“Bring All the Priests”

“Bring All the Priests”

Every year we remember, because we can’t ever forget. In the very early morning hours of Tuesday, December 13, 1977, a fire broke out on the 4th floor North of Aquinas Hall at Providence College. Ten young women died as a result of the fire (seven that night, three later succumbed to their injuries), and colleges across the country reviewed their fire safety procedures immediately thereafter.

Two years ago, I wrote this piece in reflection of that night, and reposted it last year. Recently, I read an article online, reprinted in the Bryant College (now University) newspaper from an original article in The Providence Journal, an article I’m sure my parents hid from my sister and me. It said little that I didn’t already know; unfortunately, most of us at PC were all too aware of what transpired that night, even if we weren’t witnesses to the horror.

What struck me in the article, though, was the call from Fr. Ralph Hall to Rev. Aloysius Begley, OP, then-Prior of the college. When Fr. Begley’s telephone rang around three in the morning, Fr. Hall said, “Bring all the priests. Bring all the sacred oils.” Fr. Hall knew. It was a quick fire, extinguished in just 38 minutes, but deadly.

At this time of year, I think about the girls who died. I remember the “Jersey girls” I met freshman year who were the epitome of cool: Katy Andresakes, one of the nicest and friendliest people on campus, who introduced me to Dan Fogelberg’s music. Kim and Terry and Joanne and Alice and Ellen, who survived but who will always carry the memories with them. The 4th floor girls who graduated, married, and had children, some of whom attended PC (it’s a family tradition, you know).

Life is filled with moments – some so happy you swear you’re dreaming, some so tragic you wonder why, for years. Today, I’ll say ten small prayers for the girls of Aquinas Hall. And I’ll listen to this song by Dan Fogelberg

 

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Comments

  1. Amy Tambaschi Dixon says:

    I was barely three years old when this event took place but what happened that night would change my family forever.

    That tragedy was difficult for all involved; however, there is one thing that makes my perspective unique. My father was the only fireman to access the 4th floor where the fire originated and was raging.

    My father was serving on the Providence Fire Department back in 1977 and his company responded to an alarm at the college that night like several other companies did. He thought it was just a bunch of kids pulling a fire box gag but when heard all the trucks and companies being dispatched over the radio, he knew it was something much bigger.

    My father describes a chaotic scene when he arrived. He was ordered to “throw up ladders” because he was a large man but, instead, he grabbed an air tank (a “pack”) and went up to the fourth floor of the building.

    There is no need for me to share what he saw when he got to the floor but I will share that he pulled several victims out of that area by himself and when he got to the end of the long, smoke filled hallway where the fire had started, he sat down and burst into tears.

    My father was an excellent and brave fireman but he was never the same after that fire. He told me that after that shift, he drove around for hours because he couldn’t stop crying and when he returned home, one other fireman came to his house – it was the only person who witnessed what he did that night and wanted to see how he was.

    My father went out on disability in 1981. The department had taken a physical toll on him but a severe, emotional one as well. When he spoke of this story in his 60’s , he still couldn’t tell it without his eyes filling with tears.

    My father passed away in October 2011 from esophageal cancer; probably somewhat related to the job. It’s always saddens me that no one really knows what he did and what it cost my family but I am glad he was able to unload some of the sadness he carried for years from that night before he died.

    The most important thing I remember about his account is that my father said there was one girl he had found alive in the room that was farthest from the entrance to this wing. She was badly burned but was still alive because she probably had opened her dorm room door last during the initial commotion and, as a result, the door was blown shut when the fire exploded in the hallway. My one regret is that I was never able to find the one girl he pulled out alive. I wanted to reunite him with her because, for years, he said that if one person was saved because of him then maybe his life meant something.

    I, truly, feel for all of you that bore witness to this horrible event and I understand how the affects of that day could linger over you these many years but know that I share your pain in a different way. Even though he lived many years after the flames were put out, that fire took a big piece of my father away that night and changed our family forever. And even though I was only two and a half at the time it happened, I’ll never forget it either.

    Please remember him when you remember the others. His name was Nick Tambaschi.

    Blessings to all of you.

    • Oh, Amy. Thank you so much for this post. And thank you to your beloved dad. I’m sorry I can’t express my gratitude to him personally.
      The survivors, and the responders, of the PC fire had their own burdens, and sometimes we forget when we speak of those who have passed.
      Wishing you peace and love.

  2. M, Catching up on some older reading. Nice Post. Zulu Delta

  3. Stetson Arnold. says:

    There’s a love I hold dear
    And it shines through each year
    And it makes things seem different somehow
    It’s for better or worse
    Its for people who thirst
    For a love that burns brighter right now.

    And it shines on and on til all sadnes is gone
    And if children had wings I would sing them
    this song.
    With a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.
    Everthing will be fine by and by.

    I miss Debbie Smith…and I wont ever forget her.

  4. Well written Martha for myself & Susan Martins-Phipps, the memory is etched as reps of student congress we made hospital visits, attended some funerals. I remember – praying for His mercy to bring one on home after a hospital visit. We won’t forget

  5. Paul Drury says:

    Beautifully done Martha. I think the first sentence – Every year we remember, because we can’t ever forget – just sums it up perfectly. Growing up (because we really weren’t grown yet when this happened) I have always thought and prayed for these young ladies at this time of year. But now many years later, I think so much more about their their families and the pain they live with everyday. So now my thoughts and prayers are always with them as well.

  6. Kathy (Crowley) Larew says:

    Thanks, Martha. I was actually looking forward to reading your reflection today knowing you would find just the right words. I loved the girls on my floor and think of them often. Every winter, the first snowfall of the season brings me sadness. I remember the night of the fire vividly..the joy of the snowball night in the quad and then the panic a few hours later. So much sadness that holiday season but then again, so much love. xo

  7. Bob Madden says:

    Thanks for your reflections Martha, every year at this time and often at other odd times I think about rushing to campus when I heard and looking for my fourth floor friends, finding them safe but forever changed.

  8. Debbie Clayton Bower says:

    Love when you can
    Cry when you have to…
    Be who you must
    That’s a part of the plan
    Await your arrival
    With simple survival
    And one day we’ll all understand…
    I hope the families have found peace
    We will never forget the loss and the sadness
    We must all be advocates for fire safety
    Debbie Clayton Bower

  9. Beautifully written. I will say prayers for them as well. After this tragedy, I still chose to attend and spent my first two years in Aquinas.

  10. What I remember about that day is my mom telling us about the fire; for me it was about “Mary Beth’s” sister. I too will say ten prayers for the lovely girls and their families who endured and unimaginable loss.
    Kelly

  11. That night found a spot deep in my psyche and did not come out again until I read an article in the Providence Journal about the firefighters who so bravely served on that horrible night and who witnessed the death of those young women who jumped from Aquinas in the hopes of escaping the fire. They spoke of their sorrow and how no help was offered them at that time to overcome those events and memories. I am admitting this now and I have only once mentioned this before to my dear friend and roommate at the time, that when I read this article I cried as if this whole event had just happened. I returned to school after Christmas vacation as if nothing had happened. I buried this deep, very deep for many, many years. And to this day I am unable to attend any Mass in honor of these young women who died. I mourn their loss and I mourn the sadness and difficulties that those firefighters endured that evening. I have no good answer as to why I can not attend a Mass for these beautiful souls. I just know that I think of them EVERY single December without fail. <3

    • It’s understandable, Donna. We were so young, and it was such a devastating event. Then we were sent home, to celebrate a holiday some of us thought should have been cancelled that year. So, so hard.

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