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Mass honors victims, survivors and heroes of Our Lady of Angels fire 62 years later

Tuesday marks the 62nd anniversary of the Our Lady of Angels School fire that killed 92 elementary-school students and three nuns.

In this AP file photo, grief-stricken mourners surround Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic Church in Chicago on Dec. 4, 1958. A solemn requiem mass for three heroic nuns was being said.
AP/Sun-Times File

An oversized, multicolored quilt, deemed the “Quilt of the Angels,” was draped over the altar at the Church of the Holy Family in Little Italy for Sunday’s 5 p.m. Mass. The names and ages of all 95 victims from the Our Lady of Angels School fire in 1958 are stitched on each patch.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” said Larry Furio, a survivor of the tragic blaze that resulted in stricter fire safety codes nationwide.

Tuesday marks the 62nd anniversary of the Our Lady of Angels School fire that killed 92 elementary-school students and three nuns. On Sunday, about 50 people gathered for Mass at the Church of the Holy Family to remember the lives lost, the families of the victims, the survivors and the first responders.

During the ceremony, Furio and his lifelong friend and fellow survivor, Frank Giglio, read off the names of each victim. Several people in the congregation wiped tears from their eyes while others bowed their heads.

The pain of that day still lingers. The event rocked the West Side and resulted in many grief-stricken families moving away.

A multicolored quilt, deemed the “Quilt of the Angels,” was draped over the altar at the Church of the Holy Family in Little Italy for Sunday’s 5 p.m. mass bearing the names and ages of all 95 victims from the Our Lady of Angels School fire in 1958.
Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

There’s not a day that goes by that Furio doesn’t think about that day. A second grader at the time of the blaze, Furio said the piercing screams and loud cries still haunt him.

“It was horrific,” Furio said. “I relive it all the time. I know [Giglio] relives it all the time. You think about it all the time.”

Giglio, who was also in second grade, started to cry as he recalled searching the school’s courtyard for his older brother, who was in eighth grade. Giglio said his brother managed to jump from the second-floor window and survived, but his cousin died.

“As bad as Vietnam was, I was 18 when I was there, nothing in my life got me prepared for what I saw [that day,]” Giglio said. “I was 7 years old, I’m 70. And it’s been with me ever since.”

This year’s memorial service almost didn’t happen because of the coronavirus, but organizers worked to ensure proper safety protocols were in place. Every other row of pews was roped off with brown-and-gold ribbon to ensure proper social distancing, and everyone in attendance wore masks.

Furio said it’s important to honor and remember the victims lost on that tragic day.

“There’s a sense of peace,” Furio said after the service. “But sometimes you feel guilty and say, ‘It could’ve been me.’ So it’s about the little things that you can do.

“As long as I’m breathing, I’ll be coming here. As long as we’re healthy, we’ll be here … We’re going to keep their names alive.”