Jurica Museum Teaches 'Respect for Life' Benedictine Houses Brothers' Pioneering Biological Research

Article excerpt

Byline: Joan G. Broz Daily Herald Correspondent

The Rev. Theodore Suchy has been watching it since 1972.

Kids enter the Jurica Nature Museum uncertain of what they're going to see.

Then they come face to face with a bear - stuffed, of course - or a duck-billed platypus.

"When a lot of the little children actually see what we have here, their mouths drop open and their eyes open wide," said Suchy, who has been the curator of the Lisle museum since 1972. "They not only get a better feel for the actual size of the animal, but also its color and texture."

Located in the William School Science Center at Benedictine University, 5700 College Road, the museum features a variety of animals, including a black bear, an Alaskan brown bear and a 9-foot polar bear.

Whether ancient or unique, colossal or minuscule, the museum displays thousands of specimens in its glass cabinets. The collection includes mammals, reptiles, fish, insects, fossils, bird eggs, plants, corals, turtles, minerals, crustaceans and more.

Suchy hopes every visitor learns a bit about their world and emerges with "respect for life in its many different forms."

The museum's largest artifact is the 38-foot Rorqual whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling.

Its newest addition is a 9-inch Tully monster - the Illinois state fossil. The soft-bodied animal lived in an ocean that covered much of the state about 300 million years ago.

As a student at St. Procopius College (now Benedictine), Suchy said he knew he had a vocation to the priesthood. But it was his classes with the Rev. Hilary Jurica that guided his life's work into biology.

Jurica, along with his brother and fellow Benedictine priest, the Rev. Edmund Jurica, were energetic professors of biology who assembled thousands of biological specimens over 50 years.

Their intent was to have visual aids for classroom use, not to create a museum.

They pioneered development of biological charts, microscope slides, models and movies with help from their students. Their Jurica Biology Flip Charts still are used in classrooms and have been translated into 13 languages.

Hilary Jurica was an outgoing man who kept a pet monkey in the zoology lab. He also had many connections in the academic and scientific worlds. As a result, he obtained many specimens that were unwanted by others.

When Bushman, the famous Lincoln Park Zoo gorilla, died in 1951, it was Hilary Jurica who salvaged the bones.

The brothers got to put many of their treasures on display when the School Science Center was built in 1968 and 3,800 square feet on the second floor were designated for the museum.

The museum now houses one of the largest bird collections in the United States.

Edmund Jurica and the Rev. Victor Laketek maintained a large bird-banding station for 40 years. During that time, they caught, bonded and released 57,193 birds.

The information they gathered led scientists to understand patterns of migration and other bird behaviors.

As DuPage County's population increased, habitats for birds decreased. Jerald Dosch, a new university faculty member who teaches biology of birds, hopes to start a station again with students' help.

In addition to museum duties, Suchy teaches about 45 veterinarian and pre-med students a year in zoology, biology of mammals, comparative anatomy and the animal kingdom. …