April 4, 2021 may have been the last Easter celebration for Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side. A Bronzeville institution for 120 years, the only Catholic Church on Martin Luther King Drive has been ministering to African Americans in the historic community since 1932.
The church was designed by famed architect Joseph McCarthy, and is noted for its deeply coffered ceiling and brightly colored stained glass windows made in Germany. Considered by preservationists to be some of the best in the city, they depict the original church members walking with Pope Pius X.
The “Munich Style,” as its known, was perfected by the F. X. Zettler Studio. In this method, the religious scenes were painted on larger sheets of glass and then fused to the glass through firing in intense heat. Franz Xavier Zettler is credited as the first to use three-point perspective in stained glass windows. He is considered one of the real masters of the art form. At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a Zettler window won top prize over a Tiffany.
Another gem is the Stations of the Cross. The hand paintings were created by Fr. Gregory Gerrer, a Benedictine monk of St. Gregory’s Abbey in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He was commissioned to create the 14 paintings that detail the path Jesus walked to his crucifixion and eventual resurrection. The paintings are a rarity for their large size. A few years ago, Corpus Christi parishioners started work to restore the paintings to their original vivid colors. To learn the process see link below.
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.”
Many notable African Americans attended Corpus Christi’s elementary and high schools, including Fr. George Clements, Judge Blanch Manning, Congressman Ralph Metcalfe, newsman Warner Saunders and saxophonist Ari Brown.
After the elementary school closed, the number of parishioners declined. Corpus Christi’s small church family continued to operate a “soup kitchen” serving a weekly hot meal to more than 3,000 people a year until it was stopped by the pandemic last year.
Corpus Christi is closing as part of the Archdiocese’s Renew My Church consolidations. It will unite with six other parishes in Bronzeville, Hyde Park and Washington Park to form one parish based at Holy Angels. Currently, the Archdiocese is soliciting names for the new parish, which is expected to unite by July 1.