The story of St. Edmund’s is the story of a dedicated group of Black Christians, a historic neighborhood and a major American city.
St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church continues to build on its legacy that spans the 20th Century and well into the 21st. Our church is one of the oldest and well known predominantly Black Episcopalian churches in Chicago.
The church has been deeply rooted in the Washington Park community since its founding in 1905 as a White congregation. Known as St. Edmund’s Mission, the first mass took place in a basement meeting room at 55th and State Street and relocated in the area several times. When the Great Migration brought thousands of African Americans to the south side, the community transitioned as White residents (including parishioners) moved out the neighborhood. The diocese then designated St. Edmunds as a “Negro” congregation. In 1948 the current location at 6105 S. Michigan Ave was acquired. The building was the former home of a Greek Orthodox Church.
Over its 118-year history, SEC has been guided by three dynamic and progressive rectors who worked closely with the congregation and surrounding communities. In 2005, St. Edmund’s celebrated its Centennial, remaining true to its values of justice, equality, socioeconomic diversity, spiritual growth and a deeper relationship with God.
Rev. Samuel J. Martin (1928-1970) was the first Black priest to lead St. Edmund’s and would ultimately become the congregation’s first rector when it gained parish status in 1940. Building up the congregation from scratch into one of the largest and most prominent of its day, his imprint on the church remains. At one time during his tenure, church membership was upwards of one-thousand members. Father Martin was a familiar sight making home visits throughout the neighborhoods where parishioners resided. He led a delegation to England to visit the original St. Edmund’s Abbey. It was Father Martin who set the church on its activist path of addressing social issues and championing civil rights.
- Formerly established the present-day church and congregation;
- Oversaw the acquisition of current building and significantly expanded and upgraded the church’s physical structure;
- Established the St. Edmund’s Parochial School in 1948.
Father Raymond S. Mitchell (1970-1985), our second rector, assumed the reins of St. Edmund’s upon Father Martin’s retirement. Once again, major shifts were taking place in Chicago. Repressive restrictive covenants that blocked Black people from living in many areas of the city, were lifted resulting in a membership decline and the closing of the church school. The Washington Park community again experienced economic upheaval and decline. Despite the decrease in membership, under Father Mitchell, the church deepened its spiritual roots and remained committed to justice, equality and socioeconomic diversity.
Highlights of his tenure:
- Established tradition of joint Palm Sunday Blessing and Procession of the Palms with St. Anselm Roman Catholic Church;
- Shepherded significant fundraising initiatives including a concert featuring legendary opera star Leontyne Price;
- Established an adult general education program that was held at the church.
The Right Rev. Doctor Richard L. Tolliver (1989-2017) The third rector - Father Tolliver arrived at St. Edmund’s with a significant list of accomplishments and a decisive vision. Like many areas on Chicago’s predominantly south and west sides, disinvestment by the city saw an increase in poverty and crime, a decrease in safe affordable housing, and a decline in quality education. Father Tolliver quickly became an agent for change, developing relationships with individuals and organizations that led to new initiatives and resources that benefited both the church and Washington Park. He won many awards and accolades for his pioneering work. Father Tolliver traveled the world extensively spreading the word about St. Edmund’s.
- Created St. Edmund’s Redevelopment Corporation and embarked on a mission to provide housing options including senior citizen housing, single family homes, townhouses, condominiums and rental apartments in Washington Park.
- Reopened the church school later bringing the Chicago International Charter School-Washington Park to operate out of the building;
- Commissioned 33 stained-glass windows depicting Black bishops, priests and other individuals who’ve made significant contributions to uplift the lives of the Black community and the Church.