Dozens Gather to Remember 1958 Parish School Fire

December 3, 2013

About 150 people attended a special Mass in Chicago to mark the 55th anniversary of a school fire that killed 95 people.

Survivors and relatives of people who died in the swift-moving fire attended Sunday’s service at Holy Family Church in the Little Italy neighborhood.

“I think about it all the time, really,” said Laura Dini, 67, who was in seventh grade when the fire broke out at the Our Lady of the Angels school that she attended in 1958.

She survived by jumping from a window, according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times.

The fire engulfed the elementary and middle school on Chicago’s West Side, killing 92 students and three nuns. Some of the victims burned to death, others died of smoke inhalation or were trampled. Still more were killed when they jumped, were pushed or thrown from windows.

It forced an almost immediate reform of school building and safety codes in Chicago and around the nation. In the year after the fire, 16,500 older school buildings across the nation underwent various forms of fireproofing, and the National Fire Protection Association estimates that 68 percent of U.S. communities followed Chicago’s lead in adopting new school fire codes.

Investigators later learned that the fire began in a cardboard trash barrel in the basement.

Survivors who attended the service said they’re still deeply affected by the blaze.

“This is a big part of our lives,” said Linda Meyer, who fractured her pelvis and cheekbones trying to escape. “It’s something we’ll always remember.”

James Anglim’s brother, Bobby, was nine when he died in the fire. He would have turned 65 this month, Anglim said.

“I feel this is my time to reach him and talk to him,” he said of the service.

Our Lady of the Angels parish closed in 1991 and the church building was rented to a Baptist church until 2009. It reopened in 2012 as a Catholic outreach mission for the poor.

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