One of the most beautiful libraries that I have ever visited was the Feehan Memorial Library at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois (about an hour’s drive north of Chicago). Built in 1929, and inspired by sixteenth-century Italian palaces, the architecture of the library may not be the most practical, but it is definitely gorgeous. The McEssy Theological Resource Center, which was a 2004 addition to the library, is not as classical in appearance as the main building, but it is also beautiful. The library contains approximately 200,000 volumes and specializes in theological resources.
The University of Saint Mary of the Lake is a Catholic seminary that trains men to become priests. Originally founded in 1844, it closed in 1866, due to financial difficulties. However, Archbishop (later Cardinal) George Mundelein helped push for its 1924 reopening, and ultimately influenced the Illinois village where the school was located to be named after him. In 1926, the new University was one of the hosts for the 28th Eucharistic Congress in 1926, which is when Catholics from around the world gather together to perform Communion. Today, the Univeristy of Saint Mary of the Lake has approximately 150 seminarians, but 1000 students total in all of its programs (both part-time and full-time).
In the McEssy Theological Resource Center, there is a hidden museum. Visitors must specifically make an appointment if they would like to see it. This museum includes a large variety of objects, many of which were from Cardinal Mundelein’s personal collection. Included in this museum are old European furniture, Catholic religious items, and even the first serial editions of Charles Dickens’ books.
The University of Saint Mary of the Lake offers architectural tours of the campus upon request. However, visitors are welcome to visit the campus on their own as well. The campus has beautiful buildings, a picturesque lake, and a trail surrounding the lake. Because the university is religious in nature, people are asked to dress conservatively upon visiting. The University also offers housing for those interested in hosting a retreat there.
If you live in the area and need a quiet place to study, the University of Saint Mary of the Lake is definitely a worthwhile place to visit, both in its library and outside of it.
Sources and Further Reading
Chicago Catholic. “1926 Eucharistic Congress Brings ‘Sense of Wonder.’ Chicago Catholic. September 6, 2017. https://www.chicagocatholic.com/chicagoland/-/article/2017/09/06/1926-eucharistic-congress-brings-sense-of-wonder- (accessed August 8, 2020).
“History of University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary.” University of Saint Mary of the Lake. https://usml.edu/about/history/ (accessed August 8, 2020).
“Library History.” Feehan Memorial Library and McEssy Theological Resource Center. October 9, 2019. https://library.usml.edu/c.php?g=874237&p=6276785 (accessed August 8, 2020).