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Sunday, December 2, 2007

49th Anniversary of Our Lady of the Angels Fire


Many of us from the US baby boom generation were particularly haunted by the tragedy of the Our Lady of Angels fire at a Catholic parochial School in Chicago throughout our growing up years.

This fire, on Dec. 1st, 1958 claimed the lives of 92 children and 3 nuns. The fire, as it turns out, had been deliberately set by one of the school children.

If you are unfamiliar with this tragedy, it was a national heartbreak. There is a website here, which is dedicated to the event. The story of what happened is here.

I was only a little over two years old myself when it happened, but I do remember it. When I was little, I used to kneel up in bed and say my prayers and my mother would say them with me. That event marked the first time I can ever remember praying for someone outside my immediate family and friends. My mother had not told me of the tragedy during the day, but waited for evening just before prayer time. She said something along the lines of "Almost 100 children died in a fire at a school today, and some nuns too, we will pray for them tonight." She reassured me that my cousins and uncle were fine, and the city was far away from us. Ever since then I have always feared death by fire the most. The fire was the first "big news story" I remember hearing about.

I can still see now the mental picture I had of those poor suffering children and their teachers. When I got older and read about the tragedy myself, I confirmed the childhood memory of praying for these children and nuns with my mother.

All through our grade school years, our teachers had been exceedingly diligent in making sure we took our fire drills very seriously. A few of them, when we were older, referred to the Our Lady of Angels fire. After the fire, schools across the nation upgraded their safety standards. For those of you with children - would they know what to do in case of fire? What exit to take from any room in your house? What about their schools? Regular fire drills? For very young children, are they aware the kind of damage "playing with matches" can do?

When I was in first grade, our nun would always have us stop for bit if a fire truck went by with its siren on. We would pray for the firemen and those who needed help. I still do that to this day whenever I hear a siren. Do many of you do the same? How many of my fellow bloggers either remember the story or have heard of it? [ma beck, I think you would, though I searched your blog to see if you had written about it in prior years and you hadn't.]

Some news events can affect a person his whole life. This was one such event that ended up being that way for me.

Update:

The 49th Annual Memorial Mass of the Our Lady of the Angels School fire will be celebrated on Sunday, December 02, 2007 at:

Holy Family Church, 1130 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago, Il.

Service will begin at 2:30 P.M
.

7 comments:

ArchAngel's Advocate said...

When I hear a siren, I always pray "Help thhem, and those they are assisting". I also pray it when I see the flashing lights. The prayer is quick, and general enough to cover firefighters, ambulances, police, tow trucks, and any other emergency vehicles. I got into the habit while living on a major route for emergency vehicles.

DigiHairshirt said...

Karen, I also make the Sign of the Cross and quickly pray, "Lord, keep them safe," whenever I see a firetruck, cop car, or the paramedics go by on a call. It's something I also have my kids do if they are with me.

Angela Messenger said...

I pray 3 Hail Marys.

a thorn in the pew said...

Thank you for posting this information. It is heartbreaking but good to pray for these souls taken so early.

Ma Beck said...

I work with an OLA fire survivor. (He is one of our Chgo cops out at ORD.)
He says that he was in 2nd grade, his brother was in kindergarten, and the first thing he recalls is being walked outside in a line, and it was freezing cold. He says he was thinking, "Great! For some reason, we get to go home early" and then they rounded the corner and saw children jumping from windows on the higher floors to their deaths.
:(
(He and his brother both survived.)

gemoftheocean said...

How haunted HE must be. Does he go to the Memorial Masses sometimes?

I was reading at the website about how downhill that neighborhood has gone - it's supposed to be one of the worst in the city - it was once a nice solid working class neighborhood. Then the gang bangers gradually moved in....

Ma Beck said...

It's a fairly rough neighborhood, but not so rough that you would be scared to go there.
(And it's rapidly gentrifying.)

He is a big tough Chicago guy who doesn't show emotion too easily, but I suspect he MUST be at least slightly affected, even all these years later.
(His wife, a fellow dispatcher in my office, says he has the occasional nightmare, but nothing too dramatic.)
I don't think he goes to the memorials and I don't think he's very active in the survivor's group, but I could be wrong.
If you haven't read "To Sleep With The Angels", it's a really good book about the fire.
Dave Cowan is a great writer.
I cried pretty much from the time I picked up the book until the time I finished it.
One horrific part was how the nuns (not all of them, but many) told the children to remain seated and pray at their desks instead of trying to escape.
Cowan just paints such a devastating scene of terror, hopelessness, confusion, and innocence.
A very sad story indeed.

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