Oxford UP, 1977) pp. 126-136, 147-160.
  15. ^ "Chicago Tribunal". Time. September 18, 1933. Archived from the original on September 18, 2008.
  16. ^ Miranda, Salvador. "Mundelein, George William". The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ "Builder's Death". Time. October 9, 1939. Archived from the original on March 8, 2008.
  18. ^ "Plot". Time. November 21, 1938. Archived from the original on August 26, 2010.
  19. ^ "Religion and Democracy". Time. January 16, 1939. Archived from the original on December 14, 2008.
  20. ^ "Catholics for Labor". Time. June 2, 1941. Archived from the original on June 24, 2010.
  21. ^ "Mundelein Message". Time. October 1, 1934. Archived from the original on November 25, 2010.
  22. ^ "Marriage". Time. October 1, 1935. Archived from the original on December 22, 2011.
  23. ^ "Birth Control". Time. December 17, 1923. Archived from the original on March 13, 2010.
  24. ^ Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary
  25. ^ University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary - Contact us Archived September 16, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Joseph William McCarthy at Emporis
  27. ^ "Not Authorized". Time. December 19, 1938. Archived from the original on August 26, 2010.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kantowicz, Edward R. "Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century American Catholicism." Journal of American History 68.1 (1981): 52-68. online
  • Kantowicz, Edward R. Corporation Sole: Cardinal Mundelein and Chicago Catholicism (U of Notre Dame Press, 1983).
  • Sanders, James W. The education of an urban minority: Catholics in Chicago, 1833-1965 (Oxford UP, 1977).

Primary sources[edit]

  • Mundelein, George William. Two Crowded Years: Being Selected Addresses, Pastorals, and Letters Issued During the First Twenty-four Months of the Episcopate of the Most Rev. George William Mundelein, DD, as Archbishop of Chicago (Extension Press, 1918) online.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Archbishop of Chicago

Succeeded by
Preceded by
Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn
Succeeded by