As a Black Catholic parish in Bronzeville prepares to close its doors for good, churchgoers gathered Sunday for a “bittersweet” reunion mass that celebrated its storied history.
Next month, Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 4920 S. King Drive, will merge with four other Black churches on the South Side to create the new Our Lady of Africa parish in Bronzeville. The move is part of the Chicago Archdiocese’s ongoing initiative to close or consolidate struggling churches to cut costs of aging infrastructure and to address a shortage of priests.
On Sunday, a jovial congregation of current and former parishioners was able to pack the pews at Corpus Christi after the city and state lifted nearly all coronavirus-related restrictions on Friday. Still, the impending closure loomed over the celebratory service.
“We may be shutting down this structure, but we are not shutting down the people of God. … We walk by faith. We don’t walk by site,” the Rev. Edmund Nnadozie, Corpus Christi’s pastor, told his congregation. “It is our faith that carries us on.”
After the service, Nnadozie tried to remain optimistic about the church’s decision to shutter the church.
“It is what it is.” He said. “You have to see the good side. It has been here for a long time. Now it’s time for it to pass on to other things.”
While the service wasn’t Corpus Christi’s last, Nnadozie said he specifically wanted to use Sunday’s mass to give churchgoers the opportunity “to relive their stories.”
Tom McCray was among those who stood during the service to share memories, many of which stretched back decades and generations. McCray told the congregation his parents were married at the church in 1959 and, less than a year later, he was baptized there.
“It’s a bittersweet experience because this is the first church that I actually came to when I was born,” McCray, who lives in the south suburbs, said of the service. “Even though I ventured out to other churches, this will always be home for me.”
Camille Humes, who traveled from suburban Detroit to attend the mass, recalled her grandmother joined the Corpus Christi community after moving from New Orleans, where she was a parishioner at another church of the same name. Much of her family ultimately attended Corpus Christi and its long-shuttered school, she said.
“This is my foundation of understanding who God is and understanding the importance of the church and being able to participate in service and as part of the community,” said Humes, who moved from the Chicago area five years ago.
“I think it’s important for us to celebrate the good,” she said of the service. “There’s so much that’s going on that we can be sad about and we can be melancholy about — so much going on in the world and even within the church. But I think it’s important for us to stay focused on the positive.”
Corpus Christi’s final mass is scheduled for June 27, the church’s 120-year anniversary.
Contributing: Maudlyne Ihejirika