Chicago’s Infant King Statue Inspires Bright Future

Chicago’s Infant King Statue Inspires Bright Future

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Every city has its secrets. And if you find yourself in Chicago this Christmas, there is an enigma on the South Side you will not want to miss.  For there, in the blighted Woodlawn area, hard up by the lofty academic pinnacles of the University of Chicago, is an orphaned architectural masterpiece with a growing group of Catholic devotees.

Saved from the Wrecker’s Ball

Slated for demolition in 2003, the former St. Clara/St. Gelasius church is the opus magnum of Chicago architect Henry J. Schlacks. Schlacks applied classical models from Italy, most particularly Rome, to the many magnificent churches he designed in Chicago during the early twentieth century. His church of St. Clara/St. Gelasius stands out as his life's masterpiece, with its application of concepts from the many triumphal arches of antiquity, including the three arched doorways, and the four imposing statues placed above the pediment.

Saved by a hard-won landmark status obtained through the efforts of local community supporters, Chicago Cardinal George then entrusted the care and restoration of this 1923 Italian renaissance treasure to the capable hands of the Tuscany-based Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP).

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The Church of St. Clara/St. Gelasius was Henry Schlacks' masterpiece. Today, it  stands in the blighted Woodlawn area, hard up by the lofty academic pinnacles of the University of Chicago, with a growing group of Catholic devotees.

An Ancient Spanish Statue

When you make this journey to believe, you will be most cordially received. But after you wander, gawking at this gem’s lofty ceilings and impressive space, you must confront the Infant King on the High Altar, a statue of marvels.

Although part of its history is lost, the artistic merits and workmanship of this wooden statue suggest it was carved by baroque sculptors of southern Spain, likely in late seventeenth century. Further, it has been speculated that it may have been commissioned for one of the Carmelite monasteries, among whom devotion to the Child was popular – a fitting echo of the days when this Chicago church was the national Shrine of St. Therese of Liseaux, under the care of the Carmelites.

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If you make the journey here, have no fear. You will be most cordially welcomed. But after you wander, gawking at this gem’s lofty ceilings and impressive space, you must confront the Infant King on the High Altar, a statue of marvels.

A Remarkable Collection of Impossible Dreams

Today, the Infant King is beautifully restored, arrayed in garments befitting a regal king and priest.  Furthermore, this Infant King is drawing to itself a remarkable collection of impossible dreams – a maelstrom of pleas from the faithful, electronic versions of the ancient practice of ex voto offerings. This, in addition to the lofty plans of the Institute to renovate this aging edifice, making it into a center of Catholic restoration. (More on this in future issues of Regina Magazine.)

So, what, exactly, does a devotion to the Infant King have to do with Christianity?

“At the center of the scene is the Holy Infant, surrounded by saints, angels, creatures, humble men, and wise kings,” explains Canon Michael Stein, the current Vice-Rector of the Shrine, whose pastoral assignment until recently was in Libreville, Gabon, Africa.  “To have a devotion to the Infant King is nothing more complicated than loving Him, adoring Him, and paying homage due the King of Kings.”

Through the centuries, the devotion that began in Bethlehem in the hearts of Mary and Joseph has been embraced by many saints. St. Therese of Avila is known for carrying a statue of the Holy Infant wherever she went in 15th Century Spain. In fact, several Spanish statues of the Infant King became famous for the miracles attributed to them, most notably the Infant of Prague and the Infant of Cebu in the Philippines.

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St. Therese of Avila is known for carrying a statue of the Holy Infant wherever she went in 15th Century Spain. In fact, several Spanish statues of the Infant King became famous for the miracles attributed to them, most notably the Infant of Prague and the Infant of Cebu in the Philippines.

This figure of Christ as the mighty-yet-approachable King is today at the epicenter of a growing network of devotees. Since its inception in 2007 and with the aid of an electronic ex voto provided by the Shrine, devotees the world over have expressed their gratitude to the Infant King for the graces they have received. To bring their petitions, the faithful may send in – by mail or via the Internet – their prayer intentions to be placed at the foot of the Altar. (Donated flowers and candles are also available.)

At the Shrine, the Infant King is honored not only at Christmas time, but also once a month with a novena, starting on the 17th and ending on the 25th, echoing the feast of the Nativity.  It culminates in a High Mass, a Procession, and a special Blessing of Children on the final day.

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At the Shrine, the Infant King is honored not only at Christmas time, but also once a month with a novena, starting on the 17th and ending on the 25th, echoing the feast of the Nativity.  It culminates in a High Mass, a Procession, and a special Blessing of Children on the final day.

This devotion is a spiritual Bethlehem that beckons all to love the Infant King,” says Canon Stein. “The Shrine of Christ the King cordially invites all to come adore Him, not only at Christmas, but every month of the year.”

You may visit and participate in the Infant King devotion at www.infantkingoffering.org.  Join this effort to restore the magnificence of an architectural landmark, a gem of history at  http://www.historic-landmark.org/

Photo Credit: Paige Arseneau

 

 

 

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