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Our Beginnings & Bishop Sheil

The man for whom Sheil Center is named was an extraordinary figure in the life of the Church in the United States. An outspoken advocate of social justice in the underprivileged and marginalized sectors of the community, he drew the admiration of Chicagoans of all faiths for his active concern for all people.

When Northwestern University celebrated its centennial in 1951, it honored a number of individuals with special awards for distinguished service to society. Bernard Sheil was one of these award winners. They recognized him as "...fighter for social democracy, justice for minority groups, and opportunities for the underprivileged; founder of the internationally famous Catholic Youth Organization."

Bishop Sheil was born on Chicago’s West Side and became a priest and later bishop within the Archdiocese of Chicago. Bishop Sheil not only actively supported such groups as the CIO and the Chicago Back of the Yards Council, but also began many projects for economic and social justice. Early in his ministerial career, while serving as chaplain at the Cook County Jail, he had the idea to start an organization to help underprivileged boys in Chicago neighborhoods which became the well-known Catholic Youth Organization. He also help found Sheil House, a settlement for young Black people, and the Niesei House, to assist the 15,000 Japanese-Americans who came to Chicago after being released from U.S. detention centers after World War II.

We remember him today for his association with Northwestern University. In 1939, Northwestern students visited the chancery to seek approval for their idea for a Catholic club on campus. They met with Bishop Sheil and immediately received his eager support. They decided to name the new club after him; he in turn not only provided the help that was needed to initiate its programs but also the financial assistance that led to the acquisition of its first residence. He maintained his personal interest in this club throughout his life, and now the Sheil Center at Northwestern is the sole institution that continues, proudly, to bear his name.