Ten Young Women

Written last year and re-posted in memory of the ten young women who died as a result of a tragic fire at Providence College, 35 years ago.

We had our Christmas party that night, and there was wine.  Plenty of wine and nowhere to go except down the hall, around the corner, and back to the room I shared with Wilma.  We did a Secret Santa that year.  I can’t remember who I picked, or who picked me, or what gift I gave, or what I received.  Our floor, McVinney 4th, didn’t participate in the decorating contest; no one volunteered to organize it.  Besides, the girls in Aquinas usually won anyway.

It snowed that night, and some of the girls walked to the quad, to join in throwing snow at boys they liked.  Wilma and I stayed inside, talking about musical theatre with Eileen and Rosemary.

I was sleeping soundly.  Wilma woke up first to the pounding on the door.

“Is there anyone else in this room besides you two?”  It was our Resident Assistant, a senior named Kathy.

“No,” Wilma mumbled, thinking that Kathy was asking if we had boys in the room.  We weren’t supposed to let boys stay over.  Parietals, they called it.  No boys allowed.  But Kathy wasn’t looking for boys.  She was looking for the girls.

The telephone rang.  It was my sister Ann, a senior living in Meagher Hall.  There were only three girls’ dorms: Aquinas, McVinney and Meagher.  I lived in Aquinas freshman year.  Aquinas 228, with Judy and Brenda.  Aquinas 2nd South.

The 4th floor North of Aquinas did a magnificent job with decorations.  Even a manger scene illuminated by a gooseneck desk lamp.  Paper over everything.

Ann called Mom and Dad to let them know. To tell them we were okay.  That there would be news on television.

Wilma and I dressed quickly.  No time to think, just pull clothes on.  We filed out of McVinney with the other girls and walked to the cafeteria in Raymond Hall.  Wilma said “Don’t look,” but I looked.

We tried to remember which of our friends lived up there. Debbie.  Katy, Ellen, Mary Alice.  Kim, Terry, Robin.  Girls we’d see in class, in the Rathskellar, girls we’d drink beers with.  I saw Kim and Terry; they were looking for someone. “We think Katy’s at the hospital.” Katy’s boyfriend Jeff had a look in his eyes I’d never seen before.

Dad drove up from Warwick and brought Ann and me home.  I learned the names, and didn’t think I’d ever forget them.  Ever.  But except for Katy and Debbie, I had to look them up when I was writing this piece, and for that, I’m sorry.

The Aquinas fire claimed the lives of ten women living on the north end of Aquinas Hall’s fourth floor on Dec. 13, 1977. Katy Andresakes ’80, Jackie Botelho ’81, Barbara Feeney ’81, Donna Galligan ’81, Sallyann Garvey ’81, Gretchen Ludwig ’81, Cathy Repucci ’81, Laura Ryan ’81, Debbie Smith ’78, and Dotty Widman ’81.

56 thoughts on “Ten Young Women

  1. I am Katy Andresakes sister. Patty Ferguson. Family survived,barely. But ok. Never miss a day without thinking of ALL THE GIRLS, FATHER PETERSON… Please reach out.

    1. Hi Patty, Katy had me as her secret santa person on the floor. We exchanged presents that night. She was so excited to tell me that she had me. Absolutely beautiful girl and a wonderful person. I still have the card she gave me that night as well as a couple of pictures that she is in from the floor. If you would like, I can mail you the card and make copies of the pictures. Just email me at mmmchugh50@gmail.com.

    2. Hi Patty,
      I had the good fortune of meeting Katy freshman year. We just had a brief conversation on our floor In Aquinas Hall. I could tell that she was a beautiful person. May God rest her soul



      1. Hi Patty my name is Kim Fasolo and I was one of the last girls to be rescued that horrible night. Katie and I were really good friends and I still think about her every day. That night, before the fire, I was in the library with her boyfriend at the time(Jeff Vaz) and him and Katie were in some sort of spat. After the fire, I don’t think he ever got over not making amends with her. I know she is an Angel and looks out for all of us. So sorry for your loss. Reach out whenever…

    3. Hi Patty. My name is Kim Fasolo and I was one of the last women to be rescued. When I was down the bottom in the parking lot Katy was the first person I looked for. I had no idea how bad it was. The night of the fire I was in the library with Katys boyfriend (jeff vaz) and him and Katy had some sort of argument
      I don’t think he really got over the fact that he did not make amends with her. I still think about her and all the other girls that lost their life that night every day. This tragedy has become part of my soul.. I know Katy is an Angel.and she looks down on us always. So sorry for your loss. Reach out whenever

    4. Hi Patty,
      My thoughts and prayers have been with you and your family each and every day since that morning so many years ago today. I’m Mary and was one of the young women injured during the fire. Let me know if you ever want to connect.

    5. Hi Patty,
      I’m Mary and lived on 4th floor of Aquinas. I was one of the young women injured in the fire. As we just experienced another anniversary, my thoughts and prayers continue to be with you and your family on the anniversary and every other day. Reach out any time.

  2. Wow!! Hi Martha I am Kim Fasolo. I really wanted to thank you for writing that heartfelt article about the night that is part of my soul. Not a day goes by that I do not pray for everyone that was touched by that tragedy. I know I was saved for a reason and I spend every day doing the best I can and something good for someone else. I am a mom with 5 children and have 4 grandchildren. Every time I look at them, I know why I was saved. Thanks again and I hope you are having a great life.

    1. 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
      It’s for people who thirst
      For a love that burns brighter right now.

      And it shines on and on ‘ til all sadness 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
      Everything will be fine by and by

      For Debbie Ann Smith

  3. I cannot let another minute go by without saying that I will keep all those who perished in this tragedy in my prayers..

    Marie Elena Mancinelli
    Garibaldi- class of 1980

  4. On Tuesday I came across your blog, it being the first time I searched the net for information on the PC fire. I was impressed with your gentle rendering of events of that night which helps fill in many gaps. I commuted my freshman year (I forgot the terminology used at that time) which put me and many others with no one with whom to process the tragedy. Now, I realize everyone had that difficulty. Being finals, we were all sent home and the following February we returned to a sterile campus which had no indication of the tragdey which had occurred. We traveled from point A to point Z without passing through the other letters. I consider myself fortunate as a commuting freshman to have had friends who were residents, three of which lost their lives either the night of the fire, the end of December or early Spring. Your blog is a catharsis for many. Thank you, Martha, for sharing.

  5. It was one of the worst nights of our young lives. I was living in the 3rd floor or Raymond. It was a party night because classes ended that day and finls did not begign until the next week. One one thought it was a real fire. Only $50,000 damage I think. A couple of the girls drop from hanging off the 4th floor as we were running acrooss the quad. The hall way went up so quickly and I think it was 2 quads and the RA’s

  6. I was a junior transfer living off campus at the time. I remember being woken by my roommate who was as white as a ghost. We stayed up the rest of the night listening to the radio and TV trying to find out any information we could. At daylight we walked up to campus and I too remember the eerie silence; an entire student body walking around in what I can only describe as a state of numbness and disbelief. The paradox of wanting to go by Aquinas Hall to see what happened while at the same time never wanting to see the site of such a tragedy. After a long time of aimlessly wandering around the rest of campus and avoiding the area we did walk over there and were utterly speechless. Reality hits hard sometimes and that is a moment that hit as hard as any in my life. I remember going to the mass that day and the incredble consoling words of Father Peterson. Most of the girls I did not know personally; however, I do remember Donna Galligan being at a party at our apartment back around Columbus Day that semester. I didn’t know her before the party but I think she just showed up with some friends who were friends of ours and like things were at the time everyone was always welcomed at PC parties. I still have a vivid picture in my mind of her standing in our living room with her bright red hair, big eyes and even bigger smile laughing and having a good time. Its hard to believe that it has been 35 years. Some things in life always seem like they just happened yesterday in our minds and for those of us at PC at the time this tragedy is unfortunately one of them. Thank you Martha for having this place where we who knew them have an oppurtunity to remember them. May they never be forgotten. Amen

  7. Thank you for posting Martha. I was on the 3rd floor of Aquinas. When we entered the stairwell we could smell the smoke but it still didn’t register. We got outside just as the fire trucks pulled up. To this day I tear up when I hear a fire truck horn. Sound goes right through me. I gave Kathy Hansen my coat. She had nothing but a thin nightgown on that cold night. I made a great big Raggedy Anne doll for Laura Ryan. They put it in her hospital room. When she woke briefly one day and noticed it they told her I had made it for her. She hadn’t spoken much to that point but when they mentioned my name she said, “California.” I often think of the day I get to see her again and can ask, “What did you mean by “California?” And that makes me smile through my tears. They are forever young and beautiful in my mind and in my scrap book.

  8. I was on campus Friday night for a hockey game – and remembered that this year would be the 35th anniversary. I lived on the 4th floor of Meagher. I had been at a birthday party at the Rathskellar that night. I was awoken by noise in the hallway and got up with my roommates – we could see out the window at the end of the hall right into Aquinas. Our RA told us to get dressed and go outside with blankets. I was on the back side of Aquinas when the two girls jumped/fell – I will never forget that. I knew Sallyann Garvey – she went to the christmas ball with a friend of my boyfriend. When I went home that break I couldn’t sleep at night as my parents had woodstoves. It took me years to get over my fear of fire. I always thought how healing the Blizzard of 78 was for the campus – a time to come together and play – I doubt any of us thought we would after that night in December.

    1. You’re right, Annie, that the Blizzard was a kind of healing event. Seems strange to characterize it that way, but it’s true.
      I was amazed that my parents allowed me to spend the following year in Fribourg, Switzerland – it must have been so hard for them to let me go.
      Thank you for responding to this post.

  9. I was a sophomore living in McVinney when this tragedy occurred.I do remember calling my parents to inform them about the fire,and remember being so overcome with emotion,that I could not get the words out. I had to give the phone to my roomate, Ann Olson, who had to continue the conversation with my parents for me. I did not know the girls personally who died in the fire, but I did have the oppotunity to meet Katie in freshman year. We had a pleasant conversation inside my dorm room and and whenever I think back to that conversation, I picture her as an angel.She reminded me of an angel. That is what the girls are: 10 beautiful angels.Alway remember.

  10. as we approach the 35th anniversary of this tragedy, horrible memories will forever stick in our minds, only the faith that was instilled upon us by the Dominican community got us through those months after we returned from an early & extended winter break

  11. Does anyone remember Debbie Smith. I remember Debbie Smith like it was yesterday. I can still see those big brown eyes and that beautiful smile. I remember spending some time together sophmore year. We studied together and she and a girl friend even tried to help me find a place to live off campus. I eventually transfered schools only to hear about that tragic night. I drove to the funeral in Milford CT and saw her family try to cope with that loss. I cried all the way home that day. I will never forget her looking up at me with those eyes and that smile…and I still cry today when I think of her.

  12. I lived on the 4th floor of Aquinas. – 4 north.. We had the snowball fight…which I did participate in, in spite of an organic chem exam the next day. I went to bed and was woken up by my roommate, Kathy Hansen, who smelled smoke…Opened the door to flames and smoke….

    I did not realize what had occurred in the other dorms. Thank you for sharing. I know that it was the night I grew up….10 friends gone..And all I could think about in the months to come was what a loss it was for us at PC. I didn’t really think about the loss of those poor families….until I was older and had kids of my own…. I pray for the families of those extraordinary young women whose lives were cut short….Dot, Gretchen, Sally, Katie, Barbara, Donna, Kathy, Laura, Jackie, Debbie….Let us not forget….

  13. I remember it like it was yesterday! I lived on 4 North and thankfully escaped with my life along with my two roommates. I will never forget the sights, sounds, and smeill of that night. I lost 10 friends and hallmates that year who I remember fondly.

  14. my father was chief of surgery at RI Hospital then, and dealt with some of the most severely injured from that fire … I remember him talking about it afterwards, talking about how horrible some of the injuries were, how merciful it was for a couple for them that they died.

    I remember the tears in his eyes …

  15. Did anyone know Cathy Repucci? She was a high school friend from Our Lady of Mercy High School in Michigan. I still cry today at the terrible loss of her and the sadness I still feel for her family today. I was at Michigan State University in my dorm when the phone call came. I was so heartbroken! I remember her each December 13th. God bless them all and their families!

    1. @Cynthia – I knew Cathy. She lived on my floor. I had been at the Kris Kringle party that night with her. We all gathered together to exchange our gifts in our beautifully decorated hall. Since Cathy lived so far away, she did not go home on weekends like some of the other freshmen. We all got to know her quickly. Many years ago, I met her parents at an anniversary mass. My heart ached for them. They had dropped her off in September and were anxious to see her at the holiday break. So sad..

      1. I knew Cathy (and the others) as I lived on 4N for a few months that fall across from Michele. Cathy was so very excited to be going home for Christmas; she really missed her family. It seemed as if she shopped all fall for her family’s presents. Several times, she showed me her latest purchases and told me all about the family member for whom she’d purchased it. My last memeory of her was looking at the final pile of presents on her bed and discussing her decision to mail them instead of taking them on the plane. She was thrilled to be going home and was so happy to be able to give presents to everyone. For years, I have wanted to tell her family about this but had no contact info; Cynthia, if you have contact with her family, please tell them.

        I think Cathy did mail the presents before the fire as I remember sitting in Michele’s new room, discussing this and other odd pre-fire occurances with her roommate Sue Regan and my roommate Charlotte Lee. In 1977, there was no grief counseling so we leaned on each other to process what happened, discussing it for hours at a time. I still remember some of these conversations vividly, especially Michele describing her experience that night. We coped the best way we could and looking back, I realize that some of the unusual things we did that year were probably just ways of coping. For instance, during one of those conversations, Michele, Sue, Charlotte and I hatched a practical joke that nearly got us all kicked off campus! Michele, remember the oriental rug caper?

        I think of those wonderful young women frequently and even after 35 years, I still get tears in my eyes when I do. I will never forget them.

  16. Words can’t describe what I heard and saw that night. I thank God for the people who survived. And I often think of my dear friend, Katie (who didn’t survive), with happy memories of good times.

  17. I will never forget that night. I was living in McVinney on the 6th floor, at the front of the building. I, too, slept through the fire, as unbelievable at that seems. I woke to a knock on my door and when I opened it there was a guy I knew standing there, asking us if anyone from Aquinas was sleeping in our room. I replied in the negative and went back to bed, but then sat up, thinking, what has happened that there would be a man knocking on doors in the women’s dorm after midnight. My roommate and I got up and walked out into the hall and heard the horrible news. We went to the windows and saw the eerie sight: broken windows and curtains blowing in the breeze from the 4th floor of Aquinas Hall. We gathered in a friend’s room down the hall, and turned on the radio. We listened most of the night. A friend who lived in Aquinas joined us; she was in tears. We doubted most of what we heard on the news, about the number of deaths, which sadly, later proved to be true. At 5am I called home and woke my parents, repeating over and over again, “I am all right” But we weren’t, not really, and not for a long time after. Later that morning we walked over to Aquinas. and were approached by reporters who wanted a story. They never got one from us. One of the first people I met at PC, Katie A,, died that night, as did nine others. We will never forget.

  18. I was a biology major that term living on the 10th floor of McVinney Hall. Finals were coming up and I was struggling with Organic Chemistry. I did not participate in the snowball fight on the guad, I studied. I did not see the fire while it was going on my roommate Cherie and I slept through it. We had studied late and were sleeping soundly. We woke up to pounding on our door. Our friend Patricia who did living in Aguinas woke up up. That was how we heard. I talked to my mom that morning. My parents heard about the fire on the news. The news said it was the largest women’s dorm. Living in the tallest my parents thought it was the largest and panicked thinking it was my dorm. When I finally talked to them they were quite relieved. I will never forget how quiet the campus was that day. How eerily quiet. I did not personally know the girls that died but I mourned them with the entire Providence College community. It was a time I will never forget.

  19. I lived on the 10th floor of McVinney overlooking the quad. It was a beautiful night and the snowball throwing was fun and everyone participating was in such a wonderful mood. How quickly it changed that night. We received that same knock on the door, I don’t even remember the time, we were just told to call our parents. My mom picked up on the first ring, she was an early riser and she had just heard on the news that a girls dorm at Providence had caught fire, she was frozen with fear and then I called to say I was okay. A gift she said when she saw me later that afternoon when my parents picked me up for teh long ride home.

    So much emotion when you reflect upon it now, so many young woman who lost their lives. A community that took care of each other during the greatest of tragedies. Peace.

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