Our Lady of the Angels Mission – Rising Up from Tragedy with the Help of Fr. Bob Lombardo ‘79
By Tom Hansen ’74, ND Club of Chicago – Senior Alumni Coordinator, NDSA Region 16 Director
December 1,1958 is a date etched in the minds of many Chicagoans. A fire roared through Our Lady of the Angels School, killing 92 students and three religious sisters. Our Lady of the Angels, located on Chicago’s poor west side, never recovered as the neighborhood changed, parishioners moved away and the parish was closed in 1990 with the church falling into disrepair.
Fast forward to 2005 when Francis Cardinal George invited Fr. Bob Lombardo, CFR, ND ’79, to establish a mission at Our Lady of the Angels. Fr. Bob is a member of the New York based Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, an order committed to serve the materially poor, most especially the destitute and homeless.
Fr. Bob, an accounting major and Cavanaugh Hall resident from Stamford, CT had many successful years serving the poor in New York. His reputation reached Cardinal George who had the vision to create the mission. “Move in condition” could not be said about the church, rectory, or school. “It was a wreck,” commented Fr. Bob, “a handyman’s special.”
Never one to shy away from a challenge, especially when it meant restoring a faith based church and gathering center for Chicago’s west side, Fr. Bob went to work. Contributions came from unions, corporations, parishes, and former parishioners of this icon near Humboldt Park. Rebuilding the church was a $2 million effort. The current beauty of this church is a testament to the efforts of so many, all under the direction of Fr. Bob.
Networking with friends and connections lead to the Notre Dame Club of Chicago. The first contact with the ND Chicago Club was through Fr. Bob’s friend and president of the Club at that time, Mary Ellen Woods ‘80. The work then was refurbishing the rectory to make it livable and useful to begin the outreach. The Club’s next president, Bob Cronin, ‘82, continued Club involvement with the Saturday Mobile Pantry, which serves about 250 people on any given First Saturday. Bob Cronin offered his thoughts regarding Fr. Bob, “I came to know Fr. Bob while president of the Notre Dame Club of Chicago. We began to provide volunteers and publicize the need for helping the Mission. What he has done at the Mission is truly God’s work in an area so in need of loving and helping hands. Fr. Bob has become a good friend and has been there for my family in times of joy (presiding over 2 weddings) and sorrow (my father’s funeral). I consider Fr. Bob a great friend to my family, and a great source of light for those in his neighborhood. He is a living example of Fr. Hesburgh’s call to Notre Dame graduates to make better the lives of those around us.” One other important connection with Fr. Bob and the Chicago Club has been the annual summer service project. Our Lady of the Angels is the summer home of 3 – 5 Notre Dame students. Fr. Bob and the Franciscan sisters at Our Lady of the Angels utilize the talents of these students to improve the lives of the poor in this community.
Last fall, the senior alumni of the ND Chicago Club expressed interest in establishing service projects in which seniors could be engaged. The twice-monthly Wednesday community dinners have served as an excellent opportunity for the senior alumni to share in their time and talents. Over 100 neighbors, ranging from the elderly to mothers with their small children gather first for a prayer service at this beautifully restored church, followed by a delicious dinner prepared by the volunteers, who then dine with and get to know the neighbors. Everything from the food to the tables, chairs, and kitchen equipment has been donated. Fr. Bob and the Franciscan Sisters and Brother who live at Our Lady of the Angels work tirelessly to see that every detail is addressed.
Today, the school at Our Lady of the Angels has been rebuilt and is leased by the Galapagos Charter School. Fr. Bob oversees the Mission at 3803 W. Iowa St, the rectory and Kelly Hall which doubles as the parish center and a local YMCA, one block away.
As one of many volunteers at the monthly dinners, as well as the very large Thanksgiving and Christmas brunches and food/clothing distribution, I can attest to the appreciation of the entire community for the significant effort managed by Fr. Bob and the Sisters and Brother at OLA. It is also important to note the appreciation they have for the many volunteers who assist at these and many other projects throughout the year. This effort has made a better life for Fr. Bob’s community. Fr. Bob Lombardo is truly a role model for every Notre Dame alum. His commitment to faith and service makes a difference. Asked about his Notre Dame relationship, Fr. Bob commented, “I have always been proud of ND and grateful for my education. Being involved with the Chicago Club and many other Alumni and students makes me appreciate the uniqueness of Notre Dame and our ability to put our faith into action. GO IRISH!!"
Click on the following link to hear more about Fr. Bob’s work with Our Lady of the Angels:
Thank YOU, Fr. Bob!
Jim Hynan ’74, Fr. Bob Lombardo ’79 and Tom Hansen ’74 at a recent community dinner.
Volunteers from the ND Chicago Club join Fr. Bob at a monthly food drive