A religious Bronzeville landmark marked the end of an era June 5 when a special mass was held at Corpus Christi Catholic Church to say goodbye to the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, Iowa. The retirement of the last two nuns serving the Bronzeville church, ends its affiliation with the Franciscan order and the Franciscans of the Sacred Heart Province.
Ever since Corpus Christi Catholic Church began ministering to a predominantly African American congregation, the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque Iowa have played a major role. For 83 of the church’s 115 years, the St. Francis nuns have served the Bronzeville community on the city’s South Side, 4920 South Martin Luther King Dr.
In 2013, parishioners and alumni celebrated the order’s 80 years of service to Corpus Christi. Under the Sisters of St. Francis, Corpus Christi had both an elementary and high school. The elementary school was open from 1933 – 1993 and the high school from 1945 – 1962. Both Sisters Marilyn Freking and Ann Rubly were elementary school teachers. Now, they continue their ministry by helping sick and elderly parishioners, providing social services and running a weekly soup kit- chen.
Sr. Marilyn has served the parish for more than 50 years and Sr. Rubly, who retired after 41 years, continues a busy schedule of visiting shut-ins.
“We’ve lived here longer than we’ve been anywhere else,” says Sr. Rubly. “We stayed because we dearly love this community.”
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.”
Pastoral Council Chairman Anthony Williams, who had Sr. Marilyn as his fourth grade teacher, says he is very sad about the nuns leaving and is spending a lot of his free time helping them to sort through all of their possessions and memories.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to find anyone who’d be willing to do what they’ve done. It’s just an extraordinary ministry,” reflects Williams. “I’m thankful for them and the fathers, because it’s really a special calling to be able to dedicate your life to other people.”
The last priest from the Franciscans of the Sacred Heart Province left Corpus Christi in 2002. Currently, The Missionary Society of St. Paul of Nigeria is ministering to the parish.
A dedication of the courtyard and a reception in the social hall followed the mass. The church celebrated its 115th anniversary in May.