In October, a fire ravaged the 92-year-old Shrine of Christ the King Church on the corner of South Woodlawn Avenue and East 64th Street. The fire left the church heavily damaged, but still standing. The Shrine’s congregants and neighbors have stepped up to fight for this community institution, and it is time for the Archdiocese of Chicago to follow their lead.
The Archdiocese, citing the high cost of repairs, filed for a demolition permit the first week of January. Preservation Chicago, along with the neighborhood group Coalition to Save the Shrine, is resisting demolition and has raised $650,000 in donations so far. Though the Coalition is advocating for repairs, which could cost millions of dollars, the city granted the Archdiocese a demolition permit for the church last week. The Archdiocese now has legal authority to move forward with the demolition at any time, though a spokesperson for the Archdiocese said on Monday that it is open to an “alternative arrangement” for the church.
In light of recent trends in the community and church, the potential closing of the Shrine of Christ the King is not necessarily surprising. Woodlawn’s population has dropped by over two-thirds since its 1960s high of 81,000 people. Furthermore, the archdiocese has said that it plans to shut down up to 100 churches by 2030. In a recent letter in Catholic New World, Archbishop Blase Cupich wrote that the Archdiocese of Chicago faces three main challenges: changing demographics, buildings in disrepair, and a lack of priests. Though serious, these challenges do not justify the closing of Christ the King.
We strongly encourage urge the Archdiocese to avoid demolition at all costs and to work with the Coalition to restore the Shrine to its original state. The University adds character and value to the South Side in a number of ways, but as its presence becomes more and more dominant it is important that the community retain its own unique heritage. The Shrine anchors the local community in a way that the ever-expanding University and soon-to-be presidential library cannot, by representing the history and culture of its people.
Preservation Chicago’s raising of $650,000 in just a matter of months speaks to the Shrine’s value and demonstrates the community’s commitment to keeping this important institution alive. The Archdiocese would do well to listen to its people.
—The Maroon Editorial Board