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Burning School


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), who served as teachers, when a fire broke out in the school basement that claimed the lives of ninety-five (92 children and 3 sisters) and left hundreds with significant injuries.

NewspaperThe initial cause of the fire remains officially unknown, but there has been much speculation that a student started started a fire in a garbage can in a basement stairwell, out of which the flames spread rapidly. 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 However, because of outdated codes and grandfather clauses for old buildings, the school had passed a fire inspection just weeks before the tragedy.

The Our Lady of the Angels school fire quickly led to reforms in fire codes in schoolsFireman across the country. Likely, countless lives have been saved because of these reforms.

The Franciscans at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels are honored to live and serve at such a historic and hallowed site. The Franciscans 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 erect the first on-site outside memorial for the victims of the tragedy, which was blessed by Cardinal George 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.

MemorialWe 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:

To reconnect with survivors and/or family and friends of victims/ survivors, please visit:

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Picture and information source: Morgan, Eric. “Our Lady of the Angels Fire Memorial,” last modified May 26, 2013,