We stepped inside St Benedict the African—thoroughly drenched from an apocalyptical rain—through a wooden door with an adorable stained glass portal and whoooooooaaaaaa holy mother of all immersion pools!
Nope—I totally did not expect to find a full body immersion pool inside a Catholic church. This was just one of many delightful surprises St. Benedict had in store for us. (The church is probably quite exciting from the outside too, but I couldn’t tell you what it looks like because the unrelenting rain on Chicago’s South side that day wouldn’t allow us to look up, let alone take photos.)
The church’s circular sanctuary is dramatically lit with a mixture of natural and artificial light. The floor is designed with direct access to soil, so that tall plants that are growing right from the ground—not from planters—giving the church a bit of a tropical smell.
St. Benedict the African was built in 1989 by the Belli & Belli architecture firm specially for the African American community of Englewood.
All of the church’s décor is thoughtfully chosen and well crafted, with an Afrocentric flair. The lovely wooden tabernacle pictured above compliments the bold tapestry behind it.
Even the carved candlesticks are meticulously designed.
The lobby outside the sanctuary is also packed with art.
We met up with a nun in the lobby who explained that the church commissioned this pieta from a Tanzanian artist. It is carved from ironwood—the dark color is natural and unstained.
HOB was digging this painting by Hector Ofori.
How surprising and fun to find a beaded crown—called Oba’s crown—made by the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria!
Chicago artist David Lee Csicsko created St. Benedict’s stained glass windows. According to the nice nun, Csicsko was inspired by a trip to Ethiopia. Here is the church’s namesake wearing a 16th century robe with two of Chicago’s most famous skyscrapers in the background.
The heart theme is consistent in every window. (I heart it, don’t you?)
Now here’s the best part: the Four Strong Black Women:
Harriet Tubman has a Big Dipper on her dress which symbolizes the North Star path to freedom for slaves escaping through the underground railroad.
I am grateful for St. Benedict the African for introducing me to Sister Bowman—in fact the reason it took me so long to write this post is that I was enjoying reading about her online and admiring her intelligence and charisma in the many videos of her speaking on YouTube.
This quote from Sister Bowman makes a great introduction to her legacy as well as fitting description of the wonderful church of St. Benedict the African:
“What does it mean to be black and Catholic? It means that I bring myself, my black self. All that I am. All that I have. All that I hope to become. I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African-American song and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as gift to the church.”