Loyola priest shares tales from the crypt

By Jess Livinghouse

In the spirit of Halloween, some 50 Loyola University Chicago students met in the Madonna della Strada Chapel at Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus for a tour of the crypt led by the Rev.  Jerry Overbeck, S.J..

As students took their seats, the sound of an organ playing Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” echoed through the dimly-lit chapel. Overbeck welcomed students to the event that has become a popular Loyola experience.

“I started giving tours of the crypt almost 20 years ago around Halloween and since then it has taken on a life of its own. We had about 70 people for the tour last night and there are two more tours this week,” Overbeck said.

He then led students down a staircase at the front of the church down into the crypt. Although it is equipped with electricity, the only light came from candles along the outside walls. Overbeck prefers the candlelight because it gives students an experience similar to that of someone going to the crypt to pray.

Standing in a small alcove, Overbeck, explained that there are only two people buried in the crypt, a husband and wife named Ivan and Isabel McKenna. The McKennas were members of the Loyola community who worked to raise money  to build the chapel in the 1930s.

When well-known Loyola priest, the Rev. James Mertz, S.J. passed away in 1979, there was talk of burying him in the crypt as he played a large role in the building of Madonna della Strada. Overbeck believes Loyola made the right decision.

“Father Mertz was a great man but we ultimately decided not to bury him here. I think that was the right decision because us priests should not have monuments built to us, we should have the same graves as common people,” Overbeck said.

After the history lesson, Overbeck encouraged students to explore the marble walled alcoves. Maxwell Spector, 20, a communication studies major, was captivated by the crypt.

“This is really nice experience,” Spector said. “I like the ornate details and the all of the marble. There is a very intimate and calming feeling down here.”

Overbeck is glad the students are visiting.

“Even if its only once a year for Halloween, it’s great that students are visiting the chapel,” he said. “Whether you’re Catholic, Jewish or Muslim, this is a house for all of god’s people and we want to welcome everyone.”


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