Hundreds of people filled the streets outside St. Sabina Church.

Hundreds of people filled the streets outside St. Sabina Church.

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CHICAGO — St. Sabina’s has become one of the city’s most well-known churches in the 100 years since it was founded.

The South Side church will celebrate its 100th anniversary at a special mass 10 a.m. Sunday at 1210 W. 78th Place. In the century since its start, St. Sabina’s evolved from holding mass in a storefront to gaining national recognition.

St. Sabina’s first mass was delivered in a storefront at 7915 S. Ashland Ave., with the parishioners using a “borrowed table in a rented room,” according to “What Parish Are You From?”, written by historian Eileen McMahon. Supporters broke ground on a permanent school and church building on Dec. 8, 1916, but it wouldn’t be until 1933 that the church was complete and blessed, McMahon wrote.

 Rev. Michael Pfleger has led St. Sabina since 1981.

Rev. Michael Pfleger has led St. Sabina since 1981.

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The church’s base grew quickly: Between 1920 and ’30, the population of Auburn Gresham tripled to more than 57,000 people, and St. Sabina’s membership swelled to 1,600 families, according to McMahon. It continued to grow, with 2,100 families being a part of the church by ’36 and 3,478 family by ’57.

The church’s earliest parishioners tended to be the children of Irish immigrants who had made their homes in Bridgeport, Canaryville and Back of the Yards, McMahon wrote. The school taught Irish history and supported Ireland’s independence. It was also the site of the city’s original St. Patrick’s Day Parade, according to the church’s website.

The strong tie between St. Sabina and Chicago’s Irish population is noted in the “South Side Irish” song, with the lyrics, “Our parents came from Mayo, from Cork and Donegal. We come from Sabina … .”

The neighborhood’s ethnic makeup changed in the ’60s, and St. Sabina’s opened its doors to black community members, “unlike many other churches in the area,” according to its website. It has since become one of the most well-known churches in Chicago and primarily serves black community members, and has gained attention for blending traditional Catholic services with African music, dancing and other elements.

Rev. Michael Pfleger was appointed pastor of the church in 1981. Pfleger became a nationally recognized — and, at times, controversial — figure for his religious and civil rights work. He and the parishioners of St. Sabina’s regularly host anti-violence walks and speak out against gang violence. The church also worked with Spike Lee for his 2015 film, “Chiraq.”

St. Sabina has also created an Employment Resource Center, Social Services, Safe Homes for children and the Elders Village.

“As a minister, Father Pfleger has sought to break down the walls of racism and denominationalism by building unity among all people founded on truth and based on Jesus’ command to love one another,” according to Pfleger’s online biography.

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Article source: https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20161001/auburn-gresham/st-sabina-100-anniversary