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Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) School Fire, December 1, 1958

Personal Experiences with Our Lady of the Angels School Fire

If you have a personal experience, recollection or opinion about the December 1, 1958 Our Lady of the Angels school fire, whether you were present at the fire or not, you can relate it here. Any story or information is welcome as long as it relates to Our Lady of the Angels school fire.
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Posted by: Diane Clay On: 4/5/2014 ID: 640
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Cicero, iIll.
I was in Kindergarten at St. Mary's in Cicero. I remember people and teachers taking about the fire. It gave me bad dreams. I saw my school on fire. Then they remolded our school and I felt better. I didn't think of it for a while. Then fires were happening in our town. A boy was accused of setting the fires. People were killed. Then they said he set the fire at Our Lady of the Angels. Some of our nuns were very upset. They talked about what happen. We were a little scared. The years went by. I moved away. I live in Wisconsin now. Someone started a fire at a school I taught at. I am retired now. It was early in the morning. No one was there. There was a lot of damage. I was talking that we should be glad that school wasn't in secession. Than it hit me. Not like the school in Chicago. Our Lady of the Angels. I was in tears. I haven't known anyone from the school or the fire. I was so confused. I found this web site. And I also read the book To Sleep with the Angels. It has helped me understand what happen and to fine some peace. I guess it has been with me for these 55 years. My school looked so much like Our Lady of the Angels. They were built around the same time. St. Mary's is still standing. No longer a school. A hundred year old building. May they rest in peace now.


Posted by: averd On: 3/26/2014 ID: 639
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Chicago Ave between Ridgeway and Hamlin
I only heard the story because I was only 1 yrs old when the fire happened. My mom told me that she heard there was a fire at the school and she ran and left me sleeping in my crib to go find my 3 older brothers....She could not find them at first but eventually she did at a house nearby the school. My oldest brother in the 8th grade probably survived partly because he was in the basement packing up clothes for the poor instead of his upstairs classroom. They were very fortunate that day. Ironically, my 3 older brothers have all since passed away. Anthony Verdone my oldest brother at 39 yrs old, then Carl Verdone at 46 years old, and the 3rd James Verdone at 55 years old. At least they had the opportunity to grow into adults and live their lives, however brief, rather than dying as children as the many other tragedies of that day. God Bless them all.


Posted by: David Hresko On: 2/12/2014 ID: 638
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Pennsylvania
I'll never forget, I was in first grade of our small town Catholic School, and I saw a picture of a woman rushing to the OLOA school in our local newspaper and my mother told me about the tragic fire. We all prayed for the Nuns and children in our school the next day, my teacher in first grade was Sister M Pierre,SSCM, and she explained to us about how one of the nuns at OLOA school lowered her students out the window and dropped them to people below to be caught. She did this until she was overcome and died. I was terrified at the thought of a fire happening in our school,and I thank God every time I think about those poor souls at OLOA,and the parents who lost their children there. I'll never ever forget that newspaper picture of frantic people standing there, unable to do anything. This all happened the first day back to school after Thanksgiving break for them. Thank God for all the safety we have in our schools today because of tragedy in years gone by. Thanks for the chance to tell my story. I always felt somehow connected to somebody from that tragic day in Chicago. I pray they RIP. God Bless!


Posted by: Marissa R On: 1/24/2014 ID: 637
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
I don't know why I am so drawn to this story. Maybe it's because I attended Catholic school for 11 years or maybe it's because my young daughter is now attending Catholic school as well. I think about this day often and what it must have been like. The anguish of the parents and the fear of all of the children. Thank you for making this site so those who lost their lives and those who were touched bu this tragedy can be remembered.


Posted by: Dell T. On: 1/22/2014 ID: 636
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Chicago, South Side
I was a sixth grader attending a catholic grade school on the south side of Chicago when the fire occurred. To this day, I can never forget the memories of what happened at OLA on December 1, 1958. I can identify with the type of building that housed the OLA school since it was very similar to the school I attended. Although I had no way of knowing any of the children, nuns, or lay teachers at OLA, I still will always remember them.


Posted by: leslie On: 12/30/2013 ID: 635
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before on long island
When I was a very small child, my mother found me transfixed in front of our tv. The horror of the OLA school fire was being broadcasted with pictures of the burning school, and frequent mentions of the dead and dying children. From about that time, I developed a terror of fire that was very dramatic. My recollections of my fear was that it was real and terryfying. As was typical of the times no would talk to me about the fire, and I was terrified for years. When I got older my Mom finally told me about "some school fire on tv," that frightened me. Now that I am much older, I researched, and here I am. What a devastating thing to happen! No word can describe something so tragic. I' sorry that these children and their nuns had to die or be severely hurt to make the world realize that the schools weren't safe. God keep them all - those that are gone,those who lost their own, those who were so hurt, and those who had to experience that terrible day.


Posted by: laura On: 12/8/2013 ID: 634
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
My mom attended Catholic schools in the Belmont/Central area of Chicago in the 1950s-1960s. Many years ago, she was reading Michelle's book & I read it after. I have thought about this tragedy off and on ever since & then a few days ago I saw a "this day in history" post on facebook that mentioned a school fire in Chicago & I assumed it was OLA. With a little investigation, I learned that my assumption was correct & subsequently I found this site. I've been reading the stories and memorials for days & I started reading "To Sleep with the Angels" & put in for a interlibrary loan for the WTTW documentary. For whatever reason, this story resonates with me. In the early - mid 90s I went to a Catholic college in Lake Forest, IL. The building was built in 1912 and I find it interesting that even 40 years later, we still had a brick exterior with wood interior and open stairwells. There was a fire escape on one end of the building that was like a tornado slide, but in 4 years there, I was never present for a fire drill. I am sure that they had them, I just can't imagine that they were frequent if I was never present. Anyway, my heart goes out to all survivors and their families. In addition to the injured, I find James Raymond's story particularly heartbreaking.


Posted by: patricia sullivan On: 12/2/2013 ID: 633
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Deerfield, Il
I was in 5th grade at a catholic school at the time of the fire. It was such a horrific event and I found myself obsessed with the story and crying while reading about it to the point that my parents wouldn't let me near a newspaper for months after or watch any tv reports on it. When the article was posted on facebook it brought it all back like it was yesterday and I burst into tears scaring my grandchildren who rarely see me emotional .It is an event that will never leave me even though I wasn't in that school.


Posted by: jennifer harris On: 12/2/2013 ID: 632
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
when I think of the newtown sandy hook elementary school shooting,which happened a year ago this month,20 kids dead.not 92 kids and 3 nuns dead by an arsonist.i feel sory for the ola kids. they were in pain and had no idea.


Posted by: Faith On: 12/1/2013 ID: 631
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
I stumbled across a poem, Fires that Changed America, in an attempt to find a poem to read for UIL. In this poem it tells of the horror, the grief, and the lives of two girls that where lost as a result of the fire. It wasn't until tonight that I was bored and waiting for my phone to charge that I decided to do research about the fire and found this website. It is through discovering that these girls mentioned in my poem where real people, and that it is the anniversary of this event that I choose to write this. I have no personal connection to this, but a deep emotional one. This event was tragic, and I feel as though I am mourning for these children as well. It is through us that they live on, sending love to all from a 14 year old girl in Texas.

Long live the angels.