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Shrine Gets $450,000 From Anonymous Donors to Stop Archdiocese's Demo Plans

By Sam Cholke | February 8, 2016 2:13pm | Updated on February 8, 2016 3:10pm
 Ward Miller, left, of Preservation Chicago announced Monday that donors have pledged $450,000 toward restoring the burned Shrine of Christ the King the Archdiocese wants to demolish.
Ward Miller, left, of Preservation Chicago announced Monday that donors have pledged $450,000 toward restoring the burned Shrine of Christ the King the Archdiocese wants to demolish.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

WOODLAWN — Anonymous donors have pledged $450,000 to stabilize and plan repairs on the Shrine of Christ the King, Preservation Chicago announced Monday.

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said Monday in front of the shrine at 6401 S. Woodlawn Ave., that a group of about five donors have contributed the bulk of the money to stabilize the shrine that the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago plans to demolish after an October fire.

“It’s one of the few Roman Catholic landmarks in our city,” Miller said. “When they’re destroyed, it destroys part of our cultural heritage.”

Previously, the Archdiocese has consistently said it would be cost prohibitive to repair the church and it must demolish the remaining shell of the church to prevent it from collapsing and harming someone.

"We have not received the proposal from Mr. Miller's group and look forward to understanding the details to ensure it meets the needs of the Shrine of Christ the King worshipers and those of the community," said Susan Burritt, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese. "We continue to be guided by the safety concerns expressed by the city of Chicago and the engineers who reviewed the building after the fire and we will continue to work with the Institute of Christ the King as we consider options for the future of the shrine property."

Miller said had met with Betsy Bohlen, the chief operation officer for the Archdiocese, and had a “friendly dialogue” about the fundraising before announcing it publicly and said he thought the Archdiocese may now be interested in options besides demolition.

“They’ve been very open,” Miller said.

He said he that from his conversations the Archdiocese remains opposed to any non-religious use of the building, which had put off several developers that had proposed restoring the building as a community center and church.

Miller said there are other donors willing to contribute more if the cost of stabilizing the church is more than $450,000.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has also stepped in and promised help with planning and other needs should the Archdiocese decide to delay or cancel plans for demolition.

Any plans to restore the church would also unlock fundraising done by the Institute of Christ the King, the tenant of the shrine, which raised more than $67,000 to rebuild before the announcement by the Archdiocese that it planned to demolish the shrine.

Congregants of the shrine said the canons have never publicly spoken out against the Archdiocese, but have shown they would rebuild if given the opportunity.

“I think the most heartfelt moment was more than three Sundays ago when Canon [Matthew] Talarico told everyone what was going to happen,” said Alan Rucker, who attends services at the church, which has relocated to the gymnasium next door at First Presbyterian Church.

He said one of the canons started crying so hard that he couldn’t finish the liturgy.

Rucker said the congregation wants to rebuild the church and said he believes the canons do too, but cannot speak out against the Archdiocese’s plans.

Preservation Chicago continues to raise funds for the stabilization of the church.

The Institute of Shrine of Christ the King’s fundraiser on GoFundMe also continues to accept donations, but the canons have stopped providing updates.

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