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Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest - National Fund For Sacred Places
2017 Cohort

Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest

(Roman Catholic)

Chicago, Illinois

Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest is the only surviving Catholic church in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago and a testament to the power of preservation activism.

Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest by Devon Neff
Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest by Devon Neff
2017 Cohort

Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest

(Roman Catholic)

Chicago, Illinois

Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest is the only surviving Catholic church in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago and a testament to the power of preservation activism.

The church was established as St. Clara Parish in 1894 to serve German-speaking Catholics in the newly developed neighborhood. In 1923, St. Clara Parish commissioned prominent Chicago church architect Henry J. Schlacks to build the Renaissance Revival church. In the past 50 years, the church has faced many obstacles. A 1976 fire closed the building for four years. In 1990, a parish merger rebranded the church as St. Gelasius Church. The small size of the St. Gelasius congregation led the Archdiocese of Chicago to close the parish in 2002, and shortly afterward the Archdiocese applied for a demolition permit for the historic building. By successfully campaigning for landmark designation, community activists saved the church in 2003. In 2004, the Archdiocese found a religious order, the Institute of Christ the King, willing to take on the empty church and attract a new congregation. In October 2015, another fire ravaged Shrine of Christ the King, leading the Archdiocese to seek demolition again. The congregation joined with preservationists and neighbors to form the Coalition to Save the Shrine, which made a public case for preservation and inspired pledges of over half a million dollars to the Shrine’s restoration. In response to this outpouring of support, the Archdiocese deeded the building to the Institute, thus ensuring the Shrine’s survival.

Despite its own challenges, the congregation has continued supporting its community. After the 2015 fire, Shrine of Christ the King hosted Masses at a parish outside the neighborhood but still led prayers on the church’s steps. The congregation collaborated with local stakeholders to host Christmas block parties with the lighted church as the backdrop. This event included a charitable giveaway of toys and coats for children, carols by candlelight, and an outdoor Nativity scene. Prior to the fire, the church also hosted a classical concert series, community meals, and neighborhood meetings.

A $250,000 National Fund grant with over $500,000 in matching funds raised by the congregation and Save the Shrine Coalition contributed to the restoration of the church’s fire-damaged roof. The compromised existing roof truss system was removed, and a new steel truss system was fabricated and installed to ensure structural stability and weatherproofing. The congregation deemed National Fund work “critical to bringing the religious and the geographic communities together for a common purpose.” The installation of the new roof demonstrated clear progress in completing the full restoration of this church and reopening the building to congregants and visitors.

Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest by Xavier Bourdreau/Flickr/CC BY-2.0
Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest by Abbe Alexander Willweber

Save the Shrine: The Quest to Preserve a Historic Chicago Church

After an extra alarm fire ravaged Chicago’s Shrine of Christ the King church in the midst of a restoration in October, the soaring 1923 house of worship’s future looked perilous. The city’s archdiocese revealed in January that it planned to move forward with demolition, and, despite headline-making fundraising efforts, a demo permit was granted a few weeks later. But preservationists and residents didn’t give up.

Photo Credit: 16th Street Baptist Church

Stories and Media Coverage

Read more about how the National Fund for Sacred Places is helping congregations around the country rehabilitate their sacred places.

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