Sister Jean Sets the Record Straight on Mundelein Haunting

Michen Dewey | The PHOENIXOne of the first written accounts of the Mundelein ghost appeared in the PHOENIX in 1999. Since then the story has evolved as it has been retold through the years.

For years, ghost stories and haunting tales have persisted at Loyola. But finding evidence to support these stories can be as elusive as actually catching a ghost.

Loyola’s most infamous haunting focuses on one tale in particular: the death of a nun in the Mundelein Center for Fine and Performing Arts.

One of the few written accounts of this myth doesn’t quite line up with reality.

According to the version of the story found in Richard Southall’s 2013 book “Haunted Route 66: Ghost’s of America’s Legendary Highway,” a nun and a priest had an affair in the 1880s. Southall wrote that Mundelein was still known as St. Ignatius College at the time.

However, Mundelein Center was not built until 1930, according to Ashley Howdeshell, assistant university archivist.

The nun became pregnant and the priest refused to quit the priesthood for her, Southall writes.

While Southall’s version says the nun hanged herself on the 13th floor, other versions say it was the 14th floor. The priest found her and then jumped out of the window in despair, according to Southall. He writes that students sometimes see ghostly figures or flickering lights.

But how did this legend start?

The story has been around since Mundelein College first merged with Loyola University in 1991, according to Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, BVM. Sister Jean began working at Mundelein in 1961 and continued working at Loyola through the schools’ merging.

She said students found the building to be new and mysterious, especially because the upper floors were off limits, as they housed sisters.

“There’s a certain mystique about [the story], but it isn’t true,” Sister Jean said. “Never in the history of our community have we had anyone who hanged herself.”

Sister Jean said despite the lack of factual basis, the story does not bother her.

“Because I know it’s not true, it just amuses me. It’s been going on for over 25 years now,” Sister Jean said. “I consider this like a fairy tale.”

Possibly the earliest written version of the Mundelein nun tale can be traced back to the March 3, 1999 issue of The PHOENIX.

In the article “Hidden Secrets of Loyola,” writer Peter Gianopulos refers to the 14th floor as a “rendezvous” spot for a nun and priest.

“As the story goes, the 14th floor has been haunted by the nun, who threw herself out a window when the affair turned sour,” Gianopulos wrote.

Gianopulos graduated from Loyola in 2001 and went on to become a freelance writer and an adjunct professor at Loyola.

He said that the Mundelein ghost story had been around when he was at Loyola and no one was sure if it was true.

The article was written to engage readers and include more first-person experiences in the entertainment section, according to Gianopulos.

“The newspaper was trying to kind of break out of the mold it had been in in previous years and try to give students a wider variety of stories that they would start talking about,” Gianopulos said. “So, you can imagine anything with nuns, priests and sex would at least get people’s eyes to glance over at it for a moment or so.”

The story was also written at a time when there was “less enthusiasm” at Loyola, as the university was not building or growing at all, according to Gianopulos.

“The story [was] a lighthearted attempt to do something edgy, something people would read, but it also had an undercurrent, especially later [in my time at the university] where there was a thought that the newspaper had to sort of strike back at what was happening at the university in general,” he said.

Gianopulos’ brief mention of the distraught nun has since taken on a life of its own, with the elements of pregnancy and the priest’s death as mentioned by Southall added to the story as years went on.

There are no records of any nun dying in Mundelein, as The PHOENIX previously reported in an article posted in 2012. Support of the ghost theory is reliant on personal accounts from spooked students and workers, but none provide concrete evidence for the Mundelein myths.

A group of seven Loyola students put the story to the test during the 2016 Super Bowl, according to sophomores Alex Watts and Kyle Scheuring.

Watts, 19, said he and Scheuring, along with six other friends, took a Ouija board — a board with letters and numbers used to attempt to contact spirits — up to the 14th floor of Mundelein.

The group tried to contact the ghost, according to Watts. He said two of his friends placed their hands on the piece that is used to spell out messages from the ghost.

“Initially, I had my hand on the reader thing, but then I took it off because I was like, ‘I don’t want to get too deep into this,’” said the film and digital media major.

Scheuring, 19, said he also had his hand on the piece.

“At first, we were just kind of … pushing it to freak [our friends] out,” Scheuring said. “At least from my end, at my angle I pushed it, I never felt it … being pushed without me pushing it, but [the others] said they did.”

The other two friends touching the pointer thought they made contact with a spirit, according to Watts, but he said he was unsure. He said they asked the spirit if it was the infamous nun, but the pointer only moved slightly to the letter “s.”

“Everyone was kind of freaked out,” Watts said. “Some were more skeptical than others.”

Scheuring, an English major, said he doesn’t believe the story of the nun and doesn’t believe in ghosts.

Loyola faculty and staff have experienced strange encounters at Loyola, too, according to Ted Ruswick, chief engineer of Facilities at the Lake Shore Campus.

Ruswick said that one night in the early 1990s, he was working the night shift with his now-retired partner. His partner was in the basement of Coffey Hall, which had older nuns living on the top floor at the time, according to Ruswick.

Ruswick said his partner, who had also worked at Mundelein College and knew the nuns from there, saw a ghost.

“All of a sudden, there was this one nun that came where he was sitting and she was flying all around, and she had passed away years before,” Ruswick said. “[My partner] claims that she was flying around in circles around him.”

The partner knew the nun by name and said she had died several years prior.

While there’s little evidence to prove the ghost stories are anything more than tall tales perpetuated by students, Watts said it’s not his call to make.

“I feel like there’s always a suspension of judgment that should be involved … I totally believe in ghosts and aliens and all that good stuff,” Watts said. “While I didn’t have a valid experience [at Mundelein], I’m not saying it’s not possible.”

Gianopulos said he is not surprised that the story still persists today, given young adults’ tendencies to investigate things off limits to them, as the 14th floor used to be.

“I actually think this will probably continue on in one shape or another, as long as there’s a Loyola,” Gianopulos said.

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