NORTH LAWNDALE — An 89-year-old church on the West Side is being recognized as a historic treasure by preservation groups because of its legacy as a hub for the Black community in K-Town.
The Pentecostal Church of Holiness, 1444 S. Keeler Ave., was awarded a $2,500 Preservation Heritage Fund Grant by Landmarks Illinois. The church is also being evaluated by the city’s Commission on Historic Landmarks and will likely be recognized and protected as a historic site.
The church was built in 1931 by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and was knownas Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. The church has had a strong Black membership since the ’60s, said Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy at Landmarks Illinois.
Many other Catholic churches in Chicago have ornate architecture and glasswork, but the Depression-era church in K-Town has a simple design that reflects the frugal time in which it was built.
The Pentecostal congregation took over after the Catholic church closed Our Lady of Lourdes in 2004. The church’s demure appearance allows the congregation’s service to the neighborhood to take center stage, said Pastor Chaun Johnson.
“Our church, it’s humble,” he said. “But the humility of that building speaks to the servitude of the church to its people.”
Many of the parishioners were alumni of a nearby school affiliated with the original Catholic church, Johnson said.
The church and the school held great sentimental value to residents of many faiths, but by the time the newer congregation bought the building, the church had fallen into a state of disrepair that mimicked the decline of the community, Johnson said.
“We began to see the building crumble and fall. And so being alums, you can imagine how we felt. We saw it in its heyday. We know the power of the humble church,” Johnson said.
Johnson has worked to rebuild and preserve not only the church itself, but also the legacy of the congregation as a pillar in K-Town.
Thousands of area residents have been fed and clothed by the church’s programs, Johnson said. The church also supports neighborhood businesses and is a resource for job seekers.
Black churches were once the spiritual and economic backbone of Lawndale and many other neglected neighborhoods, Johnson said, and Our Lady of Lourdes was an anchor for the community back in the “glory days.”
“The church, back in the ’60s, [they] were the beacons or the gathering spots and played the role for leadership for the community. I want to see that restored,” Johnson said.
Johnson hopes the grant, as well as the landmark designation he is seeking from the city, will propel revitalization of the neighborhood by getting more residents engaged with efforts to improve the quality of life.
“If the church is transformed as a beacon of the community, as a light of the community, we can transform others, and transform the lives,” Johnson said.
Landmarks Illinois gave a $2,500 grant — which will be matched by money raised by the church — to pay for bathroom repairs to preserve the building as a viable place to congregate.
In addition to the funding, the organization brought in a preservation architect on a pro bono basis to take stock of the work the church will need to protect the building as it ages, DiChiera said.
“It helps give them the start that they need, and the recognition that they need,” she said. “While these monies are small in nature, their impact can be big.”
The church’s historic value comes from the people who have lived near the church through its evolution from a Catholic to Baptist to Pentecostal institution and the church’s service to the community, DiChiera said.
“Yes, this building is beautiful. Yes, this building is historic,” DiChiera said. But “it’s more about who occupies the building now and what they’re doing … Pastor Johnson and his congregation is the reason we’re giving the grant to this building.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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