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Catholic Church in Bronzeville Honors Nuns for Nearly a Century of Service

By Wendell Hutson | September 26, 2013 8:13am | Updated on September 26, 2013 11:45am
 Two Catholic nuns combined have nearly 100 years of service at Corpus Christi Catholic Church.
Sister Marilyn Freking
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BRONZEVILLE — Between the two of them, Sisters Marilyn Freking and Ann Rubly have served Corpus Christi Catholic Church for nearly 100 years. That service will be honored by their 200-member parish at a celebration next month.

Sister Marilyn has been at the church for 50 years, while Sister Ann has 41 years of service.

“We’ve lived here longer than anywhere else,” Sister Ann said. “We’re both here because we dearly love this community.”

A reception for the nuns will follow a 9:30 a.m. Mass on Oct. 6 at the church, 4900 S. King Drive.

For Sister Marilyn, 74, working at the church is all she knows.

"I love helping people. It is important to me that people know their benefits and how to get them. I try to be a support to people of the community," Sister Marilyn said.

Since her childhood in Remsen, Iowa, growing up with an older brother and three younger sisters, Sister Marilyn said she has envisioned becoming a teacher. She got her chance in 1960 when she moved to the Chicago area and taught at St. Christopher School in south suburban Midlothian before being assigned to Corpus Christi in 1963.

Every Wednesday, Sister Marilyn can be found working in the church's soup kitchen in the basement, which opens at noon and ends when "we run out of food, which is usually around 100 people," she said.

And unlike most soup kitchens Sister Marilyn said food it uses does not come from the Greater Chicago Food Depository, but through the generosity of others.

"Where would we store all that food the depository provides to soup kitchens? We don't have the space to store a lot of food," added Sister Marilyn. "Our meals are prepared mostly by volunteers from St. Dorothy's Church [in Grand Crossing], and so far we have been able to open our doors consistently for the last 19 years."

Carrie Miller, 71, volunteers every week at the soup kitchen and said she enjoys working with Sister Marilyn.

"We work well together. I have learned a lot from her," said Miller, a 30-year Bronzeville resident.

Virdine Turner, a receptionist at Corpus Christi, said she understands why Sisters Marilyn and Ann have stuck around so long.

"I graduated from their elementary and high school, and after I retired from working I came here to work part-time to help out," said Turner. "That was 23 years ago!"

In 1993, Corpus Christi closed its elementary school due to low enrollment, according to Sister Marilyn. Corpus Christi High School closed in 1962. The Archdiocese said it would like to rent out the empty school space to nonprofit organizations.

"Most of the [elementary] students lived in public housing in Bronzeville. Back then there were very few, if any, vacant lots," recalled Sister Marilyn. "A lot has changed in Bronzeville since then. I have seen it all during my time."

According to Sister Marilyn, Corpus Christi Catholic Church originally was built to serve a predominantly Irish-American community at 49th Street and Grand Boulevard, as Martin Luther King Jr. Drive used to be known.

But in 1910, as the Great Migration began, the Grand Boulevard area began to transition from an Irish community to an African-American one, now called Bronzeville.

Former Corpus Christi elementary students said Sister Marilyn was as full of tough love then as she is now.

"She has always been a dedicated teacher and mother to all of us," said Beverly Kelly, who said she taught English at Corpus Christi for 17 years.

And Charles Williams, 58, said Sister Marilyn was his seventh-grade teacher.

"If she ever retires she leaves behind big shoes to fill. For as long as I can remember, she has been a crusader for everyone," said Williams. "It will be hard for me to see Corpus Christi without her, because her imprint will forever be here."