Survival of Black Catholicism In Bronzeville

By Larry Cope

This is a day many Black Catholics on the South Side feared. This summer, the legacy parishes of Corpus Christi, St. Ambrose, St. Anselm, St Elizabeth and Holy Angels will be phased out after decades of existence. These parishes will be unified on Thursday, July 1, 2021 to form a new parish under a new name. The new worship site will be at 615 E. Oakwood Blvd (formally known as Holy Angels) and Fr. Robert Kelly, SDV (Divine Word Missionary) will be pastor of this new parish.

This is something we should not fear but embrace. All of us will be a part of developing and cultivating a new spirituality where the strengths of all the former parishes will equal a larger and stronger Black Catholic tradition. This is bigger than saving individual parishes. It’s about the survival of Black Catholicism in Bronzeville. We have to remember that people, not the buildings, make “the church”. Jesus never owned a building, but he still managed to gather his followers to worship.

So, what brought us to this point of unification?

The fact is that the churches in the Bronzeville area all faced similar problems. Low attendance, decreasing donations, aging buildings, maintenance cost, and growing debt is what brought us to this point. Corpus Christi, for example, once boasted a congregation of 3,000 members but is now less than two hundred today.

Many Black parishes have also struggled with community outreach and evangelization. But as Christians we are called to do just that. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus gave an order to the disciples to: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”

Some of us have not been effectively trained or know where to seek the resources to go out into the community and bring in new members (evangelize).  By unifying the parishes, their resources and seeking resources from the archdiocese, along with an organized plan for evangelization, the new parish will give us a stronger voice and presence in the community.

We Need You

Some of us might be skeptical about pulling up roots at our familiar churches where we have worshiped for a lifetime to start over at a new church. Let’s give this new parish a chance. Let’s take the best from every former parish and every individual to create an even better church. Our goal should be a more inclusive church that is open to all people of faith. For every choir member, musician, Eucharist minister, lector, committee member, artist, rapper, liturgical dancer, and anyone who just wants to serve, there is a place for you. For the advocates who believe in the fight for social justice, there is a place for you too. Let this new church be a place where both old and young will be proud to be members.

As we move forward, we must never forget the past glories of Corpus Christi and the other parishes and their place in our history, our Black history. These parishes and especially their schools hold treasured memories and meaning for so many. The Black Catholic Church in Bronzeville shouldn’t be a footnote in Chicago’s history but rather an ongoing, evolving practice of faith.  We also have an obligation as Black Catholics to persevere, nurture, grow and share our faith.

Change can be hard and closing a church building is heart breaking. While change makes us uneasy and gets us out of our comfort zone, it could also be a defining moment. We are on the brink of possibly creating a vibrant Black Catholic community that will embrace the best of the old and the new, a parish that truly serves the needs of our community for decades to come.
Jesus states in Matthew 25:37:

“The righteous will answer him and say ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?” … Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine you did for me.”

We are called by Jesus to serve and to go and make disciples.

This is solely the viewpoint of Larry Cope and does not express the views of Corpus Christi or the Archdiocese of Chicago.