On October 8, 1871, a fire broke out in a barn on the city’s southwest side. By the time it was extinguished, the Great Chicago Fire had killed 300 people, destroyed 3.3 square miles of the city, and left 100,000 homeless.Go deeper
Chicago is a city that has been indelibly marked by tragic fires. The Great Chicago Fire took an estimated 300 lives in 1871. The Iroquois Theater fire took 602 more in 1903. And in 1958, a tragic Catholic school fire in the city’s Humboldt Park neighborhood took the lives of 92 children and 3 nuns. The fire at Our Lady of the Angels was an unimaginable tragedy that shook a parish and changed a community.
It’s often said that Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, but in the 20th century, it was also a city of parishes. With nearly 2 million Catholics in the Chicago Archdiocese in the 1950s, the parish was the center of the lives of many Chicagoans.
“At this time, people knew where you were from by what parish you belonged to, and that was an identifier, almost more identifiable than the particular neighborhood that they lived in,” Kathleen Sprows Cummings, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, told Chicago Stories. “Where you worshiped, where you sent your kids to school said a lot about your demographic, your ethnic group.”
One such parish was Our Lady of the Angels. When it opened in 1894, it was a mostly Irish Catholic parish. But by the 1950s … Read more