Shrine community to relocate after tragic fire

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, January 24, 2016

Worshippers at the Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest expect to see the remains of their church demolished, starting before the end of January.

Canon Matthew Talarico said he has been told that demolition workers will try to salvage some of the more meaningful pieces of the church at 6401 S. Woodlawn Ave., including statues and other images.

Talarico, the provincial superior for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, said the group will continue to hold services in the gymnasium of the nearby First Presbyterian Church, 6400 S. Kimbark Ave., while it discerns what to do for the future.

The Archdiocese of Chicago, which owns the building, said the institute could offer a proposal to rebuild on the site or use another vacant South Side church, Talarico said. The shrine continues to lease the rectory and parking lot on the site.

“We all have the best interest of everyone in mind,” Talarico said. “We’re just working out what we’re going to do. We have a place to be for now. It’s going to take a lot of time to look at all the different angles.”

The shrine was the only Catholic Church remaining in the Woodlawn neighborhood, he said, and it had forged relationships with many of its neighbors.

The Archdiocese of Chicago received permission to demolish the church from the Chicago Landmarks Commission Jan. 7, three months after the building was severely damaged in a fire that is believed to have been caused by oily rags.

The fire caused about three quarters of the roof to collapse.

The international Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a group that emphasizes the beauty of the Tridentine liturgy, started renovating the building when it took it over in 2004. A worship community of about 200 people usually attends Mass there, and they had been working bit by bit to renovate and restore the church.

In the hours after the fire, the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament and an 18th-century statue of the Infant King were recovered, and more items have been saved since then. The institute had insured the shrine’s furnishings, but not the building, which is owned by the archdiocese.

A GoFundMe campaign ( to raise money for the shrine stood at $66,440 on Jan. 15.

The building was erected in 1923 as the Carmelite-run St. Clara Church and suffered a fire in 1976. It later merged with St. Cyril and then Holy Cross parishes, and was renamed St. Gelasius Parish in 1990. It closed in 2002, and the archdiocese was seeking permission to demolish it before the institute took it over.

Officials said it would be too expensive for the archdiocese, which is largely selfinsured, to repair the building, and the walls that remained after the Oct. 7 fire pose a danger to the community.

Talarico said the members of the institute and the parishioners are relying on their faith.

“Our Lady was at the foot of the cross, and she not only had to see her son suffer, she had to see him die in order to rise again,” Talarico said. “The people are sad, but they know this is part of God’s plan.”

A GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the shrine stood at $66,440 on Jan. 15. Donate at


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