Statue linked to tragic fire returns to Our Lady of the Angels – Chicagoland


On May 31, a statue of Mary was mounted on the front of a Chicago Fire Department ladder truck and starred in a six-mile parade of three trucks – complete with wailing sirens and flashing lights – from the Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road, to the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels Outreach Center, 3814 W. Iowa St.

Although the simple white statue of Mary may not seem like anything special, it is the center of a shrine honoring the 95 people – 92 students and three BVM teaching sisters – who died in the fire that tore through the second floor of the north wing. of Our Lady of the Angels School near Hamlin and Chicago Avenues on December 1, 1958.

The tragedy led to fire code reforms for schools across the country and dramatic changes to school construction and fire alarm systems in Chicago.

The statue of Mary was moved to Sainte-Famille in 1999, when the parish school Notre-Dame des Anges was closed. The outreach center is located on the grounds of the old school building and is staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist of Chicago and volunteers who run a food pantry and various other efforts in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood. .

Survivors of the fire floated the idea of ​​returning the statue of Mary to Our Lady of the Angels once they learned the mission had taken over the school building.

“It was very difficult for the survivors that she wasn’t here for a lot of families, so we know it’s very important to a lot of families and survivors that she comes back here and is here,” says Chicago Eucharist Franciscan Sister Stephanie Baliga.

Several dozen firefighters drove the statue out of the Sainte-Famille church. Auxiliary Bishop Robert Lombardo, a Renewal Franciscan friar who came to Chicago in 2005 at the request of Cardinal Francis George to minister to the West Side poor in the former Our Lady of the Angels parish, then led a brief prayer service, blessing all first responders and emergency vehicles.

It was very important that the statue be returned to Our Lady of the Angels, Bishop Lombardo said after the blessing.

“It was given in memory of the people who perished in the fire and those who were injured. And so to be able to bring the statue home, I think is something very important for all those who are affiliated with Our Lady of the Angels, as well as for residents of the greater Chicagoland area,” he said.

Once the procession arrived at Our Lady of the Angels, firefighters transported the statue from the truck and transported it to the vestibule of the Outreach Center, which will be the permanent home of the statue and its marble plinth.

Cardinal Cupich led a blessing at the outreach center.

“We gather today to welcome this statue of Mary home, and we pray, through her intercession, for the rest of the souls of all who died here on December 1, 1958, in the tragic fire,” said Cardinal. . “We also pray for those who have suffered so much physically, mentally and spiritually because of this tragedy.”

BVM Sister LaDonna Manternach, president of her congregation, noted that the statue returned on the Feast of the Visitation.

“It’s a privilege to be with you today on this sacred ground. Like Mary, going to visit your cousin Elizabeth…it’s like coming home. When I arrived here yesterday afternoon, Sister Stephanie welcomed us home. It’s good to be here,” said Sister LaDonna.

The BVM sisters served in the school and the parish from 1904 to 1996, she said.

“The school fire…was a tragedy that will never be forgotten in this neighborhood, this city, across the country,” she said.


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