Our Lady of the Angels School (Illinois)

Our Lady of the Angels School was a Roman Catholic elementary and middle school located in the Humboldt Park section of Chicago, Illinois, United States (Some sources describe the school as "in Austin".

The school was operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago and served as the parish school of the Our Lady of the Angels Church.

The school is best known for the fatal Our Lady of the Angels School Fire, which occurred on December 1, 1958. The fire killed 92 students and 3 nuns and led to fire safety consciousness in private and public schools in the United States.


History prior to the 1958 fire

Our Lady of the Angels was an elementary and middle school comprising kindergarten plus eight grades. It was located at 909 North Avers Avenue in the Humboldt Park area on the West Side of Chicago, at the intersection of West Iowa Street. The school was located in a mostly Italian-American middle class community; the community held several second and third generation immigrant groups, including Italian Americans, Polish Americans, Irish Americans, and German Americans. Most members of the community were Roman Catholics.

The facility was part of a large Roman Catholic parish which also consisted of a church, rectory, convent of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and two other parish halls. The school was the educational home to approximately 1,600 students. The north wing was a two-story structure built in 1910, but remodeled several times later; the building originally consisted of a first-floor church and a second-floor school. The entire building became a school when a newer church facility opened in 1939. A south wing dating from 1939 was connected in 1951 by an annex to the north wing. The two original buildings and the annex formed a U-shape, with a narrow fenced courtyard between.

Our Lady of the Angels School Fire

A 1958 fire killed 92 students and 3 nuns. The fire rendered the building useless. The remaining students who could still attend school began attending different public and private schools.

After the fire

The ruins were dismantled in 1959 and a new Our Lady of the Angels School, with an address of 3814 West Iowa Street, which was located on the south side of the building and used in order to distance the school from the fire, was constructed with the latest required fire safety standards, such as a sprinkler system.

Prior to the rebuilding, OLA students attended various "replacement" schools to finish the school year while the new Our Lady of the Angels School was under construction.

Catholic schools that took some OLA students include:

  • Our Lady Help of Christians School (Since closed)
  • Our Lady of Grace School
  • St. Peter Canisius School (Since closed)

Chicago Public Schools campuses that took some OLA students include:

  • Cameron School (Cameron has similar construction to the former Our Lady of Angels School)
  • John Hay Elementary School
  • Rezin Orr School (now Brian Piccolo Specialty School)

The modern three-story building with 32 classrooms plus a kindergarten opened in September, 1960. Donations from around the world helped to fund the new construction.

Demographic changes

Demographic changes in the population of the city’s west side began to reduce the number of students in the school during the 1970s. The cohesiveness of the parish weakened and many Catholic residents began to move to the northwest side of Chicago or to the western suburbs.

In 1989 the St. Francis of Assisi School merged into Our Lady of the Angels. In 1990 the OLA church merged into the St. Francis of Assisi Church (at 932 North Kostner). The OLA parish buildings closed as the parish staff moved to the SFA location.

School closure

As a result of declining numbers of students, the Archdiocese of Chicago closed Our Lady of the Angels School, which held the address of 3814 West Iowa Street, once the Class of 1999 graduated. The final graduating class dedicated a historic marker and fire memorial within the school. Due to the conflict between church and state property, this religious statue and pedestal have since been removed to the Holy Family Church.

At first the Nuestra America Charter High School opened in the former OLA building. Nuestra America closed in 2002. As of 2007 the building is leased to Galapagos Charter School


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