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The Church Fire

1950_Church Fire

Eleven years later a second fire eclipsed the first. On Monday, October 23, 1950 at midday, the fire broke out. Father Joseph Hahn was the pastor at that time. He had just installed the main altar and had completed the redecoration of the church interior. A group of workmen were engaged in the process of replacing the old roof with a new one.

All 1,440 school children, sisters, priests and 2,000 adults gazed with horror at the burning of this historic Lakeview landmark. They saw flames leaping skyward, smoke billowing from all sides. They held their breath as sections of the roof caved in. The upper church was completely gutted. St. Gerard’s chapel was flooded with several feet of water. Fire loss and ultimate reconstruction totalled more than $800,000. (About $7,800,000 in today’s dollars.)

All Lakeview was saddened. Cardinal Stritch phoned his condolence. Mayor Kenelly paid a personal visit to the Fathers and made a generous donation. Many pastors of the city offered help. Daleiden Church Goods Firm donated a temporary altar. Leaders and citizens of Lakeview, both Christian and Jewish, began to donate toward rebuilding.

The Athenaeum and school basement were converted into temporary churches. By December, St. Gerard’s Chapel, although damp, cold and unsightly, was used for most services.

Two years later, on November 27, 1952 (Thanksgiving Day) the church opened its doors again for worship. At 10:00 that morning, a solemn High Mass was celebrated with all pomp and splendor to mark the occasion in the presence of His Eminence, Cardinal Stritch, and a packed congregation.