A race is on now between hope and renewal versus destitution and disaster for the Shrine of Christ the King, 6415 S. Woodlawn Ave.
Members are united in an effort to rebuild their shrine after a fire
broke out early in the morning of Oct. 7, 2015, and destroyed the choir
loft, a large part of the roof, and most of the interior furnishings.
“It was a devastating and overwhelming sight,” said parishioner Marty
Brongel, a purchasing manager at Kozy Cyclery. “It was hard to believe.
Just on Sunday we had Mass, and less than a week later the site
reminded me of churches demolished by bombing during World War II.”
The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a society of
priests in charge of the shrine, has committed to a demanding and
purposeful restoration campaign.
“This is the last Catholic Church in the Woodlawn neighborhood, and
we all work to preserve this landmark building,” said the Rev. Canon
Matthew Talarico, rector and provincial superior. “This is a place of
great diversity, much good, and good will.”
Just to restore the roof and complete masonry repairs for the façade
and tower, the community needs to raise $3 million. It already has
raised $1.5 million.
“However, it is just a first phase of this project,” said Fr. Talarico.
“During the second phase, we will need to raise funds for the new
floor; to install new plumbing, heating and cooling systems; and to
The final phase will restore decorations and acquire artwork for the
shrine. Prominent Chicago church architect Henry J. Schlacks (1867-1938)
designed the 93-year-old shrine.
Schlacks’s architectural legacy
includes St. Adalbert, St. Anthony, St. Mary of the Lake, St. Henry, and
St. Ita churches.
Construction of the Shrine of the Christ the King building, formerly
known under the names of St. Clara Church and St. Gelasius Church,
started in 1923 and finished in 1928.
The architect sought inspiration
from Italian classical models and designed the church in the Renaissance
Revival style, giving it cruciform plan; a façade based on the imperial
Roman triumphal arches; and Corinthian columns with statues of Sts.
Ann, Joseph, Gabriel, and Joachim.
The shrine’s 120-foot bell tower includes doric, ionic, and
corinthian column elements.
Architectural historians named this church
Schlacks’s “life’s masterpiece,” and it received Chicago Landmark status
Throughout its history, the church has rebounded after disaster and
In the mid-1950s, local demographics had changed and
parishioner numbers declined.
In 1976, an arsonist set fire to the
church, destroying its elegant interior woodwork crafted from Circassian
walnut, the entire sanctuary area, and north transept window.
church never was able to restore the original interior beauty, which
reflected Carmelite order colors and symbolism.
By the turn of the millennium the church had closed and the building
was marked for demolition. Cardinal Francis George saved it, however,
giving it to the Institute of Christ the King, which has a history of
numerous successful church restorations.
“We started from the very beginning restoring the life of the
church,” recalled Fr. Talarico.
Members of the order rose to the
challenge to restore the building and revive the faith community: in a
few years, the congregation grew and the church currently has about 200