Fr. Hilary Jurica, OSB

Fr. Hilary Jurica, OSB

Biology

Emeritus

Emeritus – Biology

Founder of the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum

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.