A History of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago

Across the country Catholic lawyers have created more than eighty “independent associations for learning, fellowship, and support in integrating their Catholic faith with their chosen profession.”1 The Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago was the second of such organizations to be formed, and was influential in the formation of many others.

In September 1929, The New World published an article discussing the Guild of Catholic Lawyers of New York. Inspired by the article, Chicago attorney Edward R. Tiedebohl traveled to New York to meet with the New York Guild’s founder and first spiritual advisor, Reverend William E. Cashin. At the meeting, the two outlined methods of organization for a Chicago Guild. During the preliminary planning for the Chicago Guild, frequent correspondence was exchanged between Mr. Tiedebohl and Very Reverend Monsignor Robert C. Maguire, acting on behalf of His Eminence, George Cardinal Mundelein. In one of his letters in this exchange, dated October 17, 1929, Mr. Tiedebohl identified some of the objectives of the proposed Guild as bringing Catholic attorneys together several times a year “for the purpose of hearing a lecture or sermon or discussion by some theologian on some particular part of moral law, or if you please, Canon Law,” and celebrating a Red Mass that “could be the rallying point of interest and enthusiasm for Catholic attorneys.

After five years of preparation and planning, the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago was formed in 1934. The Guild’s first president was William H. Sexton, who had served as the president of the Chicago Bar Association in 1924.2

The Guild’s first Red Mass was celebrated on May 19, 1935, when the Guild sponsored a Mass in honor of St. Thomas More. That date was a momentous one for Catholic lawyers throughout the world, as on that date His Holiness, Pope Pius XI canonized Sir Thomas More, the model and inspiration for lawyers trained in the common law tradition. The tribute paid to the martyred English lawyer was recognized by the legal profession throughout the Catholic world.

The tradition of the Red Mass, so designated because of the color of the celebrant’s vestments, arose principally in England, France and Italy. In England, the Red Mass custom commenced during the reign of Edward I, about the year 1310. Initially, the Mass was attended by the entire bench and bar at the opening of each term of court in England: Hilary, Easter, Trinity, and Michaelmas. Eventually, that custom lapsed, and the celebration of the Red Mass is seen only at the beginning of the judicial year. In France, the inception of the Messe Rouge dates back to 1245 A.D., and was connected to La Sainte Chappelle, the famous chapel of the Order of Advocates that King Louis IX designed for the exclusive use of the Courts of Justice. As centuries passed in France, the Messe Rouge was celebrated in certain localities in honor of the famous lawyer Saint Ives, who is the universal patron oflawyers throughout the world. Eventually, a resolution was passed secularizing the Chappelle and prohibiting the celebration of the Messe Rouge. The Red Mass in Italy and Rome has always centered around the Roman Rota, the supreme judicial body of the Roman Church instituted in 1243 A.D.

From its inceptions until today, the custom of the Red Mass is meant to call upon God to grant light and inspiration to the lawyer in pleading and to the judge in adjudicating during the coming term of court. The keystone activity of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago, the Red Mass gives public evidence of Catholic lawyers’ loyalty to, and dependence upon, Almighty God. Opening each new court year, the Red Mass petitions for Divine aid in the daily labors of lawyers and judges.

Rapid growth of the Guild followed the inaugural Red Mass, and shortly after his arrival in Chicago in 1940, His Eminence, Samuel Cardinal Stritch, became a large supporter of the Guild, presiding over the annual Red Mass that year. Cardinal Stritch repeatedly demonstrated his support of the Guild and consistently attended the Red Mass and the breakfast that followed. It was Cardinal Stritch who directed that the Guild chaplain be a representative of the Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Chicago and approved its corporate status in 1943.

In the spring of 1944, the Guild hosted the first of four series of lectures presented by Cardinal Stritch, entitled “The Canonical Law on Civil Action in Marriage Problems.” The purpose of these lectures was to acquaint the bench and bar with the principles and regulations of Canon Law governing the conduct of Catholics involved in marital litigation, with particular emphasis placed on the duties to conform to the applicable requirements of Ecclesiastical Law.

The Guild hosted another series of lectures entitled “The Natural Law and the Legal Profession” in 1949, which commemorated the fifteenth anniversary of the Guild’s founding. Recognizing that the theory of Natural Law had suffered from widespread legal misunderstanding, the Guild sought to present its principles and regulations viewed according to Catholic thought. According to the preface of the volume publishing the lectures, delivered in the headquarters of the Chicago Bar Association, the lectures “were an effort to help a group of lawyers realize their important social function and to describe it in broad outline.”

The first of these four lectures, delivered by Very Reverend Walter Farrell, O.P. of the Dominican House of Studies of River Forest on March 21, explained the facts of the Natural Moral Law. The second lecture, delivered on April 8 by the Chief Justice of the Metropolitan Court of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Very Reverend Msgr. John D. Fitzgerald, M.A., dealt with the Civil Law and its relation to the Natural Law. Retired Reverend Msgr. Edward M. Burke, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, delivered the third lecture on May 6, entitled “The Lawyers,” pertained to the practical application of the previous two lectures on Natural Law and Civil Law. Finally, the fourth lecture was delivered by Cardinal Stritch himself on May 20, concerning “The Nobility and Dangers of the Legal Profession.”

In addition to these lecture series, single dinner lectures were presented in the 1950’s, which were directed more specifically to a Catholic audience and dealt with subjects such as the history of the law, and the laws of religious orders and congregations. The lectures were said to have “fulfill[ed] a need which would, of necessity, never be satisfied by bar associations.”

While the Chicago Guild flourished locally, its founder, Mr. Tiedebohl, made efforts to organize other Guilds throughout the country. A Chicago native, Mr. Tiedebohl attended the University of Chicago and received his law degree from Northwestern University School of Law. He contacted numerous clergy members and lawyers in all parts of the country by telephone and mail to promote the formation of Catholic Lawyers’ Guilds or St. Thomas More Societies. For example, in 1956, the Guild distributed a booklet about the Red Mass throughout the United States, indicating the dates and locations of Red Masses celebrations across the country and which dioceses had no Guild or Red Mass at the time. It was sent to all Catholic Lawyers Guilds and St. Thomas More Societies, as well as to His Holiness, Pius XII, the Apostolic Delegate, and every member of the hierarch in the United States. The Guild’s promotional activities were vigorously received and several Guilds were organized as a result.

In 1959, the Catholic Lawyers’ Guild of Chicago celebrated its silver anniversary with a Red Mass celebrated by the Chancellor of the diocese, Rt. Rev. Monsignor Edward M. Burden, on November 15th. The homily was delivered by Cardinal Albert Gregory Meyer, who celebrated almost simultaneously his first anniversary in Chicago and the feast of his patron saint, St. Albert the Great. That same year Mr. Tiedebohl, whose dedication and devotion to forming and promoting the Guild led in large measure to its success in Chicago, retired from the active practice of law.

In the winter of 1960, the Catholic Lawyer recognized the Catholic Lawyers’ Guild of Chicago as having been “a most valuable asset to the Archdiocese of Chicago,” furnishing legal services to many agencies that facilitate the work of the Church in Chicago, including the Chancery Office, the Catholic Charities, the Council of Catholic Women and other individual charities. The Guild also furnished attorneys to indigent persons at nominal or no charge in service to the poor. According to the Catholic Lawyer, the Guild had a “splendid influence upon legislation and courts in matters involving moral and religious questions, such as marriage, divorce, guardianship, adoption, education, and parental rights and responsibilities. The Catholic Lawyer noted that the Guild differs from bar associations by advancing the legal profession, on a common basis of religion, providing members the opportunity to strengthen their faith and Catholic action through the example of “many fine lawyers in the group who not only advance the bench and bar with their abilities and integrity, but are exponents of the Catholic faith in the high quality of their performance of obligations to the profession, to society, and to their families.”

Throughout the years since, the Guild has continued to provide services to the community, notably pro bono services to immigrants at the request of Cardinal Samuel Stritch in the 1960’s and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in the 1970’s. In 2002, at the request of Cardinal Francis George, the Guild held a series of hearings to collect public comments about how best to handle the sexual abuse by priests.

The Guild was instrumental in guiding Cardinal Francis George during the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. In 2002, at the request of Cardinal George, the Guild held a series of hearings to collect public comments about how best to respond to the sexual abuse by priests. An estimated 10,000 Catholics attended the Guild’s forums, and about 2,000 people completed a survey prepared by the Guild to ascertain the views of parishioners on the topic. The Guild’s findings showed that the majority of Chicago-area Catholics believed that the emphasis should be placed on the victims and their needs. There was also overwhelming support for a strict zero-tolerance provision so that no priest would be reassigned to any other ministry after a substantiated allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor, a policy the United States Conference of Bishops formally adopted. The Guild’s prepared report, Views of the Laity, helped inform the Cardinal’s response to the crisis and instigated important improvements in Church policy.

As Mr. Tiedebohl commented long ago about the Red Mass:

All members of the bench and bar must be reminded that there are no legal barriers in the celebration of the Red Mass. This Mass is celebrated for all lawyers, irrespective of their creed. This is the occasion when we kneel down and thank God, each in his own way, for all the blessings we have received and ask Him how best we can continue to serve the cause of justice, whether we are of the bench or the bar.

1 See Directory of Catholic Lawyer Guilds at: http:/www.catholiclawyerguilds.org
2 See Past Presidents of the Chicago Bar Association at:
http://www. chicagobar.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Past_CBA_Presidents&Template=/CM/H TMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=9159

Information contained in this summary obtained with permission from the following

(2016) “The Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago,” The Catholic Lawyer: Vol. 3 : No. 3 ,
Article 9. Available at: https://scholarship.law.stjohns.edu/tcl/vol3/iss3/9.; and
(2016) “An information Exchange Forum,” The Catholic Lawyer: Vol. 6: No. 1, Article
10. Available at: http://scholarship.law.stjohns.edu/tcl/vol6/iss1/10.