Corpus Christi Catholic Church will take its turn to celebrate and honor Fr. George Clements on his 60th year as a priest during its annual spring luncheon at the Parkway Ballroom, 4455 South Martin Luther King Dr., Sunday, May 21, 2017, from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. The day will start with Fr. Clements officiating 9:30 a.m. mass at the iconic sanctuary on the corner of 49th & King Dr. Later, he will receive the Legacy Award for his leadership, activism and contributions to the Catholic Church.
For generations, Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Bronzeville was a beacon for many African American families wanting to give their children a strong educational and moral foundation in life. The only Catholic Church on historic Martin Luther King Drive, the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, Iowa, played a major role in nurturing the aspirations of thousands of students in both elementary and high school.
One such student was Fr. Clements, who says it was a Franciscan nun that planted the idea of him going into the priesthood while in seventh grade. He went on to become the first Black graduate of Quigley Academy Seminary. On May 3, 1957, he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and in 1969, became the first Black pastor of Holy Angels Church in Bronzeville. This is the same South Side neighborhood where his working-class parents raised their six children.
Also, being honored is David Meyers, owner of Meyers Ace Hardware, which was a Bronzeville fixture for 95 years. In February, the community’s only hardware store closed. The Community Award recipient says working in his grandfather’s store was the only thing he ever wanted to do with his life. The third generation businessman saw to it that all of his employees started new jobs the week after the family store closed. Long time parishioners Lorrie Walls and Carrie Miller are the other honorees.
Originally, Corpus Christi Church was built to serve a wealthy predominantly Irish-American community at 49th and Grand Boulevard, which was the first name of Martin Luther King Drive. In 1910, as the Great Migration was beginning, the Grand Boulevard area began to transition from an Irish community to African American and became known as “Bronzeville.”
This year’s spring luncheon theme, “Jewel of the Black Metropolis,” is in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Great Migration. From 1916-1917, the nation saw the largest migration of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north in history. The city’s Black residents transformed Chicago, both politically and culturally.
A part of Bronzeville’s cultural legacy is jazz. Coincidentally, Meyers Ace Hardware was once the home of the famed Sunset Terrace, which was owned by trumpet great Louis Armstrong. Following in Armstrong’s tradition is saxophonist Ari Brown, a Corpus Christi alumnus. Brown’s quartet will be performing for his alma mater’s fundraiser.
Corpus Christi parishioner, Delmarie Cobb, is chairman of this year’s fundraiser. A fourth generation Bronzeville resident, she says it’s important to preserve the community’s legacy. “The church needs some major repairs and money from our fundraiser is going to fix the water damage to our sanctuary from a leaking roof,” says Cobb. “This is a beautiful church and we can’t lose it.”
Tickets for the luncheon are $75. Those interested in attending can buy their tickets online at www.corpuschristichurchchicago.com or by calling 773-285-7720.