Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A 120 foot tombstone

There's a bunch of history here, but I ran across this article which brilliantly pinpoints why a beautiful church must be dismantled.  
In the end, the demise of St. Gelasius is not due to the Archdiocese abandoning the Woodlawn community, but the Woodlawn community abandoning St. Gelasius. In spite of the hyperbolic accusations of racially motivated activists, the Catholic Church will continue to feed the poor, nurse the sick, shelter the homeless, and give hope to the hopeless in Woodlawn long after the conflict has ended. But that's not the point.

If St. Gelasius must go, it's because it stands like a 120 foot tombstone marking the spot where once hundreds of thousands of faithful Roman Catholics praised God and took the Sacraments. Today the structure stands barren and empty, worshippers gone, silently begging to be put out of its misery. It was built by Roman Catholics for a spirituality that no longer has supporters in Woodlawn. No one contests this. Of course it’s a beautiful building, and its loss is a shame, but it is a Roman Catholic Church, built by Catholics for Catholics. The fact is, the residents of Woodlawn have abandoned the Catholic faith, and in so doing, they dismantled St. Gelasius, not the Archdiocese.

It took decades, but it’s done now. All that’s left for the Archdiocese to do is to salvage the building materials. For Roman Catholics watching the petty squabbling over an empty building, beautiful as it was, the real tragedy is the spiritual void that will remain long after the church is gone and the last Mass offered there is a distant memory.
Since then, Cardinal George has given the building to the ICKSP to restore the building.
Finally, at the turn of the millennium, the church was to be demolished. But at the last moment, the destiny of the majestic edifice changed. Francis Cardinal George, who had always regretted closing the church, was overjoyed at the possibility of preserving this historic gem. The Cardinal gave the church to the Institute of Christ the King, a priestly order with a history of successful and beautiful church restorations (see the restoration of St. Mary's in Wausau, Wisconsin). In addition, the city of Chicago formally gave this church the prestigious historic landmark status.

The Cornerstone, 1923 AD
The former church of St. Gelasius will now be restored. With many others who had lamented the loss of this unique house of God, the Cardinal is confident that the funds to restore this Shrine will be found through the generosity of Chicago citizens and all those who wish to participate in this most worthy project.
Thank you to everyone for your input on the Chicago trip.  Hope to share some pics next week.  Probably no posts until I get back.


  1. Uhhhh... I thought the Institute of Christ the King took over this church back in 2006. The have information on their proposed renovation of this church at their website. So, I'm not really sure what the point of this article is...

    1. Forgive my ignorance, I didn't realize the current status, the material is dated. It looks like prior to ICKSP taking over, they were looking at dismantling it.

      The point is that a generation of Catholics have abandoned their buildings and their faith, the building being the physical representation of the spiritual of the faith of the people. The fact an order as fantastic as ICKSP has taken to restoration is also quite interesting in this allegory.

      This church is the the same as this?

  2. Ahh, if I would have read a little further down in the article!

  3. While it is sad to see a beautiful Church closed down, & thankfully this one wasn't we often forget that over the past 2000 years many parishes & even dioceses have come & gone due to shifts in population, some voluntarily, others not.
    So, as you point out, there are times when a beautiful church must be dismantled.

  4. First of all thank God for Cardinal George and for the Institute in their efforts to save this gem.

    Now on to the history as a whole of the Archdiocese of Chicago in this matter:

    The Catholic population in Woodlawn is almost non-existent. It wasn't a matter of lapsed Catholics or anything like that, which the article in some senses seems to imply. The neighborhood changed extensively in terms of race, socio-economics, and religious affiliation. When this beautiful church was built, there were few Catholic in the suburbs of Chicago, and tons in the city, particularly Polish, Irish, and Italian immigrants. The post WW2 "white flight" that happened in dozens of urban areas, the vast immigration of blacks from the south following the war (especially to southside Chicago), and finally the significant neighborhood damage that was done due to the buidling of the expressways impacted a very large number of parishes in Chicago, and other major ubran cities in the United States. Thankfully some have turned the tides in the opposite direction (see St. John Cantius in Chicago, or the recently-featured-on-EWTN St. Peter's in Omaha, NE) but many have seen there numbers dwindle greatly as Catholics climbed the educational and socioeconomic ladders and flocked to the suburbs. There are dozens of 2,000-5,000+ family parishes now in these areas of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Many of the city's parishes in the Hispanic and Polish neighborhoods continue to flourish, but generally those which are in predominently black neighborhoods, where Catholicism is not the significant and/or historical religious demonination have seen their numbers dwindle significantly.


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