Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, P.C. Mourns the Passing of Partner Jim Serritella

With a heavy heart, we advise of the passing of Jim Serritella, our Partner, colleague and friend on April 23, 2021.

Jim was an internationally recognized authority on religious and not-for-profit law, who was a named Partner of our firm, the Chair of our Religious Organizations Practice Group and a former member of our firm’s Management Committee. For nearly 50 years, Jim served as principal outside counsel for the Archdiocese of Chicago. He skillfully advised Cardinals, Archbishops and other religious and secular leaders on constitutional and other legal issues relating to religious and not-for-profit organizations.

“Jim Serritella joined our firm in 1997 as a partner, founder, and leader of our religious organizations practice group,” said Richard Burke, founding partner of Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, P.C. “He and we believed the civil law needs of religious organizations required a broad base of legal expertise. Through his diligent work ethic and insistence that only the best advice be provided, he met the needs of his clients. He was a major contributor to the work of the firm and had the respect of all who worked with him.”

In addition to being an extraordinary attorney, Jim served on numerous professional and civic organizations and was recognized often for his legal and philanthropic work. Jim was also a mentor to many of our current and former attorneys and staff, whose lessons will enable them to continue to serve as he would.

Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Jim’s son, Anthony, and his sister, Camille Vena, and their families.  

Our firm’s full statement can be found HERE

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James Serritella chaired the Religious Organizations Practice group at Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella. He focused his practice on serving the legal needs of tax-exempt religious and not-for-profit organizations and managing overall client relationships.

Jim represented parties in mediations and other alternative dispute resolution processes, which he helped design. He also functioned as a  mediator and a consultant to attorneys engaged in mediation or other alternative dispute resolution efforts. He advised clients regarding the management and resolution of individual claims and groups of complex interrelated claims. He advised on general corporate, constitutional, and regulatory matters as well as governance and sponsorship issues. He also represented clients in connection with crises having legal, ethical, public relations, and community relations dimensions. Jim has consulted internationally on constitutional and other legal issues relating to religious and not-for-profit organizations.

Jim represented religious and other not-for-profit organizations in general corporate matters including governance and sponsorship issues as well as the creation of new entities, mergers, joint ventures, acquisitions,  affiliations, and spin-offs.

He represented many kinds of entities including associations, churches, dioceses, synods, religious orders and congregations, hospitals and other health care entities, colleges, elementary and secondary schools, seminaries, social services agencies and institutions, and cemeteries. Many of these entities were affiliated with or sponsored by a religious organization, while others were secular in nature. The religious organizations came from a variety of traditions including Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Evangelical, and Protestant churches, as well as Jewish and Hindu faiths and other religious traditions.

Jim wrote and lectured extensively on religious freedom and on legal issues affecting exempt organizations. He was the editor-in-chief of Religious Organizations in the United States, A Study of Identity, Liberty, and the Law, an 834-page book published by Carolina Press. The book is a collection of essays designed to develop a new jurisprudence for organized religion. Jim was a founder of the DePaul University College of Law Center for Church/State Studies and served as chair of its advisory board. He was also a founder of the Center for Migration Studies in New York and an associate editor of the International Migration Digest (now called the International Migration Review).

Jim received his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1971. He earned an M.A. from the Committee for the Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods at the University of Chicago. He received a B.A. from St. Charles Seminary College of Liberal Arts (State University of New York) and a second bachelor's degree from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He received mediation training from the National Health Lawyers Association; he also received advanced mediation training from the CPR International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution, the Program on Negotiation at Harvard University, and the Center for Dispute Settlement.


Jim represented the prevailing party in constitutional and public policy litigation including the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of NLRB v. the Catholic Bishop of Chicago, the Illinois Appellate Court cases of Grace Lutheran Church v. Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Galich v. the Catholic Bishop, and Catholic Bishop v. the Village of Justice and the Circuit Court of Cook County case of Catholic Charities v. Leahy. He was lead counsel for Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in Cook v. Bernardin. He filed amicus curiae briefs on many public policy and constitutional issues in the United States Supreme Court, the Illinois Supreme Court, and other courts. These briefs addressed issues such as terminating treatment for the seriously ill, education, finance, taxation of exempt organizations, and religious liberty. Jim negotiated the affiliation of a women's college with a major university as well as the affiliation of a religiously sponsored hospital with a secular health care network. He was one of the main architects of Cardinal Bernardin's groundbreaking policies for dealing with clerical sex abuse of minors.

Jim was the moderator of the Cook County State's Attorney's Task Force on the Foregoing of Life Sustaining Treatment, which produced the Illinois Health Surrogate Act. He has served on: the Illinois Secretary of State's Ad Hoc Committee to Revise the Illinois Not-For-Profit Corporation Act; the Department of Children and Family Services, Statewide Citizens Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect; the Illinois Attorney General's Charitable Trust Division's Advisory Council; the National Catholic Cemetery Conference Ad Hoc Committee on Law and Legislation; and the National Conference of Christians and Jews Advisory Committee on Church, State, and Taxation.

Honors & Awards

  • Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great, presented by the Holy See (2012)
  • Extraordinary Knight Award, Presented by Father Ryan Council, Knights of Columbus (2012)
  • Bishop Quarter Award, Presented by the Archdiocese of Chicago (2011)
  • Catholic Lawyer of the Year, Presented by the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago (2011)
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws degree, North Park College and Theological Seminary (now North Park University) (2008)
  • Caritas Christi Urget Nos, Presented by Catholic Charities (2003)
  • Rerum Novarum Award, Presented by St. Joseph Seminary (1999)
  • Pax et Bonum Award, Presented by Saint Peter's Church, Franciscan Friars (1992)
  • John Courtney Murray Award, Presented by the DePaul University College of Law (1988)
  • Outstanding Leaders Award, Presented by the Carmelite Order (1979)


  • Illinois Bar Foundation, charter fellow
  • American Bar Foundation, fellow
  • Chicago Bar Association, member    
  • Illinois State Bar Association, member
  • American Bar Association, member
  • Canon Law Society of America, member
  • Diocesan Attorneys Association, member (executive and litigation advisory committees)
  • Center for Migration Studies, board of directors 
  • International Academy of Dispute Resolution, board of directors (2011–2014)  
  • Loretto Hospital, board of directors (1989–1991)
  • Statewide Citizens Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, Department of Children and Family Services (1988–1994)
  • Cook County State's Attorney's Task Force on the Foregoing of Life-Sustaining Treatment, moderator of task force meetings (1989)
  • Lyric Opera Guild, board of directors (1979–1984)
  • WTTW Chicago Public Television, board of trustees (1978–1981)  
  • Child Care Association of Illinois, board of directors (1975–1979)



  • Editor in chief of "Religious Organizations in the United States, A Study of Identity, Liberty, and the Law"
    Publication, Carolina Press,

Practices & Industries


  • Illinois
  • U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • U.S. Tax Court
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit


State University of New York (St. Charles Seminary, B.A., 1965)

Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy (B.A., 1996)

University of Chicago (M.A., 1968; J.D., 1971)

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