Latest parish unifications raise concerns over the fate of historic Catholic churches | Chicago News
The Corpus Christi Catholic Church dominates King Drive in Bronzeville, where it has been on 49th Street since 1914.
The church has been in the Katie Williams Hall family for almost as long, since it first opened to Black Chicagoans in the early 1930s.
“Since… my grandfather joined me in the 1930s, there has been a family member or several family members who have been members of the ward,” she said.
Williams Hall was baptized in Corpus Christi, married there, and raised her children in the church.
And just a few weeks ago her granddaughter and grandnephew were baptized there as well.
“I know it doesn’t mean much to them now, but I hope that in the future I understand that they are the fifth generation of a family that has, you know, belonged to a church and helped. in building this church over the years, I hope it will be exciting and meaningful for them, ”said Williams Hall.
For decades Corpus Christi was a bustling parish, once home to around 3,000 members. She operated a high school and even a credit union that provided loans to black people in Chicago when most banks wouldn’t.
But on Sunday, Williams Hall and his family will attend their last church mass. For the last time, they will pray and sing under the high vaulted ceiling, designed by Daniel Burnham’s apprentice, Joseph William McCarthy.
On July 1, Corpus Christi, along with Saint Anselm, Saint Ambrose, Saint Elizabeth and the Holy Angels, will be grouped into one church.
According to the Archdiocese, there are no longer enough Catholics in the region to support so many parishes.
The five unifying parishes will move to the current Holy Angels premises on Oakwood Boulevard, which will be renamed Our Lady of Africa.
For Corpus Christi members, the closure of their beloved church is bittersweet, but not exactly a surprise.
“As beautiful as this church is, it’s expensive to maintain, you know, the bill for heat, water, electricity,” said Larry Cope, another lifelong member of Corpus Christi. “Water damage has occurred in this church. And it’s expensive to repair and maintain what you’ve got, when you’ve got a declining congregation.
Cope, who also acts as a parish historian, understands that it is no longer possible for the vast Corpus Christi to function as an autonomous parish.
But he and Williams Hall are both concerned about what will happen to the building after the final Mass – its walls are lined with ornate stained glass and paintings of the Stations of the Cross, several of which have been recently restored.
“I am very concerned about this church,” said Williams Hall. “And again, the other churches, especially St. Ambrose and St. Anselm and Corpus Christi, are the larger older churches like this one. And it’s like, what’s going to happen to them? These were important institutions in the community. And will these institutions simply remain vacant? “
In response to questions from WTTW News, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese wrote in an email that after churches close, “properties are secured and sacred or other important or particularly valuable items are removed and stored centrally for later transfer to another parish within the Archdiocese of Chicago or another diocese.
The Archdiocese says there are no specific plans for Corpus Christi, St. Anselm and St. Ambrose at this time, while St. Elizabeth will serve as a heritage center for Father Augustus Tolton, who has escaped notice. slavery to become the first recognized black Catholic priest in the United States.
Overall, Cope says he wants the parish amalgamation to be successful. But he says black Catholics in Chicago need more support to grow and thrive.
“We need a way to express our opinion, to have leaders ready to stand up and fight for the Black Catholic Church, to say, ‘Hey, here we are. We need help, ”he said. “Above all, we are black and we are categorically Catholic in an area which has all the other Christian denominations. Even though we are a small community among all of our other Christian brethren, we have a voice that needs to be heard.
Williams Hall says she will be at the first mass at Notre Dame d’Afrique next month, though it won’t be quite the same.
“We have been to church all of our lives as a family,” she said. “And so I hope we can at least, you know, continue this.”