The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Windy City monastery may get a second wind

A group of seminarians from a variety of faiths has banded together to try and buy a former Carmelite monastery in Chicago’s New Hyde Park section.

If that’s not ambitious enough, their plans including using the building as an interfaith center.

The Chicago Tribune has the scoop:

For a dozen years, Roman Catholic friars prayed inside the ordinary red-brick building on a shady Hyde Park corner and prepared to devote their lives to the church. For decades before that, a young Mormon congregation gathered there to study Scripture and worship. Now a small group of determined seminarians hopes to make the building its own and create a sacred space for believers of all faiths to live together and work toward peace.


Le Anne Clausen, 29, a student at Chicago Theological Seminary, envisions building a Center for Peace and Understanding that would help bridge the chasm between different religious traditions and shape a generation of selfless clergy.

Converting the monastery into affordable housing for aspiring religious leaders would offer a sense of community to commuter students attending Hyde Park seminaries, she said. It would also ease concerns about making ends meet, Clausen said, allowing them to focus on following their hearts.

“This is a beautiful spiritual space in our neighborhood, that has a history shared by several religious traditions who have used it,” said Clausen, director of SeminaryAction, a non-profit group that sponsors interfaith activities and opportunities for seminarians to volunteer and interact.


While the idea for the center may seem quixotic to some, for Clausen it is a goal within reach and worth a try. As she searches for financial sponsors to help buy the $1.5 million monastery, Clausen has been pulling all-nighters writing grant proposals and business plans in hopes of succeeding before the fall semester starts next week.

She envisions providing affordable housing for a dozen students taking courses at any of the six seminaries in Hyde Park: the University of Chicago Divinity School, Chicago Theological Seminary, Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, McCormick Theological Seminary, Catholic Theological Union and Meadville-Lombard School of Theology.

The project also would add what Clausen believes to be an essential component to seminary education: an opportunity for hands-on ministry. While many students come to Chicago seeking experience in urban ministry, Clausen laments that they often land in mostly white suburban churches to do their fieldwork and hear dire warnings about the neighborhoods surrounding Hyde Park.


“Too often they end up withdrawing into the walls of their campuses,” Clausen said. “Very few even get to know students from other church denominations and faith backgrounds while they’re here. … I say, why not help Chicago become the world’s center for training religious leaders in interfaith peacemaking and cooperative action? Especially towards addressing so many of the deep problems we have in our city and our world?”

To help do that, Clausen and friends formed SeminaryAction more than a year ago. The organization targeted seminarians who felt discouraged from doing ministry in nearby blighted areas and believed the ecumenical movement of the 1970s — efforts to bridge the gaps between Christian denominations — had faded.


“Ecumenism, even though it’s not necessarily trendy anymore … is still really important,” said founding member Heather Greenwell, a graduate of Catholic Theological Union who now supports the project through her job at the Interfaith Youth Core. “We all have similar concerns, and our impact can be even greater if we work on the shared values we have.”

It’s a fascinating idea — and if you want to find out more, you can visit the SeminaryAction website to find out how you can help.

Photo: Chicago Theological Seminary

Comments read comments(4)
post a comment
Fr. J

posted August 31, 2007 at 4:03 pm

Do you honestly think that this would be a good idea for SEMINARY FORMATION? Let the students be crossed with doubts from their classmates from other denominations? This sounds like anything BUT a sound formation. First the students need a solid base, then let them venture into ecumenism. They have to build their houses up on solid rock; seminary formation must give them that solid rock for them to build on, not grainy sand that may slip from under their feet at any moment.

report abuse

Deacon Greg Kandra

posted August 31, 2007 at 5:15 pm

Fr. J: You raise an interesting point. But I tend to think that if someone enters seminary and is able to have his or her belief swayed that easily, they aren’t cut out for ministry in the first place. Besides: every potter knows that formation is best accomplished with clay, not sand (or, for that matter, rock!) :-) Blessings,Dcn. G.

report abuse

Deacon Volker

posted August 31, 2007 at 9:20 pm

Boy I don’t know but I think I’m going to have to go with Fr.J on this topic. I think part of our family’s problems stem from a rush towards a false “ecumenism”. If this is formation, it’s formation heading for trouble.

report abuse

Fr. J

posted September 1, 2007 at 3:00 am

I´m actually thinking more along the lines of WHAT you believe, not how firm your belief is. It is not uncommon for boys to enter the seminary at a young age, and not yet intellectually formed, even though their faith is firm (in those things they know about). It seems to me that it is much more to their advantage to hear only sound doctrine for a while instead of conflicting voices that may, God forbid, lead them astray. (I have incidentally also seen many seminarians swayed by arguments of sentiment because they weren’t clear on the doctrine).

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

This blog is no longer active
This blog is no longer being actively updated. Please feel free to browse the archives or: Read our most popular inspiration blog See our most popular inspirational video Take our most popular quiz ...

posted 10:42:40pm Dec. 12, 2010 | read full post »

One day more
A reminder: "The Deacon's Bench" is closed! Please enjoy the archives! ...

posted 11:26:20pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Meet Montana's married priest
Earlier this week, I posted an item about Montana getting its first married priest. Now a local TV station has hopped on the bandwagon. Take a look, below. ...

posted 10:29:55pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Big day in the Big Easy: 10 new deacons
Deacon Mike Talbot has the scoop: 10 men today were ordained as Permanent Deacons for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. This group of men was formally selected on the day the evacuation of New Orleans began as Hurricane Katrina approached. The ...

posted 6:55:42pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »

Gaudete! And let's break out a carol or two...
"Gesu Bambino," anyone? This is one of my favorites, and nobody does it better than these gals: Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Staade. Enjoy. ...

posted 1:04:10pm Dec. 11, 2010 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.