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

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Sister Canice was the teacher in room 208 and perished with 12 of her students. Her body was found draped over a pile of dead students, apparently in a futile attempt to shield them from the fire.  (Photo courtesy of Sisters of Charity, BVM)
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Sister Seraphica was the teacher in room 210, was was found dead along with 28 of her students. Although half of her students managed to escape, her classroom suffered more fatalities than any other, at least in part because many of her little fourth graders were unable to scale the 37-inch-high window sills to escape. She remained with her students to the end. (Photo courtesy of Class of 1956 Reunion Committee)
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Sister Seraphica Kelley, teacher in room 210, in her room in the convent prior to the fire. She stayed with the children in her classroom, frantically trying until the very end to help them escape. She perished along with 28 of her students before they could escape. Photo taken by her friend, Sister Andrienne Carolan, teacher in room 201.
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Sister Therese, the teacher in room 212, was found relatively unburned in her classroom and transported to St. Anne's Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. She remained with her students and, as did 26 of them, died from suffocation. At age 27, she was one of the youngest Sisters teaching at Our Lady of the Angels.  (Photo courtesy of Sisters of Charity, BVM)
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Sister Davidis Devine, teacher in room 209. Sister Davidis directed her students to pile books and other objects against the doors of her classroom in an effort slow the advance of smoke and flames into the classroom. Her quick thinking provided precious extra minutes during which all but one of her students escaped the classroom. Besides OLA, Sister Davidis also taught in Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Wyoming. She graduated from Immaculata High School in Chicago before entering the BVM community on Sept. 8, 1924. She passed away on October 14, 2006 at age 100.
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Sister Helaine O'Neill was the teacher in room 211. Sister Helaine was critically burned but survived the fire. She passed away on September 27, 1975. (Photo courtesy of Class of 1956 Reunion Committee)
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Sister Andrienne Carolan, teacher in room 201, helped numerous students evacuate the south wing in the midst of blinding smoke. In addition to leading some of her students to safety, she pushed and “rolled” other students who were paralized with fear down a stairway. (Photo courtesy of Class of 1956 Reunion Committee)
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Sister Andrienne Carolan in retirement at Mount Carmel, the BVM retirement home in Dubuque, Iowa.
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Sister Geraldita Ennis, teacher in room 207. Although no students died in her classroom, she suffered an emotional breakdown in the weeks after the fire.
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Sister St. Florence Casey, principal of OLA school at the time of the fire. She was substituting for an absent teacher in room 101 when the fire broke out. (Photo courtesy of Class of 1956 Reunion Committee)
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Sister Mary Remi Caldwell in 1960 and 2003. Sister Remi was a very popular Kindergarten teacher at Our Lady of the Angels at the time of the fire in 1958. She was born May 2, 1923 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of eight children (five girls and three boys) of Francis and Margaret Fitzsimmons Caldwell. Sister Remi entered the BVM congregation on Sept. 8, 1941, and professed her final vows on Aug. 15, 1949. In her 66 years as a BVM sister, she was a school administrator and taught Kindergarten and primary school in Kansas City, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Glendale California, and Chicago. Sister Remi spent her retirement years living at the BVM Motherhouse in Dubuque, Iowa, where she passed away on February 21, 2008 at the age of 84.
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Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph F. Cussen, Second Pastor of OLA at the time of the fire. (Photo courtesy of Class of 1956 Reunion Committee)
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Rev. Joseph F. Ognibene, an Associate Pastor at OLA at the time of the fire, as he appeared in the early 1950s.
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Rev. Charles Hund. He and janitor James Raymond saved the lives of everyone in room 207. The class could not exit through the room's front door because it opened directly into a hallway that was engulfed in flames. The teacher, Sr. Geraldita, attempted to open the rear door, but could not because it was locked. Father Hund and Mr. Raymond, realizing their plight, managed to get the door open. Together, they quickly hustled everyone out of the room and down the fire escape, mere seconds before the room flashed over. As a result, room 207 was the only classroom in the fire zone to suffer zero fatalities.
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Rev. Msgr. Joseph Fitzgerald, in residence at OLA at the time of the fire. (Photo courtesy of Class of 1956 Reunion Committee)
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Rev. Joseph F. McDonnell, an Associate Pastor at OLA at the time of the fire. (Photo courtesy of Class of 1956 Reunion Committee)
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Rev. Msgr. John Egan, in residence at OLA at the time of the fire. (Photo courtesy of Class of 1956 Reunion Committee)
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Father Joseph Ognibene talks to reporters following the disaster. Father Ognibene was one of the many heroes of the fire, for he and Sam Tortorice, a parent, helped rescue all but one of the students trapped in room 209 before the room erupted in flames.
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Father Joseph Ognibene, beloved OLA priest who helped rescue many students from the fire, passed away on December 19, 2003, at the age of 77. A special mass celebrating the man students knew fondly as “Father Joe” was held on February 4, 2004. He had a special rapport with children, and they loved him. He had a great talent for comforting those who suffered great loss. This memory card was handed out at his special mass on February 4. (Courtesy of William O'Brien)
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Priests prepare to visit families of the deceased to offer aid and spiritual comfort. At left, Rev. Joseph F. McDonnell is handing out names of families. Seated 3rd from left is Father William J. Dorney. Standing nearest the doorway is Rev. Al Baranowski, and standing to his left is Rev. John Ahern. Seated directly in front of Rev. Ahern is Msgr. Daniel F. Cunningham, and seated to his left is Father Len Mattei. Standing behind Fr. Mattei, with heavy dark rim glasses, is Father Larry Gorman. Second from right, partially visible, is Father Angelo Garbin, and at far right is Father Joseph Fitzgerald. If any of these names are incorrect, please contact webmaster@olafire.com. (Photo courtesy of The Catholic New World with photo research by Renee Jackson)
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Fireman Charles Kamin, who rescued as many children as he could from room 211 before the room was engulfed in fire.
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Janitor James Raymond's reputation was damaged by false rumors that he was in some way responsible for the fire. Church and city officials did little to dispell these rumors, some say, because it deflected blame away from themselves.
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School Janitor James Raymond recovering from his injuries in a hospital bed. He received a life-threatening gash in his wrist while smashing a window in an attemt to reached trapped children. Mr. Raymond was a genuine hero on December 1, 1958, saving the lives of at least 40 children and their teacher.
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Part time janitor Mario Camerini placed a ladder at one of room 208's windows, allowing many children to escape that room.
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Part time janitor testifies at the Coroner's Inquest.
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Judge Alfred J. Cilella dismissed the case against the 13-year-old former OLA student who was suspected of setting the OLA fire.
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The boy suspected of setting the OLA fire is comforted by his stepfather. In this photo from January 1962, the boy was 13 and under suspicion of setting the deadly school fire three years earlier, when he was 10. Ultimately, the charge of setting the OLA fire was dismissed (due to lack of evidence, according to the judge), but he was found responsible for setting other fires in Cicero. As a result, the court ordered that he be sent to a facility for troubled youth in Michigan.
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Fireman Richard Scheidt (now retired) entered the school (along with many other firemen) once the fire was out to search for survivors. Instead, they found piles of bodies in the second floor classrooms with various states of burn severity, from no burns to virtual cremation. One of the first bodies Richard brought out was that of 10-year-old John Jajkowski, a fifth grader in room 212. A news photographer snapped a picture of Scheidt <a href=JohnJajkowski.asp target='_blank'>carrying the dead boy out of the school</a>, and the photo was seen in newspapers and magazines world wide. It became the defining image of the tragedy.
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Retired fireman Joe Murray in 2003. He helped rescue children from room 210 until it flashed over.
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John Raymond, son of school janitor Jim Raymond, escaped from room 212 by jumping from a window. He was more fortunate than some who jumped, for he sustained only minor injuries in the 25-foot fall. The sights and sounds he witnessed in the alley north of the school would haunt him the rest of his life - children leaning out of windows engulfed in smoke and flames screaming for help, some hanging from second floor window ledges, some plummeting to the pavement of the alley, some with clothing and hair burning as they fell, many lying motionless, many injured and bleeding.
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Irene Mordarski survived the inferno in room 208 by climbing out a window with the help of her teacher, Sister Canice, just as the classroom and everything in it burst into flames. She was knocked unconscious and fell 25 feet to the ground, shattering her pelvis. She had second and third degree burns, broken bones and her face had been severely scraped in the fall. She was admitted to the hospital where she remained longer than any other survivor of the fire - nearly seven months. She was in traction for over four months and underwent skin grafts and repeated hip surgeries. When she was released from the hospital, she had to use crutches for weeks. Years later she married Garry Andreoli, a survivor of room 209.
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Gerry Andreoli was thirteen and in room 209 the day of the fire. He escaped through the rear window just as the whole room ignited. As he stood in the window attempting to lower himself to a ladder well below the window ledge, the fire flared out through the window all around him, leaving second and third degree burns over 36 percent of his body. He underwent numerous skin grafts and stayed in the hospital for over three months. Eight years later, he married Irene Mordarski, another survivor of the OLA fire.
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Charlene (Campanale Benza) Jancik (room 210), elected President of Friends of OLA at the first meeting on March 28, 2003. Charlene passed away on November 30, 2003 of a brain aneurysm. (photo courtesy of Jason Fout)
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John Raymond (room 212) was elected vice-president of “Friends of OLA” at the group's first meeting on March 28, 2003 (photo courtesy of Jason Fout)
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Matt Plovanich (room 207) (photo courtesy of Jason Fout)
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James Grosso (room 206) (photo courtesty of Jason Fout
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Johnnie Ann (Tasmer) Fuller (room 205) (photo courtesy of Jason Fout)
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Frank Consiglio (room 212) (photo courtesy of Jason Fout)
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Betti (Marino) Wasek (room 104) with her brother Mike Marino (photo courtesy of Jason Fout)
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Chuck Gerlach (room 201) (photo courtesy of Jason Fout)
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Luciana (Mordini) Kuziw (photo courtesty of Jason Fout
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John Kuenster, coauthor with David Cowan of “To Sleep With The Angels,” the only comprehensive account of the OLA fire ever published.
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David Cowan, co-author (with John Kuenster) of “To Sleep With Angels” (1996), the only book to date to chronicle the “Our Lady of the Angels” tragedy. Starting with events leading up to the fire, through the fire and it's aftermath, the book reveals the horror that occurred in the classrooms, chronicles the often heroic rescue efforts made, and documents the efforts to determine the fire's cause. Through interviews with survivors, firefighters, staff and neighbors, the book provides a comprehensive history of the fire that broke the nation's heart.
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Mary Kay Raymond Masco (center), is the daughter of OLA janitor James Raymond. She, along with four brothers, attended OLA at the time of the fire. (Mary Kay was in room 'B', Bob in room 211, Tommy in room 201 and John in room 212. Marty was in Mary Hall, a separate building.) Today (2009) Mary Kay lives in Bolingbrook, IL. Clockwise from left are survivors Joanne Treppiedi Marraccini, Peggy Wentworth Kennedy, Judy Meisinger Danowski and Mary Kay, all class of '63. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Michalski)
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