A fine Vincentian heart: the Rev. Thomas Munster, C.M.

Patricia Chavez
October 19, 2017

Throughout DePaul's long history, there have been many faculty and staff who have lived the teachings of St. Vincent de Paul. One faculty member who especially stands out is the Rev. Thomas Munster, C.M., who dedicated decades of service not only to the university, but also to the Lincoln Park community at large.

Born in Lincoln Park to Irish immigrants in 1922, Munster had firsthand experience with the unjust treatment that he would work hard to combat throughout his life.

Fr. Munster, grammar school

Munster, age 12, at St. Vincent Grammar School. (DePaul University/University Archives)

"He knew who he was and where he came from," notes the Rev. Patrick McDevitt, C.M., an associate professor in the College of Education. "He always saw himself as a poor first-generation Irish kid. I think that's why he was interested in supporting and furthering any groups that he felt were unjustly treated or not given the attention they deserved."

Munster was exposed to Vincentian values from an early age, attending St. Vincent's Grammar School in Chicago before continuing his education at St. Vincent's College and St. Mary's Seminary in Missouri. It was at St. Mary's that Munster entered the Congregation of the Mission in 1940. He was ordained on May 30, 1948 at the Church of the Assumption in Perryville, Missouri.

Following his ordination, Munster returned to the city he would ultimately dedicate his life to - Chicago. He began teaching English at DePaul Academy in 1949 and earned a master's degree from DePaul University in 1954. After serving as dean of men and principal at the academy, Munster became director of high school relations at the university in 1965. He would spend the rest of his career at DePaul, serving as the admissions director from 1967 to 1981, and as vice chancellor from 1990 until his death in 2007.

During his time at DePaul, Munster strived to foster strong relationships with the community of Lincoln Park. Upon his return from the seminary, Munster dedicated himself to improving living conditions in the neighborhood, which had become dangerous due to outdated infrastructure and neglectful landlords. In pursuance of this mission, he helped found the Lincoln Park Conservation Association and the Sheffield Neighborhood Association. Both organizations worked with community members to devise solutions and programs to revitalize the area.

"One of the things I was impressed with was enthusiasm and the effort of the people all volunteers in the various neighborhood organizations," Munster said in a 2004 interview. "The time they put in was really edified and it was a wonderful experience to work with those people. Principally because they were so dedicated and devoted and thought nothing of it, they really were unselfish."

Because of his love for and dedication to serving Lincoln Park, Munster was able to cultivate community relationships that helped strengthen the trust between DePaul and Lincoln Park, allowing the university to learn how it could best serve the broader community.

Munster's legacy of service lives most strongly, perhaps, within the university community. His love for sports, especially Blue Demon basketball, was well-known. He was a regular in the president's box at Allstate Arena, where he watched the Blue Demons play with unerring focus.

Munster's love for sports went beyond simple enthusiasm. Following his death, he bequeathed a gift to the university that funded the Fr. Thomas Munster Endowed Scholarship for Women in Athletics. As a 2008 issue of the "Cortelyou Quarterly" notes, Munster "saw women athletes as the underdog and felt while they worked very hard and were the better students, men got all the accolades." A true Vincentian, Fr. Munster saw what people in his community needed the most help, and he stepped in to serve, even after his death.

Though DePaul has had the privilege to claim many a person with a Vincentian spirit as its own, there is no doubt that the legacy of Munster will remain in the hearts and memories of the DePaul and Lincoln Park communities for many years to come.

This article is the first in a series of profiles about Vincentians at DePaul.