our lady of the angels fire 95 students killed 50th anniversary

Full story: Chicago Tribune

On Dec. 1, 1958, a fire consumed Our Lady of the Angels grade school on the West Side of Chicago, killing 92 children and three nuns.
Comments
1 - 20 of 100 Comments Last updated Jul 29, 2014
First Prev
of 5
Next Last
Francine Potempa

United States

#1 Nov 29, 2008
I was 4, we lived on the west side of Pulaski Road, close enough to see the black, ominous clouds over our neighborhood. We had neighbors on our block who had kids at Our Lady of Angels, and one family lost their daughter who was in the 8th grade. I recall their father's name was Pascuale and they had an older daughter, Norma, who was friends with my older sister, Adrienne.

I recall all the mothers on our block talking and panicking, the sounds of sirens on the streets. I recalled seeing ashes on our sidewalks that settled from the smoked filled skies.

I know it's 50 years as I'm now 54, and everytime I see a story about this tragedy, it plays back in my mind.

A few years later, one of my mother's relatives passed away and we were at Queen of Heaven cemetery and my parents took us to the graves where many were buried. My father showed me the gravestones--they were looking for Pasquale's daughter.

May God bless these angels before their time and continue to bless their loved ones who lost them.
Ctan

Chicago, IL

#2 Nov 29, 2008
Thank you Tribune for doing this story. It shows what newspapers can do to educate and reflect and bring history to the present. I never knew about this story until coming across it on the web today - something that I couldn't get reading wikipedia or turning to one of the thousand blogs out there.
Union Maid

Oakland, CA

#3 Nov 29, 2008
I can't believe it has been 50 years. I was seven at the time and lived in Albany Park. Although I didn't know anyone who went to the school, I remember clearly being glued to the TV set with my mother, cognizant even at that age of the enormity of the situation. I will never forget thinking about all of the children who died and how their families must feel. I have even spoken of this with Chicago friends recently. On this anniversary, I want the families involved to know they are kept in the hearts of many.
MDK

Mount Pleasant, SC

#4 Nov 29, 2008
Terrible, terrible incident but it helped Chicago become one of the safest cities in the country with very stringent fire coding and safety regulation. One that Charleston can and should learn from. Most public spaces have no sprinklers or multiple means of egress. Even after the Sofa Super Store fire where 9 firefighters lost their lives last year.(no sprinklers there) At least Chicago learns by their mistakes!

God bless all of the families of these children and nuns.
Mike Daum

Homer Glen, IL

#5 Nov 29, 2008
I did not see the fire but it affected us all.
I was six years old in first grade at St Lucy’s Catholic School a few parishes to the west. I do not recall any announcement in school of the tragedy unfolding several miles to the east of us in a building very similar to ours. It was a pretty typical weekday afternoon as I walked/ran home from school five blocks away… overcast, not raining.

As I turned right to go the last half block to our home on Huron Street I immediately noticed Mom and several other neighbor women talking at the end of the fence separating our home from our neighbor's the Ridgeway’s apartment building. Mom, Mrs. Ridgeway and two other women… I could tell something was wrong… had tears and Mrs. Ridgeway was sobbing,“those poor children in that school!” I quickly learned “Our Lady of the Angels fire, children and nuns killed and that it was still going on…” The story tumbled out on the local TV news – only ten minutes then and in the papers in the days and weeks to follow… ninety two kids like me and three nuns like my teachers, dead!
But as long as I live, I will never forget Mrs. Ridgeway sobbing! It chokes me up to this day.

A footnote to that story... I recall that when we returned from Christmas vacation in January, our St Lucy School had been retrofitted with sprinklers, fire doors, extinguishers and an alarm system. I understand that it was paid for directly out of the pocket of our Pastor the late Monsignor Rowan. Say a little prayer for all the children, nuns, priests firefighters and their families.
connor

Dallas, TX

#6 Nov 29, 2008
my grandmother was in that fire. she said the nuns made them pray to god for safety. they prayed. and they burned.
RU4real

Altamonte Springs, FL

#7 Nov 29, 2008
I was a registered nurse @ that time,working labor & delivery unit at St Mary's hospital. a firefighters wife was ready to deliver, the fireman came onto the unit, directly from the school fire & rquested me to hang his smoky coat on the fire escape to air out. We then safely delivered the baby, & the three of us cried with thanksgiving for the beautiful healthy baby. The parents said they are so sad about the children who perished in that fire.
My husband was a police officer also at the school to help control the traffic in order for the ambulances to have clear access to transport the injured to the hospital. That was a very sad day in the history of Chicago! God bless those holy innocents & the suvivors too.
It is an event that I will never forget. I am 76 yrs of age, a retired RN & worked as such for 34 yrs.
pugglemom

Tucson, AZ

#8 Nov 29, 2008
There was a photo taken after the fire -- a long shot down the cloak room, the kids' coats on hooks, their little boots lined up below. I was only 6 at the time, but the emptiness of that scene evoked an image of the boys and girls who would never come back. That black and white, poorly lit photo touched me in a way I thought nothing would again. Of course my tender years could not contemplate what would happen in Dallas some 5 years later. Our Lady of Angels fire, Kennedy Assassination, 9/11 -- moments frozen in time through a photographer's lens.
Rob

Des Plaines, IL

#10 Nov 29, 2008
There is a website dedicated to the memory of the lives affected by the fire....www.olafire.com.
cubbiemom

Elmhurst, IL

#11 Nov 29, 2008
I was in 3rd grade at another Catholic school and I remember coming home from school to find my Mom crying in front of the tv. It is a moment I can picture as though it were yesterday. I will never, never forget how we prayed for those children, their families, and the nuns who died in that terrible fire. It left an impression on me that I carry to this day. My dear Mother taught me to always turn to God.
Anne-Marie Hislop

Pittsburgh, PA

#12 Nov 29, 2008
I was a 4th grade Catholic school kid in New Jersey at the time. The fire must have scared the beegeebers out of teachers across the country. What I remember most is the nuns in our school reminding us of "the Chicago school fire" any time we were having a fire drill or acting up in some way (they feared, I think, that lack of perfect order and obedience could lead to tragedy in a crisis). The certainly put a measure of fear in me as a child!
Barry

Chicago, IL

#13 Nov 29, 2008
I was a second grade student at Haugan at that time,only a few miles north of Our Lady of the An gels. Even at my young age I could read the papers and hear my parents and grandparents talking about the tragedy. Knowing that kids died that day whle I was in school deeply affected me and remains in my memory to this day.
kate

Redford, MI

#15 Nov 29, 2008
I was an impressionable nine-year-old at the time of this tragic fire. My paternal grandparents lived within one mile of the school, and it was our custom to visit them most Sunday afternoons. On the Sunday following the fire, instead of driving our family straight to Grandma and Grandpa's, he drove to the school and drove slowly, reverently past the burned-out hulk. The newspapers published all of the pictures of the dead, and I clipped them out and put them in my scrapbook. Today as a mother and grandmother, I cannot imagine the anguish of those families. May God comfort them.
An OLA alum

Tomah, WI

#17 Nov 29, 2008
I was three at the time of the fire. I remember very clearly my mom looking out the window and saying, "Look at those crazy kids without coats on in December!" Then we heard sirens. And more sirens. Then she said, "My God, it's the school" and ran out the door. She stopped at the corner and came back. She was forever grateful that she didn't continue on to see the fire - the photos were devastating enough.

The sorrow in the neighborhood was palpable. There was not a block without a child lost or horribly injured. But I disagree with the premise that the parish died off because of the fire. I was in the first class to attend the new OLA school from K-8 and the parish and the neighborhood were alive and thriving. Yes, some of those who lost children moved in the years right after the fire, but the reality is our neighborhood, like many other city neighborhoods, only began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s due to White Flight.
Trunk

Bradenton, FL

#18 Nov 29, 2008
I was a freshman at Brother Rice HS the day of the fire. The next day at lunch, one of my classmates, I think his name was Tom Horan, whose father was Chicago fireman, described what his father said he had seen the day before at Our Lady of Angles. Fifty years later, I still get chills remembering the stories I heard that day.

“http://tinyurl.c om/dgnlyl”

Since: May 08

Buffalo Grove, IL - HR-676!!!

#19 Nov 29, 2008
connor wrote:
my grandmother was in that fire. she said the nuns made them pray to god for safety. they prayed. and they burned.
Yes, the Catholic guilt trip of the day (still is I believe).

I was born in 1954, so although I was not yet in school myself at the time I clearly remember the television reports. I remember when I finally did go to school, I learned everything I could about fire drills, that's how much of an impression it made on me.
Sue Cronin

Australia

#20 Nov 29, 2008
I've just stopped watching the video appalled at the sight of some disrespectful journalist with a cigar stuck in his mouth as he talks about the death of 90 children. One could be forgiven for thinking that he's chatting about the football score. His disrespect beggars belief.

Since: Aug 08

Crystal Lake

#21 Nov 29, 2008
Ctan, in fact it is on Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_the_...
Lulu

Chicago, IL

#23 Nov 29, 2008
As a child of the Catholic school system, we were always reminded of this story.

This article didn't talk about the nuns or how they lost their lives... they threw their own bodies on the flames so children could get to safety. The nuns who died, did it for the children.
Chuck

Oconomowoc, WI

#24 Nov 30, 2008
The building was the cause. I was in fourth grade in a suburban public school at the time. The building we were in was built in 1953, five years old at the time and it was physically impossible to die in a fire in that building unless the boiler blew up underneath you. It was a single story and every corridor had an outside exit at each end. In addition, the huge, plate glass windows were so near to the ground that if necessary, a desk thrown through one of them would have allowed all the children in the room to simply step out of the building after a very short (two foot) jump. Being trapped by a fire simply could not happen unless it burned so quickly that all the oxygen was snatched out before anyone could move.

Tell me when this thread is updated: (Registration is not required)

Add to my Tracker Send me an email

First Prev
of 5
Next Last

Add your comments below

Characters left: 4000

Please note by submitting this form you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Service and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator. Send us your feedback.

Chicago Discussions

Title Updated Last By Comments
Barack Obama, our next President (Nov '08) 4 min No Surprize 1,100,635
IL Illinois Governor Recall Amendment (Oct '10) 16 min Corrupt Democrats 1,911
ISIS Plans to Blow Up an Entire American City a... 17 min deutscher Nationa... 46
Ill. House Approves Legalizing Same-Sex Civil U... (Dec '10) 34 min KiMare 49,542
Messianic Jews say they are persecuted in Israel (Jun '08) 35 min JOEL 69,014
{keep A word drop A word} (Oct '11) 1 hr 40ish 4,675
BARACK OBAMA BIRTH CERTIFICATE: Suit contesting... (Jan '09) 2 hr wojar 177,414
Topix Chitown Regulars (Aug '09) 13 hr edogxxx 97,938
•••
•••
Chicago Dating

more search filters

less search filters

•••

Chicago Jobs

•••
Enter and win $5000
•••
•••

Chicago People Search

Addresses and phone numbers for FREE

•••

Chicago News, Events & Info

Click for news, events and info in Chicago
•••

Personal Finance

Mortgages [ See current mortgage rates ]
•••