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Fire-ravaged Woodlawn church saved from wrecking ball

A fire Oct. 7 destroyed part of the Shrine of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in the Woodlawn neighborhood. | Sam Charles/For the Sun-Times

A historic Catholic church in the Woodlawn neighborhood that had been under threat of demolition since a fire tore through it in October will not face the wrecking ball, church officials announced Sunday.

The Archdiocese of Chicago announced that it had handed the deed to the property over to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, which had been leasing the 92-year-old building from the Archdiocese.

The Rev. Canon Matthew L. Talarico, who heads up the South Side church for the religious order — headquartered in Italy — was elated that the Archdiocese, which had sought to tear the building down because it posed a hazard, had a change of heart.

“We’re all elated. We’re all overjoyed. And we’re all very grateful to God for making this possible,” Talarico said Sunday while speaking to reporters outside the fire-damaged church. “We’re very grateful to Archbishop (Blase) Cupich and the archdiocesan leadership.”

“We will work immediately to stabilize the building,” said Talarico, adding that the rebuilding process will take several years. “I’ve already engaged an engineering firm to look into how we can re-design the steel trusses and re-design a whole roof system.”

Shrine of Christ the King has raised about $1 million so far, but full restoration could cost about $6 million, Talarico said Sunday.

The Rev. Canon Matthew L. Talarico, head of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, was ecstatic Sunday when announcing that the Archdiocese of Chicago is turning the deed to the fire-damaged Woodlawn church over to the religious order. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

“We have no insurance money from this,” Talarico said. “The Archdiocese has already has made the contribution of the property, so it’s up to us financially to raise all the funds. So we’re really calling upon all people of good will everywhere, especially in our city, those that really believe in Chicago and in our neighborhoods. We can really make a difference.”

Talarico pointed potential donors to a GoFundMe.com webpage dedicated to restoration fundraising.

“It’s really about rebuilding an oasis, a place that is central to the people of Woodlawn and the whole South Side,” he said, noting that Christ the King, at 64th and Woodlawn, is the only Catholic church left in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

“They give so much to the community so fighting for them to stay here was a no-brainer,” said Mike Medina, of the Woodlawn Residents Association, a group that, along with other neighborhood organizations, held meetings in the basement of Christ the King.

“The reason why we bought in Woodlawn is because of the church,” Kenneth Asberry, who lives down the block and was part of the effort to save the church, said Sunday.

“It’s like a weight lifted off of us,” Asberry said, standing next to his wife and infant daughter. “We see the priests playing hockey in the courtyard. They’re just part of our big family.”

Sr. Therese O’Sullivan said Sunday the church counts about 350 parishioners from all over the city and suburbs.

“It’s very much family-oriented. It’s beautiful to see how people just love to come to services.”