Benedictine University has a tradition of excellence in undergraduate science programs. Our founders include men like naturalists Frs. Edmund and Hilary Jurica and Fr. Theodore Suchy, who believed that scientists should not be afraid to get their hands dirty, and professors like Rose Carney, Frank Shonka and William Jesse, who worked on the Manhattan Project under the bleachers at the University of Chicago.
The Birck Hall of Science is named after Michael and Kay Birck who became involved at BenU when their son, Christopher, enrolled as a student. Michael was a member of the President's Advisory Council and has served on the Board of Trustees from 1988 to the present, including as chairman. One of the many philanthropic efforts of which he and Kay have taken part, was sponsoring the annual Educare Scholarship Ball, which raised money for students in need of financial assistance. Michael is founder of Tellabs, Inc. and he and Kay have made many generous contributions, particularly in the area of science.
Mr. Birck passed away on July 6, 2015 at the age of 77. Read Benedictine's press release. Please click here to read about his wonderful accomplishments.
Father Edmund Jurica, O.S.B. was born in Cloverdale, IL on July 16,1900. His family moved to St. Procopius parish in Chicago where he attended the parish school. Father Edmund then came to Lisle to attend St. Procopius Academy (now Benet Academy) and St. Procopius College, which is now Benedictine University. Father Edmund professed his monastic vows on July 17, 1917 and was ordained to the priesthood on May 26, 1923. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago in 1926.
In many ways, it is hard to talk about Fr. Edmund or Fr. Hilary separately as they worked together for so many years, sharing common goals of excellence for the school and their students. For over forty years Fr. Hilary and Fr. Edmund worked to develop the biology department at St. Procopius College. Fr. Edmund taught pre-med courses and for seven years he taught summer school classes in zoology at DePaul University. Frequent trips and exchanges with other institutions enabled the two brothers to accumulate a vast collection of plant and animal specimens which the brothers considered to be a teaching collection and not a museum. The Jurica brothers believed very strongly in the "hands-on" method of instruction and were dedicated to their students. Together they produced a series of biology charts and accompanying worksheets which are still in use in biology classrooms across the country. In a presentation to colleagues in 1938, Father Edmund expressed his feelings about the use of the animal collection. "Some call this collection a museum--that it absolutely is not.....The mounts are withdrawn from the cabinets and placed upon a table when the animals are studied...How inferior is the course in zoology if the students have no contact with at least a few real animals live or dead!"
Father Edmund was known as a dedicated and painstaking instructor by his students. In 1962 he received the St. Procopius College Distinguished Educator Award and the 1963 college yearbook was dedicated to him. The editors noted that Fr. Edmund was a most inspiring man who never turned away a student in need.
In addition to his classroom work and professional development, Fr. Edmund, along with Fr. Victor Laketek, O.S.B., conducted one of the largest bird-banding and classification stations in the United States during the 1930's. In 1952, the observatory which was designed by Fr. Edmund and built by Brother Andrew Havlik, O.S.B. was opened on the campus. Fr. Edmund spent the last years of his life presiding over the development of the Jurica Museum as the Scholl Science Center was built.
Much saddened by the death of his brother in 1970, Father Edmund proudly presided over the dedication of the museum named after Father Hillary (and later himself as well) in the Scholl Science Center.
Father Edmund died on October 26, 1972.
Father Hilary Jurica, O.S.B. was born in Slovakia on June 19, 1892. His family moved to the United States when he was a young boy and moved again from Cloverdale, IL to Chicago where he finished his elementary education at St. Procopius Parish school. Fr. Hilary attended that parish's high school and enrolled as a scholastic in Lisle in 1911. He professed his monastic vows on July 12, 1915. Fr. Hilary was ordained on May 21, 1921 and he was awarded a doctorate degree in biology from the University of Chicago on the feast of St. Benedict, March 21, 1922. Father Hilary was the first monk of St. Procopius Abbey to attain this academic honor and the first American Benedictine to receive a doctorate from a secular university.
With his younger brother, Fr. Edmund, he worked for forty years to elevate the college to the high level for which it continues to be known. Fr. Hilary, the botanist, and Fr. Edmund, the zoologist, travelled around the country during the summer months gathering many of the specimens on display in the Jurica Nature Museum. They worked closely with other biologists around the country to bring many treasures to the college's collections. The driving force behind this collecting was education--the Jurica brothers were in the forefront of the hands-on education movement. The specimens were collected and shared for educational purposes and not for display. In addition, Fr. Hilary and Fr. Edmund worked with many students to produce the Jurica Biology Charts and accompanying student worksheets which are still used by high schools and colleges across the United States.
Father Hilary held memberships in no fewer than 11 science societies around the United States and for 19 summers he taught courses at DePaul University, where he directed over 80 masters theses in biology. Father Hilary was responsible for obtaining for the college the skeleton of the famous gorilla, Bushman (d. January 1, 1951), who lived at Lincoln Park Zoo and who can be seen at the Field Museum. Father Hilary also devised innovative ways of preserving and displaying specimens for his students to study. He devised both wet and dry methods of displaying many specimens which are still in use today, both in the biology department and in the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum.
Although not renowned as a demanding teacher, Fr. Hilary was loved and respected by his students. He received the St. Procopius College Distinguished Educator Award in 1960.
In addition to his work at the college and collecting specimens, Fr. Hilary was a priest who worked hard at a job he loved for 49 years at St. Vitus Parish in Chicago where he baptized over 1000 people and witnessed the marriages of more than 250 couples. He worked with the school children and often took them on street cars to visit the Field Museum.
At the dedication of the museum in 1971, Right Reverend Daniel Kucera, O.S.B., Abbot of St. Procopius Abbey, spoke of Fr. Hilary and added the following: I could stop here but I have one more point to make because I am sure Fr. Edmund would never make it. Father Hilary had the rarest of good fortune. He had a younger brother at his side throughout his entire life. A good brother that so ably complemented and assisted him, working side by side as a fellow scientist, a fellow monk and a fellow priest. Father Edmund's own modesty would prevent him from saying what a large contribution he made not only to this college and his community but to Father Hilary himself by supporting him, by working with him and by encouraging him...
Fr. Hilary, when I knew him, was a “grandfatherly type. He had a big smile and usually seemed cheerful. He was an outgoing person and quite forward—if he wanted something, he pushed and prodded till he got what he wanted. He was the moving force behind the Jurica series of biology flip charts. - Wayne Weslowski
Father Hilary died on February 8, 1970.
Born in Cary, Illinois, on December 4, 1940, David Suchy came to St. Procopius College after graduating from Crystal Lake Community High School. Joining the monastic community, he professed his monastic vows on June 24, 1962. As a cleric, he taught both English and Science courses at St. Procopius, and then Benet, Academy. Father Theodore was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Romeo Blanchette at St. Raymond Nonnatus Cathedral on May 27, 1967. His first bachelor's degree having been in philosophy, he completed a second one in biology in 1968 and then continued his studies at Indiana University, from which he obtained a Master of Science degree in Biology in 1970.
The death of the noted biologists, Fathers Hilary and Edmund Jurica, in the early 1970s left the young "Father Ted" in charge of the Biology Department at Illinois Benedictine College, and a major portion of his work in life, until his dying day, was the preservation and enhancement of the legacy bequeathed him by these educational pioneers. What had been a collection of plants and animals amassed for classroom demonstration purposes became under his direction a full-scale nature museum, first in Scholl and then in Birck Hall, where today it is a major resource for biological education in DuPage County.
Father Theodore, a quiet man with a wry sense of humor, gentle by nature but firm when necessary, also served the College and University as the director of Kohlbeck Hall for over a decade, chaplain and then associate campus minister for many years, and teacher of biology until 2009, the same year when the name of the museum was expanded to honor his many contributions. Only in the last summer of his life did he make the transition to curator emeritus of the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum, which he continued to visit almost daily.
At the monastery, Father Theodore served in a number of major positions, including Vocation Director (1974-1983), Novice Master (1983-1991), and Prior (1985-1991). During the last decade of his life, his health deteriorated, and by 2004 it was clear that he was suffering from Parkinson's Disease. Though the power of speech gradually deserted him, and he became ever less steady on his feet, he bore his infirmity with grace and humor, and he continued to be involved in the daily care of the main Abbey courtyard and the supervision of the grounds until the end of his life.
Father Theodore died on October 28, 2012.
Born in Chicago, Dr. Carney was raised on the South Side and graduated from Visitation High School in 1938. She received a bachelor's degree in physics from DePaul University and a PhD in physics from Illinois Institute of Technology, where she was a National Science Foundation faculty fellow.
Rose A. Carney was a graduate student of physics in her 20s when she began a yearlong stint as a research assistant at the University of Chicago, working on the Manhattan Project.
Those close to her say she was part of a team that developed technical instrumentation, and was on hand that historic day, Dec. 2, 1942, when sustained nuclear reaction was observed in the university's testing labs.
After working as a research assistant at the University of Chicago, Dr. Carney taught physics and mathematics at DePaul, and later became an assistant professor of physics and mathematics at St. Xavier College in Chicago.
In 1948, Dr. Carney began a 42-year tenure at St. Procopius College in Lisle, becoming the first layperson to serve as a full-time professor of physics and mathematics. She served as head of the mathematics department for 21 years and chairman of the natural sciences division for 11 years, prior to her retirement in 1990.
"Rose broke a lot of ground at St. Procopius, being one of the college's first female physics professors and the first layperson to serve on its faculty," said former student Ralph Meeker, and now a professor emeritus of computer science at Benedictine University. "Before that, the faculty had been completely staffed by Benedictine monks and members of other religious orders."
"She was an extraordinary teacher, certainly demanding, but always very engaging and approachable," Meeker said. "The key to her success was that she could take average students and make them better."
During her summers while teaching, Dr. Carney also worked as a research associate at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont and was an active member of Women and Mathematics.
"She always looked for opportunities to encourage female students in mathematics and the sciences," Meeker said. "She, more than most, understood the obstacles facing women in those fields."
Dr. Carney was 86 when she passed from congestive heart failure on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007
Br. William Shonka graduated from St Procopius College with a B.A. in mathematics in 1925. Upon completing his studies for the priesthood and ordination in 1929 Fr. Cosmos directed him to earn his Ph.D in physics at the University of Chicago. His thesis, completed in 1933, was conducted under the Nobel Prize winning physicist Arthur Compton.
As the Manhattan Project came underway, Fr. William Shonka was called upon for his expertise in radiation and particle physics by many eminent scientists, including Enrico Fermi. Using the name “Metallurgical Laboratory” (Met Lab) as a cover for the U of Chicago projects, scientists from across the country were brought together to this central location to develop chain-reacting “piles” for plutonium production, to devise methods for extracting plutonium from the irradiated uranium, and to design a weapon.
Fr. William returned fulltime to St. Procopius to teach physics and math, lending his mathematical and engineering skills to various projects on campus. In the classroom, he was known to be extremely inspiring, passionate, and enthusiastic, while also being extremely demanding.