Updated: December 7, 2012 6:09AM
As a longtime curator of the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum at Benedictine University in Lisle, the Rev. Theodore Suchy transformed a collection of plants and animals primarily used for classroom demonstrations into a full-scale natural history museum.
Under his leadership, the museum amassed more than 10,000 specimens that ranged from fragile bird eggs to a 1,200-pound whale skeleton. He collected dozens of stuffed animals, including lions, bison, caribou, moose, bears, white-tailed deer, sheep, leopards, antelope, alligators, a bobcat and more.
“Most of the large animals are displayed with other animals in their habitats. There’s a bison, for example, so you can walk through and see that historically this would have been in Illinois,” said Mary Mickus, former education coordinator at the museum. “It really is an incredible museum.”
“I don’t think there’s anything in DuPage [County] quite comparable to it,” said the Rev. James Flint, vocation director at St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle. “He was very hardworking and very dedicated to preserving the legacy that had been handed on to him at the museum.”
In recent years, the Rev. Suchy, a monk who lived at St. Procopius Abbey, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He continued to work as curator until last summer and even after retiring, he visited the museum nearly every day, including the day he died.
“He never looked to retire, so to speak,” the Rev. Flint said. “He just wanted to live another day, do another day’s work. He just kept on going.”
On Oct. 28, the Rev. Suchy, 71, who previously worked at Benedictine University as a biology professor, dormitory director, chaplain and associate campus minister, died of cardiac arrest at the abbey. At the monastery, the Rev. Suchy has served as vocation director, novice master and prior.
The Rev. Suchy was born Dec. 4, 1940, in Cary, a northwest suburb. After graduating from Crystal Lake Community High School, he went to St. Procopius College, the precursor to Benedictine University, and studied under the Rev. Hilary Jurica and the Rev. Edmund Jurica, the two brothers who started the collection of specimens that ultimately became the foundation of the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum.
On June 24, 1962, the Rev. Suchy professed his monastic vows, and in 1967 he was ordained a priest.
After earning bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and biology, he obtained a master’s degree in biology in 1970 and began teaching biology at Benedictine. Following the deaths of the Jurica brothers, he became head of the department, which grew tremendously under his direction.
“He had a primary role in advising students,” said John Mickus, professor emeritus in the department of biology. “He was just really, really good with the kids. They would seek him out for academic reasons and when they had personal needs.”
In the early years, the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum was hardly more than a storeroom for specimens. After obtaining funding, the Rev. Suchy coordinated several major projects in the development of the museum, including a move in 2001 to a new facility in the university’s Michael and Kay Birck Hall of Science.
To build on the collection, the Rev. Suchy received donations from hunters and also frequently traveled to museums and other places that were willing to give up some of their materials.
“I can always remember how Father Ted was like a little boy in a toy store and being so selective in terms of what specimens he’d take,” John Mickus said.
In 1990, the Rev. Suchy was officially named curator, as well as floor sweeper, window washer, fur brusher, and horn and antler polisher, as he once described it.
“People will say his life’s work was the museum, but his life’s work was being a monk and serving God,” Mary Mickus said. “He was a humble person and wouldn’t really want to be put up really high. He was just a regular person, lived the best he could and certainly to honor God.”
Services have been held.