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Our Lady Of Angels Church Reborn With Help Of Volunteers

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It used to be a crumbling, down-on-its luck Catholic Church in the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Now, Our Lady of the Angels Church is fixed up and gleaming, five decades after tragedy struck next door.

That was the horrific 1958 fire in the church school that killed 92 children and three nuns.

CBS2's Mike Parker reports the church is back on its feet.

For over a year now, the work to restore Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church has been under way in earnest.  The pastor, Father Bob Lombardo, remembers when he was assigned to a mission post there six years ago.

"It was a wreck," he says. "It was a handyman's special."

The roof was leaking, plaster was falling, the pews were damaged and some of the stained glass windows were broken.

"This is an absolute miracle," Lombardo says of the church's transformation.

The renovation had been estimated to cost $2 million, but it will actually cost next to nothing.  Thanks to volunteers and supplies from trade unions and other parishes, the project is now virtually done and will be formally dedicated Saturday by Francis Cardinal George.

In the decades since the tragic fire in 1958 at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School next door, the neighborhood changed, parishioners moved away, the parish was closed and the church fell into disrepair.

On Friday, the last detail was taken finished. Union volunteers hung doors to the sanctuary.

Our Lady Of Angels
Firefighters take students from the fire at Our Lady of Angels School in 1958. (CBS)

"The doors were in very sad shape, and so we went to our mill shop at our school and we made new ones," Carpenters union official Bruce Nelson says.

Sister Alicia of the Franciscans of the Eucharist says her order, housed across the street, has also helped with the project.

"It's incredible how people will respond when there's something good to be done for others," she says.

The Chicago Archdiocese has decided the new and refurbished church will now serve as a neighborhood outreach facility and prayer center, with occasional Masses. And it will expand its ongoing "Feed the Needy" program, which already serves some 700 poor west side families every month.

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