For many, especially those in the Chicago area, Our Lady of the Angels is remembered because of the terrible fire that occurred in the school on December 1, 1958. On that cold December day, the school was packed with 1600 children and the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVMs) that taught them. Ninety-five (92 children and 3 sisters) died and hundreds were injured.
The initial cause of the fire is officially unknown, but there is much speculation over a student starting a fire in a garbage can in a stairwell. The old school, built in 1910, was woefully unprepared for a fire; for example, the building contained no alarms or sprinklers and the interior of the school was made almost entirely of wood. However, because of outdated codes and grandfather clauses for old buildings, the school had passed a fire inspection just weeks before the tragedy.
Many heroic firefighters served at Our Lady of the Angels school that day. Delays in the initial call to the fire department, back drafts, and other logistical challenges impeded their progress, and led to the high death toll.
The Our Lady of the Angels school fire quickly led to reforms in fire codes in schools across the country. Likely, countless lives have been saved because of these reforms.
The Franciscans at the Mission pray daily for the repose of the souls of those who died and for those who are still affected by aftermath of the tragedy. Fr. Bob spearheaded the effort to get the first on-site outside memorial for the victims of the tragedy in 2007. The memorial is on the front lawn of the rectory, where the bodies of those who died were first laid when taken from the building.
We welcome all those who have been affected by the fire to come to the Mission to pray and see how the buildings now look today. Please see Contact Us to set up a time if you are interested in coming on a visit.
For more information about Our Lady of the Angels’ school fire please visit: http://www.olafire.com/Home.asp
To reconnect with survivors and/or family and friends of victims/ survivors, please visit: http://www.olafire.com/MessageBoards.asp
Picture and information source: Morgan, Eric. “Our Lady of the Angels Fire Memorial,” last modified May 26, 2013, http://www.olafire.com/Home.asp.