History of Corpus Christi
Historic Bronzeville churches mark inaugural Mass as new parish - Photos - Chicago Catholic
Keepsake Brochure for the beautiful history and structure for the last Mass held in the church.
THE CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF CORPUS CHRISTI
In the Beginning…
- In 1901, Corpus Christi Parish was founded. At the time the area was predominantly
- 1915 on Christmas Day, Corpus Christi celebrated its first mass in the new church building
(our current church).
- In 1916 on the Feast of Corpus Christi, Cardinal Mundelein of the Chicago Archdiocese dedicated the official opening of the church building.
- During the Great Black Migration this once Irish-American community transformed
to predominately African-American and became know as “Bronzeville.”
- In 1924, Cardinal Mundelein directed African-Americans to St. Elizabeth for worship.
- By 1928 fewer than 100 people attended mass at Corpus Christi and the parish closed to preserve it for the community who built it.
- In 1929 during the Great Depression (1929 to 1941), the Franciscans Friars of the Scared Heart took on Corpus Christi, but were originally instructed to convert the school to a retreat center. The retreat center was a miserable failure.
- In 1930, Rev. Nicholas Christoffel became the first official pastor and the church opened its doors to the African-American community. The church saw an immediate growth in parishioners, all African-Americans.
- In 1933, Corpus Christi Grade School opened. The Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, Iowa took on the role of educators.
- In 1935 Sister Clement Marie Smith of Corpus Christi entered Oblate Sisterhood of Baltimore.
- In 1937, Fr. David Fochtmann directed the first “The Living Stations of the Cross,”
- a dramatization of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
- In 1938 during the Great Depression, Corpus Christi established a Credit Union making loans up to $1,000 with a one percent finance rate.
- In 1942 during World War II (1939 to 1945), the first Corpus Christi Advisory Board or “parish council” was established well before Vatican II (1960’s).
- In 1944 Corpus Christi purchase Sinai Temple.
- 1946, Sinai Temple was opened as Corpus Christi High School (co-ed) on 46th and South Parkway Avenue (now know as King Drive).
- In 1950’s Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka of Uganda celebrated mass at Corpus Christi.
- In 1953, Sr. Lucy Williams, former Corpus Christi pupil, entered the Sisters of St. Francis.
- A dramatization of “The Living Stations of the Cross” was performed at the Chicago Coliseum and televised on WGN TV.
- In 1954, inspired by the “The Living Stations of the Cross,” renowned TV and radio evangelist, Bishop Fulton Sheen of New York came to Corpus Christi to see the drama and later celebrated the Tre Ore ceremony at the church.
- Also in that same year Br. Loyola Freightman, former Corpus Christi student, was one of the first African-Americans to enter the Franciscan order.
- 1957, Fr. George Clements, former pupil and community activist, celebrated his first solemn mass in the observance of the first 25 years of the Franciscans at Corpus Christi.
- Also, that same year Corpus Christi High School converted to an All-Male High School.
- In 1960 Sr. Loyisa Wilson, former student at Corpus Christi professed her vows to the Order of the Poor Clares. Also another former student, Fr. John Rodney, S.V.D. was ordained.
- 1962 Fr. Bennet Spivey, O.F.M., former student at Corpus Christi and the first African-American to be ordained a Franciscan in the U.S., celebrated his first mass at the church.
- In June of 1963 the high school was close. All the students were relocated to a new facility on 49th and Cottage Grove named Hales Franciscan High School. An independent offshoot of Corpus Christi. The high school was dedicated on September 8th of that year.
- In 1964, Fr. Bennet Spivey, O.F.M. died (June 22).
- In 1966 the United Community Golden Agers, a group to service the needs of seniors was established by a joint efforts between Corpus Christi and our neighbor, Liberty Baptist Church.
- In 1968 the interior of the church was remodeled in light of the liturgical changes of Vatican II.
- During the early 70’s new ministries emerged. Out of this movement the food and clothing ministry was established to feed and clothe the poor families in the Bronzeville area. Also, the Youth Gospel Choir was formed, primarily performing black contemporary gospel music.
- In 1974 lower walls of the interior was repainted including the black liberation colors of red, green and black to reflect our African-American culture and pride.
- In 1975 the church was closed by the Archdiocese because of an unsafe ceiling.
- In the spring of 1976, architect Paul Straka engaged in restoring and decorating the church. On November of that year, Cardinal Cody gave permission for restoration of the church.
- 1977 the restored church was reopened and the ceiling was painted to compliment the lower walls. June of that year the parish (not the building) celebrated its 75th anniversary.
- In 1981 Fr. Adrian Fischer, O.F.M., assumed pastoral duties and became a foster father following program start by Fr. George Clements’ “One Church, One Child.”
- In 1988, Fr. Christian Reuter, O.F.M., became pastor. He was the longest serving pastor for 14 years and the last Franciscan at the church. Prior to that, He spent 18 years at Hales Franciscan High School as teacher and principal. He established a monthly newsletter called “Corpus Christi Connection,” computerized monthly “Willingness to Try” pledge statement.
History of the Parish
- Corpus Christi Parish was founded on June 27, 1901. It celebrated its first mass in the chapel of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd’s Industrial School for Girls. The area was known as Grand Boulevard and was predominantly Irish American.
- The official groundbreaking took place on August 22, 1901 and the cornerstone of the church was laid on August 15, 1914. The first mass was celebrated on Christmas Day, 1915.
- At the beginning of the Great Migration (roughly 1910) the Grand Boulevard area began to transition from an Irish community to an African American community which became known as “Bronzeville.”
- In 1924 Cardinal Mundelein instructed the pastor, Fr. Eckert to direct African Americans to St. Elizabeth’s church for worship. Father Eckert did not agree with the Cardinal’s decision.
- By 1928 fewer than 100 people attended mass. The Sisters of Mercy withdrew from the school, Monsignor O’Brien resigned from the pastorate and the church closed.
- On April 13, 1929, the Franciscan Friars of the Sacred Heart took charge of the parish. On July 14, 1932, Corpus Christi reopened its doors to the Bronzeville community.
- On September 5, 1933, Corpus Christi Grade School opened with an enrollment of roughly 320 students. The Franciscan Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, Iowa took on the role of educators.
- In 1937, a group of parishioners performed a dramatization of the Passion of Christ known as “The Living Stations.” During the 1950’s it was performed four times at the Chicago Coliseum and televised live on WGN TV in Chicago. World renowned Bishop Fulton Sheen of New York saw a performance in 1954 and gave a Sunday sermon at Corpus Christi. Also, Cardinal Francis George wrote an article in the Catholic New World newspaper in 2001 about seeing the play as a youth.
- In 1938, Father Clement Martin organized the Corpus Christi Credit Union to assist parishioners and the community.
- Corpus Christi High School opened its doors to both boys and girls in 1946 at 4620 South Park Avenue (now Dr. Martin Luther King Drive).
- After the 1961–62 school year, the high school was closed. Hales Franciscan High School, an all-boys high school on 49th and Cottage Grove was opened in 1963 replacing Corpus Christi High School.
- In 1970, parishioners Mary Cope, Joan McAfee and Rosie Walls along with Sr. Julia Luetkenhaus founded the Food and Clothing Committee. It provided assistance for parishioners and neighbors in need. In that same year Ms. Joyce Whitfield was hired as the first lay, African American principal at Corpus Christi Grade school.
- In 1973, Sr. Marilyn Freking organized the Retired Senior Volunteer Program. Along with Sr. Ann Rubly, the volunteers ministered to the sick and shut-in members of the community. Also during that year, following the directives of Vatican II, lay participation became an integral part of worship service. The priests and parishioners collaborated in introducing liturgical worship in the African-American idiom.
- In 1991, Corpus Christi celebrated its 90th anniversary. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the celebrant and U.S. Congressman Danny Davis gave an uplifting speech during mass.
- May 14, 1994, Br. Leonard Lawrence, started the Corpus Christi “Soup Kitchen” to serve the community. Volunteers continued the mission until 2020.
- In 2001, Corpus Christi celebrated its 100th anniversary on the feast of Corpus Christi with Cardinal Francis George. • In 2003, The Missionary of St. Paul of Nigeria took over pastorship.
- On June 26, 2011, Corpus Christi marked its 110th anniversary with Bishop Joseph Perry celebrating the mass. (FYI: Bishop Perry’s father was a member of Corpus Christi)
- May 21, 2015, Fr. Michael Perry O.F.M. was elected as the 120th successor of St. Francis (Head of Franciscans internationally). He preached and ministered at Corpus Christi during the 1990’s • June 5, 2016, the courtyard was rededicated to the Franciscans of the Sacred Heart Province and the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque, Iowa. Sr. Marilyn Freking and Sr. Ann Rubly were honored on their retirement for years of service at Corpus Christi.
- Sunday, June 13, 2021, the last official mass was celebrated at Corpus Christi after 120 years of service on the south side of Chicago.
Noted Black Alumni and Parishioners of Corpus Christi
- Fr. Arthur Anderson, O.F.M., Former parishioner.
- Fr. George Clements, former pastor of Holy Angels parish. (Deceased)
- Ari Brown, Jazz saxophonist
- Br. Loyola Freightman, Former parishioner (Deceased)
- Judge Blanche Manning, parishioner (Deceased)
- Congressman Ralph Metcalfe, parishioner (Deceased)
- Fr. Joseph Rodney, S.V.D., Former parishioner (Deceased)
- Fr. Elric Sampson, O.F.M., Former parishioner (Deceased)
- Warner Saunders, Channel 5 News Chicago, anchor, graduate of Corpus Christi H.S. (Deceased)
- Fr. Bennet Spivey, O.F.M., Former parishioner (Deceased)
- Sr. Lucy Williams (Sr. Martin De Porres), Former parishioner (Deceased)