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

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Sister Mary Clare Therese Champagne
Room Age Birthdate Grade B/G/T
212 27 5/30/31 5 Teacher
OLA Convent 
Father: Louis G. Champagne
Mother: Carmelite Martinez
Brother: Hugh Champagne 
About Sister Mary Clare Therese
Sister Clare Therese Champagne was born Eloise Champagne on May 30, 1931 in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Louis G. Champagne and Carmelite Martinez. She graduated from St. Paul's High School in San Francisco, California in 1949, and entered the BVM Community on February 2, 1950.

Heroically, she stayed with her fifth-graders to the very end. She was interred at Mt. Carmel, Hillside, Illinois on December 4, 1958.  

Interred: Mount Carmel (Hillside, IL)
Memories of Sister Mary Clare Therese
Eloise was my big sister. She was always available to help me when we were growing up in New Orleans and in San Francisco. I still call on her to intercede for me to this day, and she never fails to answer my call!

She was intelligent, pretty, and had a pleasant personality and good sense of humor. She was liked by everyone who knew her. She had lots of friends and didn't miss out on having dates.

She loved music and art and was a typical teenager, collecting music albums of the current artists of the 1940's and autographs of her favorite movie stars. I remember standing in long lines during the time of World War II in Hollywood to see Frank Sinatra and other performers. Our parents were very patient and tolerent and could not refuse her request, even though my father didn't like Frank Sinatra (he thought he was a draft dodger). She was a typical teenage bobby socker! I could write a book on my dear sister, but there is not enough space here.

While in High School, Sr. Mary Jean Helene, BVM, was Eloise's music teacher and influenced her in making her decision to enter the Convent. She graduated in 1949 and waited, at my parents request, to make certain that she really had the calling for the religious life. She entered the BVM Community in February, 1950 and was very dedicated to her profession.
    -- (Dr. Hugh P. Champagne, Brother)

Sister Mary Clare Therese, I liked you so very much, you were one of the nicest nuns at our school. I would always look forward to seeing you every day, not only in school but in the convent, too. I always enjoyed all those many hours I would spend at the convent after school, helping out with clean up duties and dusting. I could never understand why the convent needed cleaning when it was always so clean, those floors were so shinny and spotless.

For me, spending time at the convent was like exploring a cavern, because it was a place that not everyone was allowed to enter. I was so facinated to see the bedrooms, dining area, the chapel, the private sitting rooms, the bathrooms. You even had clothes closets to hang up your habits. Since you did not wear regular clothes, and you were not a regular lady, you and the other nuns were a real mystery to all of us. I was such a nosey kid, I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know if you wore P.J.'s to sleep, and if you ever wore other kinds of clothes, besides the white garments you would wear in the convent, your cleaning clothes. That was another confusing thing for me - you would wear white clothes to scrub the convent floors (I saw that), and you would wear black to school. It just seemed to me that you would wear black to scrub the floors. But why bother to scrub those floors? They were spotless to begin with!

Oh yes, Sister, the big question was, DO NUNS HAVE HAIR? To my surprise, when I saw some of you with no habit on your head, nothing on your head, I was sort of in shock like I walked in on a naked nun! YOU HAD HAIR! It was very, very short but you were not bald like we all thought. I couldn't wait to tell everyone at school, "the nuns do have hair!" I loved the time I spent in the convent. For some time there, I wanted to become a nun just like you, and yes wear nun P.J.'s. When God took you away, I missed you very much, and I missed all the fun I had at the convent. But God wanted you in Heaven with him.

I thank you so very much for your teaching, and letting me explore your world. Rest in Peace, my friend and mentor.
    -- (Joyce Peneschi, Student)

Sister was my teacher, she came in tough in September. She had taught lower grades before that year. It took us about a week to find out what a funny, wonderful, and yes, beautiful nun she was. She loved to poke fun and always had us on our toes. She would kid around but we still got our work done. For myself, she was very encouraging, and I responded to her and always wanted to do well to get her attention. She never let me down.

When I got out that fateful day, the first kid I saw was my friend Jim. The first word out of his mouth was, 'Did you see sister?' I told him I saw her in the front of the room with a bunch of kids huddled in the corner by the window. Shortly thereafter, Jim went into shock ... as I looked up I saw Sister throw kids out of the window. They may have expired by then I just don't know. I never heard anyone say that she threw them out. But I know what I saw, and she was in a frantic state and then I saw her no more.

My last day in the hospital I was able to walk around and visit classmates who were in my class, and every one of them would say, 'Did you hear that Sister is dead?' My friend Jimmy was never the same after the fire -- well, who was really? Jim always talked about Sister and always remembered how much fun she could be. You know, she in some way by not being there anymore, somehow helped us still -- the love we had for her in some way lessened our pain and gave us strength. She loved her kids and I know she guided those who died that day to heaven -- of this I am sure.
Always, John Raymond.
    -- (John Raymond, Student)

I have no memory of my Auntie Eloise. I only wish I did. My name is Mary Clare Therese' Champagne. I was born 02/24/1959. My mother, Clare Lynn, (Sister Mary Clare's brother, Huey's wife) was 7 months along with me when Aunt Eloise passed away. I hope that she is waiting someday for me with my sister, Mary Louise, at her side! We have so much to catch up on.
    -- (Mary Clare Therese, Niece)
I did not know Sr. Champagne, but I feel compelled to thank her. My aunt was one of the students in her class who perished. Although my mother rarely speaks of that day, I did come to learn that several students, including my aunt, were found huddled together with Sr. Champagne. I'm sure that her final act of love was comforting to her students in their final moments of life. I pray for all of those who perished and most especially for those who still live with the memories of that day.
    -- (Maria LoGiudice, Other)