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Statue commemorating victims of 1958 Our Lady of Angels fire returned to site of school

Commemorative statue returned to Our Lady of Angels fire site
Commemorative statue returned to Our Lady of Angels fire site 02:07

CHICAGO (CBS) -- December of this year will mark 64 years since a horrific fire at Our Lady of Angels school that killed 92 students and three nuns.

But for the loved ones of the victims, the grief is still strong.

As CBS 2's Tim McNicholas reported Tuesday, a piece of history honoring the victims is now back in its rightful place.

The heartbreaking fire on Dec. 1, 1958, heavily damaged the school, at 909 N. Avers Ave. in the Humboldt Park neighborhood It began at the foot of a stairwell, raced up the stairwell and through the second-floor classrooms.

Those who managed to get out of the wing of the school that burned said that they first realized something was wrong when smoke curled under the classroom doors and wafted through the glass transoms above the doors.

Many students were seriously injured as they jumped from second-floor windows to escape.

"It's a miracle that I'm here," said Larry Sorce.  

Sorce, Rosalie O'Brien, and Annette Szafran are bound together as survivors of that fire.

 "My feeling is - and I'll always remember it - we will never forget," Sorce said. "We have to honor our classmates and our sisters that lost their lives."

And one way they did honor them is by praying at this statue of the Blessed Mother Mary dedicated to the victims. It stood at Our Lady of Angels after the school was rebuilt in 1960.

But in 1999, a public school started to rent the space, so the statue moved to the Church of Holy Family, miles away at 1080 W. Roosevelt Rd.

The survivors still visited the statue there, but ever since then, they have wanted it back where they've always believed it should be.

"We had the thought, collectively - she's got to come home. She's got to come home. she's got to come home," Sorce said.

And now, that wish has come true.

The Chicago Fire Department helped move the statue through the streets of Chicago and back to the site of that historic fire in Humboldt Park. That public school is no longer here, and the Mission of Our Lady of Angels moved back into the property in 2016 for their food drives and other outreach programs.

So they welcomed the statue back with a ceremony and blessing. 

"We pray also for those who suffer so much in body mind and spirit because of this tragedy," said Blase Cardinal Cupich.

For the survivors, it's an answer to their prayers.

"Pulls at the heartstrings, to put it simply," Sorce said.

All these years later, the cause of the fire is still unknown. 

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