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Today we repost from the Chicago Tribune. The story pertains to the fire that devastated the Shrine of Christ the King in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. I must admit that I have a personal affinity for this story since I know the neighborhood quite well. It is a very “catholic” neighborhood, in the opinion of this humble blogger 😉 . (see here and here). Unfortunately, there was no church of this sort there at the time when I was a local. 😦 But I digress…
Back to the subject at hand. This history has a classic Hollywood storyline in that church meets fire, church loses to fire (Archdiocese of Chicago decided to close it down), church wins with neo-modernist ordinary (Archdiocese of Chicago changed its decision) and church lives happily ever after (Archdiocese of Chicago transfers ownership of the church to protagonist). They should make a movie about this!
FOR THE RECORD.
Historic Chicago church gets new owner, restoration plan
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago on Sunday announced it has transferred ownership of a shrine ravaged by a fire in October to the community of priests that has rented the historic building since 2008.
The Shrine of Christ the King, at 64th Street and Woodlawn Avenue, had been slated for demolition after church leaders estimated restoration costs at about $3 million.
The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, which has an office next to the charred church building, said it will immediately begin to stabilize the church and plans a full restoration.
“We’re rebuilding a center that has brought peace and goodness to the neighborhood,” said the Rev. Matthew L. Talarico, the institute’s provincial superior in the U.S., who also leads the local community. “We’re rebuilding for a better tomorrow.”
Both the archdiocese and Talarico confirmed Sunday that the archdiocese signed over the deed for the property and the 92-year-old church building on Friday at no cost to the institute.
Earlier this month, the archdiocese announced it would close St. Adalbert Catholic Church, another historic building in Pilsen that also required about $3 million to repair.
Betsy Bohlen, the archdiocese’s chief operating officer, said the transaction with the Institute of Christ the King was possible because the shrine will be run by a Catholic community with its own operations. It was important for the archdiocese that the Catholic church preserve a presence in the Woodlawn community, she said.
“The Institute of Christ the King is focused on the Woodlawn community and maintaining that (presence),” she said.
When the institute showed it had raised a significant amount of money for the building’s stabilization, the archdiocese was encouraged about its ability to carry out a complete renovation, she said.
It will take millions of dollars and likely a few years until the church will be able to reopen its doors for services, Talarico said. The fire, which reportedly started from rags being used for renovation work, destroyed the church’s interior and much of the roof. The first step in rebuilding involves redesigning roof trusses and reinforcing walls, he said.
Made primarily of Indiana limestone, the church built between 1923 and 1928 was designed by architect Henry J. Schlacks. It was designated a historic landmark in 2004. Ward Miller, executive director of the group Preservation Chicago, which has raised about $650,000 for the restoration effort, said the church is an important cornerstone in the community. Preservationists have wanted to save the structure because of its aesthetic qualities, its religious significance and its place within the Woodlawn neighborhood, he said.
“It is a remarkably beautiful structure,” Miller said. “It is so beautifully defined, it is so well composed. If you told me a month and a half ago that we would have raised more than $650,000, I’d have been in total awe. We’ve never seen this type of response before. This building has really touched a lot of people.”
Talarico said more than $300,000 previously set aside for renovations will go toward the rebuilding effort, too. Through Sunday afternoon, a separate fire restoration effort had raised more than $68,000, with more than 580 people donating. The generosity of donors was not unlike the community’s response after another blaze almost 40 years ago ravaged the inside of the church, formerly known as St. Clara and St. Gelasius.
In January, the archdiocese secured permission from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to tear down the church. Commission members cited documents from the city’s Department of Buildings saying the structure presented a serious safety hazard. After a worship service on Sunday in the Presbyterian church across the alley from the shrine, Talarico thanked everyone involved in the fundraising effort, and also the archdiocese for its willingness to turn the property over to the institute.
Outside, blue and pink hand-drawn pictures of praying stick figures with the message “Save the Shrine” fluttered on the chain-link fence surrounding the ruins. Inside, parishioners celebrated those prayers being answered.
“I’m full of joy. Very, very happy,” said Dave Kelly, a parishioner from Mount Greenwood who has been a member since 2007. “We believe this is God’s will for us to be here. What this means is that we’re going to be rooted here.”