1904 - 1979
1904 - 1979
Priest, pastor, educator, social justice advocate and liturgical reformer, Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, served as Rector of Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary from 1936 to 1944, and pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Winnetka, Illinois from 1944 to 1974. Known as one of Chicago's most influential and inspirational priests, Hillenbrand was a visionary leader of liturgical reform and social renewal. As one of the American pioneers of the Liturgical Movement in the United States, Hillenbrand began promoting active participation in the liturgy decades before the Second Vatican Council made today's liturgical practices the norm. Always conscious that worshippers formed a Mystical Body with Christ as its head, Hillenbrand encouraged appropriate lay participation so that Christ's work, which continued in the Church, could flourish on earth.
Deeply interested in social renewal during and after the Great Depression and World War II, Hillenbrand believed that Christians would be transformed by the Divine Life by participating fully in the sacred liturgy, giving praise to God and receiving sanctifying grace. These individuals, then transformed, would bring this overflowing Divine Life to others in the workplace, schools, at home, with the poor, and in all aspects of social interaction. This cultural renewal avoided the excesses of both unbridled capitalism and collectivist communism, instead finding its source in Christ.
As a prolific speaker and founder of numerous organizations and events, including the National Liturgical Weeks, the Summer Schools of Social Action and the Catholic Family Movement, Hillenbrand shaped the understanding of generations of priests and laypeople. He helped them to understand that the grace of Christ available in the sacred liturgy was the true source of personal and social renewal, and that this grace was most fruitful when people participated in the sacramental life of the Church most fully.
Reynold Hillenbrand was born on July 19, 1904, the second of nine children and the grandson of German immigrants who settled in Wisconsin. Reynold’s father, George, moved to Chicago to earn his degree in dentistry from Northwestern University, marrying Eleanor Schmidt in 1901. The family joined Saint Michael’s parish in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, which like many German parishes, had a strong sense of social justice. St. Michael’s published the bilingual magazine entitled Central Blatt and Social Justice, and participated in events sponsored by the German Central Verein, a Catholic organization which fought Freemasonry and looked after the welfare of Catholic immigrants in the United States. St. Michael's was also known for its rich liturgical and devotional traditions and strong music program. Hillenbrand would later take this formation to his own efforts in uniting liturgy and social justice.
Hillenbrand's formation remained deeply intertwined with the educational efforts of Cardinal George Mundelein, who founded both Quigley Preparatory Seminary and Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary, insisting on the highest educational standards and using the system to identify men of particular talent. Young Reynold was already known by his lifelong nicknames of “Hilly” and “Reiny.” He evidently showed leadership potential in his educational life, and his high school activities preﬁgure the many gifts he would use in his priestly ministry. The debate team no doubt prepared him as a preacher and persuasive orator. As founder and editor-in-chief of the school’s daily newspaper, The Candle, Hilly honed his writing and organizational skills, and as a member of the school’s orchestra and choir, he developed his skills in music which would prove central to his later innovations in congregational liturgical participation.
At Saint Mary of the Lake, Hillenbrand excelled academically, and was ordained to the priesthood earlier than the rest of his class as a special recognition of his abilities. He later completed his License and Doctorate at Saint Mary of the Lake and would eventually become its rector.
Cardinal George Mundelein named Hillenbrand rector of Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary in 1936 at the age of 31. The founding of the seminary was a project dear to Mundelein’s heart, and its leadership no doubt required a man Mundelein could trust profoundly. The intellectual and energetic Hillenbrand wasted no time in bringing new ideas to the seminary program. Putting his beliefs about the corporate nature of the liturgy as an action of the Mystical Body of Christ into action, Hillenbrand brought the seminarians, who had until then worshipped in separate chapels, into a sung communal Sunday High Mass. He urged the use of the “dialogue Mass” so that seminarians could sing the responses, and expected the celebrant of each Mass to preach a daily homily on topics relevant to the scriptures, liturgical feast, or season.
Hillenbrand developed and taught a liturgy course for the seminary which addressed the nature and doctrine of the liturgy itself rather than the externals of the ceremonies alone. “The all-essential thing in the liturgy is to understand the doctrinal basis,” he wrote in 1942. For that reason, he studied closely the “divine life and the Mystical Body, because without understanding these it is quite useless to talk about the details of the Mass.” Hillenbrand’s skills as a preacher were legendary. Throughout his life he never ceased to be bombarded with speaking invitations. Seminarians recalled how even when not attending Mass, they would sneak into the sacristy and listen to his sermons.
Always a loyal churchman, Hillenbrand’s lectures on liturgy remained rooted in the Church’s official teaching, especially the writings of Pope Pius X, whose 1903 motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini used the phrase “active participation” for the ﬁrst time in relation to the liturgy. More important to Hillenbrand than classroom time, however, was the students’ lived experience of the liturgy. He insisted they learn the chants of the Mass, that appropriate liturgical colors and vestures be used, and that the Roman Missal be followed carefully.
Hillenbrand was known to students as formal and aloof, yet his ideas and preaching were considered magnetic and charismatic. At left he is shown outside the seminary chapel among students after an ordination ceremony in 1943.
Hillenbrand invited the nation’s leading liturgical minds to lecture at the seminary, including Virgil Michel, Martin Hellriegel, Catherine DeHuech Doherty, Godfrey Diekmann and Dorothy Day, placing the seminary on the forefront of liturgical theology and forming a generation of Chicago priests.
Tribute from The Liturgical Institute, University of Saint Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, IL.