For everything there is a season—innocence, adolescence, first love. One major life experience, though, is not temporary, but changes along with the seasons of life: learning. A solid grammar school education can set a solid foundation for life. For many years, St. Columbanus School served that role in the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Park Manor, providing a culturally rich, warm environment, as well as an academically rigorous one. According to St. Columbanus alumna Leslie Cain-Cauley, who graduated with the class of 1980, what made St. Columbanus special was that it was a family; parents were friends with each other outside of the school and supported the teachers, and the students had pride in the school. In 2015, however, St. Columbanus had to close its doors and merge with St. Dorothy School due to low enrollment. The merged schools became the Augustus Tolton Catholic Academy, which has a STREAM curriculum (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, Math). The new school not only marks the end of an era in this community, but points to the variety of changes in the Catholic community as a whole—economic, educational, and social.
“Of course, as good Chicagoans, we ignored this.”
Fifteen years ago, when Mack Julion first came to Saint Sabina’s in Auburn Gresham, the church didn’t have a youth ministry. After working for a few years in the office of the church’s longtime pastor, Father Michael Pfleger, he managed to convince Pfleger to let him start one. Now, the church’s youth ministry has programs for parishioners from ages thirteen to thirty-five. In some ways, Julion is a perfect Saint Sabina’s success story: the church empowered him to empower others.
“When you empathize with someone, those are the only answers that really make sense.”
To Sister Kathy, being a nun and being socially ‘radical’ are inseparable.
West Point Baptist Church, the longtime home church of gospel legend Albertina Walker, sits squarely next to Ellis Park in Bronzeville. Just a block north at 35th Street, a commemorative street sign reads “Albertina Walker and the Caravans Drive,” marking this span of Cottage Grove a homage to the “Queen of Gospel” and The Caravans, the gospel group with which she grew to international acclaim. Continue reading
Terry Shanks leaned back in his chair and chuckled while swarms of shrieking children ran past his office to gym class. As we returned to his story, told in his firm but earnest voice, Shanks beamed with a cheerful smile. Currently in his role as a part-time locker room attendant for the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, Shanks also works as a minister with the United Praise Ministry, a church in Chatham. Shanks was born in 1957 and lived between 47th and 43rd in what he calls “a rough little area.” He now lives with his wife Mable Shanks—his four grown children have moved out. Continue reading
The identity of Little Village has undergone periods of subtle transformation, as the neighborhood has shifted from being defined by Irish, Eastern-European, Polish, to Mexican immigrants. The richness of the history is not obvious, as with each wave of immigrants the facade of the area has evolved to accommodate a new culture. It is for this reason that the European-style church on Central Avenue—a side street off of hectic 26th Street—is so magnificent and unexpected. With an ornate bell tower and luminous stained glass windows, the church evokes another era entirely. St. Agnes of Bohemia, now more commonly called Santa Inés de Bohemia, was built in 1904 by Czech immigrants. Lined with pews, the inside of the church is richly decorated with various statues and gold detailing. As Catholicism is such a vital part of Latin American culture, the church has become a center of the community, and its priests, com- munity leaders. The pastor of St. Inés de Bohemia is Father Don Nevins, an Irish American and Chicagoan with perfect Spanish. Sitting in a bare conference room with images of saints and other religious symbols hung neatly on the walls, Father Don Nevins tells me about his experiences as a priest and as a leader within the Little Village and Pilsen communities.
On the west side of 73rd and Stony Island, there is a plaza containing a chop suey joint, an H&R Block, a Subway, an insurance office, and a Harold’s Chicken Shack. On the east side, across the street, is Mosque Maryam, the largest mosque in Chicago and the national headquarters of the Nation of Islam, the syncretic African-American Muslim group led by Louis Farrakhan. The mosque is separated from the street by a wrought-iron fence and a wide parking lot. A star-and-crescent symbol stands on a pole atop its golden dome, overlooking the neighborhood. Continue reading
Reverend Dr. Marcenia Richards is the founder and executive director of Fierce Women of Faith, an interfaith initiative of women promoting peace throughout Chicago. Wrapped in their signature pink pashminas, members of FWF gather on Tuesday mornings for prayer vigils around the city and advocate for peace. Richards founded the coalition about a year ago, after serving as the director of Saint Sabina’s Peace Coalition Against Violence, where she found women had a limited presence in nonviolence organizing in Chicago. Richards says that about two-hundred Chicagoland women actively participate in FWF’s work. They categorize their work into five pillars: increasing public witness to prevent violence, training advocates for peace, pursuing legislation, driving the enforcement of nonviolence, and deepening partnerships with organizations engaged in this work. Dr. Marcenia Richards spoke with the Weekly on a recent Saturday morning shortly after her return from the World Alliance of Religions for Peace in Seoul, South Korea. Continue reading