Everyone agrees that Woodlawn is changing. The neighborhood that once suffered from widespread arson, gang warfare, and a plummeting population is now seeing reinvestment in housing, a new grocery store, and a wealth of new cultural opportunities. And at 64th and Woodlawn, a historic church is ringing with rare Baroque music on the third Sunday of every month.
Built in 1923, St. Gelasius Catholic Church was heavily damaged in a devastating fire in 1976. The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, wanting to retain a place in the redeveloping community but unwilling to pay the extensive costs of renovating the church, tried to demolish it in 2003, but a wave of local protest led to the building being declared a Historic Landmark. According to a Tribune article, the building would have been knocked down at one point during the preservation battle but for a lone nun who barred the path of contractors trying to shut off the electricity.
The Archdiocese, prevented from demolishing the building, handed it off to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a society of Catholic priests that had attracted attention for its successful renovation of a church in Wisconsin. After extensive work on the building, the Institute reopened it for services a year and a half ago.
Not content to be just a home for Catholics on Sunday mornings, the Institute is trying to “bring back beauty to our lives,” according to Canon Matthew Talarico, the church’s Vice Rector. “We want this to be a center of culture for the neighborhood.” Beginning last spring, the Institute has hosted the Amadeus Consort, a group of Chicago string musicians, for the Hidden Treasures Classical Concert Series. The series presents baroque and early classical selections free of charge, “maybe from composers [the audience] might know, but pieces they hadn’t heard performed,” according to Talarico. The church itself is a beautiful setting, although the restoration isn’t finished yet. Like the neighborhood around it, though, it’s come a long way.
The next concert in the series, featuring harpsichord, flute, bass, and violin, will take place on October 25 at 3pm at 6415 S. Woodlawn Ave.