Stop the presses! A Chicago Catholic Examiner article from last month, “Razing History”, discussed the inevitable upcoming demolition of a historic Catholic shrine in the Woodlawn neighborhood of Chicago. That “inevitable” course of action has now been halted.
Chicago Catholics were stunned this month when they learned that the The Shrine of Christ the King has received enough money for it to be rebuilt. The Shrine received $450,000 from anonymous donors, enough to stop the Archdiocese of Chicago’s demolition plans. Previously, the church was set to be demolished this month due to being devastated in an October 2015 fire while it was undergoing renovations. After learning about the donation, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that it will be reviewing re-building plans for the church before it makes a final decision.
Ward Miller, the executive director of Preservation Chicago, made this announcement on Monday, February 8th, at a press conference in front of the Shrine, at 64th Street and Woodlawn Ave. Apparently only four or five anonymous donors from the Midwest provided the “bulk” of the $450,000 needed to cover the cost of restoring and stabilizing the building. He noted: “These are all pledges by anonymous donors in this effort to address stability issues and concerns and continue the dialogue about permanent repairs to the building as a commitment to our city, the Woodlawn community and the faithful of the Shrine of Christ the King“. Miller noted that the money “will probably most likely be committed to permanent repairs” , rather than a temporarily fix.
There is much work to be done when it comes to restoring the historic shrine. The October fire severely damaged the interior and roof of the building. The building was also nearly destroyed by an earlier fire in 1976, when it was known as St. Clara. Today, the Shrine of Christ the King stands as only one of a handful of Roman Catholic Church buildings designated as a landmark in the city, earning that title in 2004.
Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois, noted the Coalition to Save the Shrine could serve as a “model that the archdiocese can use” when it comes to alternatives to future demolition proposals. She commented: “Woodlawn as a neighborhood does not need one more vacant lot… so we have the opportunity here to create jobs and to save a landmark that is hopeful for the community.“ Congregants of the shrine noted that they were patient during the process to find an alternative to demolition and never publicly spoken out against the Archdiocese. Likewise, the Archdiocese of Chicago made it clear they would be willing to restore the church if such an opportunity was possible. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has also stepped in and promised help with planning and other needs should the Archdiocese decide to delay or cancel plans for demolition.
In any case, it will be a long time before anyone is even able to occupy the building, as it first needs to get a new roof and meet basic safety standards. Still, this first step in saving the Shrine is truly a Chicago miracle. The 91 year old shrine, built in the Renaissance revival style, may someday live again. Praise be to God!