45 Years is Nothing and Everything

There are days I feel as though I’m 80. Other days, I’m 19 again. Most days I’m Martha, 64, married, poor eyesight, always struggling with my weight, trying to do better. Writing books, telling stories.

Aquinas Hall Roof – photo via https://residence-life.providence.edu/residence-halls/

At this time of year, however, my mind is flooded with memories of sophomore year at Providence College. Of early snow and Christmas anticipation. And of a tragedy whose roots took hold 45 years ago. Yes, we’ve grown, thrived, loved, and laughed – because that’s what you do. Life is for the living, my mother used to say, even as she was transformed by widowhood at age 50.

I found this short passage and wanted to share it today. We remember. Katie, Debbie, Jackie, Barbara, Donna, Sallyann, Gretchen, Cathy, Laura, and Dottie.

As far as I can see, grief will never truly end. It may become softer over time, more gentle, and some days will feel sharp. But grief will last as long as love does – forever. It’s simply the way the absence of your loved one manifests in your heart. A deep longing, accompanied by the deepest love. Some days, the heavy fog may return, and the next day, it may recede, once again. It’s all an ebb and flow, a constant dance of sorrow and joy, pain and sweet love.
-Lexi Behrndt

Photo free from pixabay.com

What 40 Years Looks Like

Aquinas 1940

This page is from the Providence College yearbook, ‘Veritas,’ in 1940, the year my father graduated from PC.

Forty years! What is that to you? Blink of an eye? (As we get older, doesn’t time speed up?)

I’m 59, and 40 years ago, I was a college sophomore living in an all-girls dorm on the campus of a Catholic college that my father attended (no girls back then), my older sister attended (she was a senior at the time), my cousin attended (Class of 1973), and my younger sister would attend. Providence College is, for some, a family tradition.

Forty years ago there were no cellphones, no email, no terrorism threats, no Netflix or Hulu, no personal computers, tablets, or iPods. There were no ATMs. No AIDS. The Berlin Wall stood. Jimmy Carter was president and if you ate a meal in Raymond Cafeteria, you might have heard Debby Boone singing ‘You Light Up My Life” over the piped-in music system.

When people die young, at the very beginning of their adult lives, one can’t help but imagine what they would have become. The ten girls who died in the Aquinas fire that snowy night will always be young in our memories.

Always remembered as the bright, youthful, beautiful girls they were:

Kathryn Jean Andresakes ’80

Jacqueline Luiza Botelho ’79

Barbara Jean Feeney ’81

Donna Bernadette Galligan ’81

Sallyann Garvey ’81

Gretchen Kay Ludwig ’81

Catherine Anne Repucci ’81

Laura Marie Ryan ’81

Deborah Ann Smith ’78

Dorothy Anne Widman ’81



Our Day of Remembrance


I wasn’t sure what to title this annual tribute. My previous posts about December 13 are listed here, if you want to revisit them:





We were all affected by the Aquinas fire in 1977, whether we slept through the event (as I did) or witnessed it first-hand and survived. 39 years later, that memory is as sharp as it was then.

My classmate Michelle Dumont Vezina ’80 writes, “I experienced December 13th somewhat as an outsider looking in. We stayed up late that night studying for finals. We must have been in a deep sleep when everything was happening.

“I remember calling my parents to tell them. They had heard that morning that the largest dorm at Providence College was on fire. They assumed McVinney was the largest because of its height and thought I had been in the fire. They were relieved when I called.

“My mother picked me up that morning for what became the beginning of Christmas break. The campus was quiet, eerily so. I remember looking at Aquinas Chapel from my dorm room window, thinking about the girls who died.

“At that time, I had never experienced death of anyone close to me.  I didn’t really understand the feeling. No one really understands until they lose someone close to them.”


A survivor, Kim Fasolo Martin ’80 writes, “December 13, 1977 changed every part of me down to my soul. For many years, I tried to figure out a specific event in my life that I was saved for, such as my marriage or the birth of my child. It took me decades to realize that I was saved for many reasons. I try to give the lessons that I learned from that terrible night to anyone who will listen. These are some of these lessons that I live by:

“Be kind to people. Tell your loved ones how much they mean to you and how much you love them every chance you get. Never go to bed mad at anyone. Cherish your friends. Do not judge people for how they act until you know what has happened in their life.

“There are so many more lessons that I learned and am still learning.

“All the women who suffered this tragedy on December 13, 1977 share a bond that cannot be broken even if we have not spoken to each other.

“Sometimes, out of tragedies, there is good and when this happens,  we have to share this good to anyone who will listen.”

The Aquinas fire claimed the lives of ten women living on the north end of Aquinas Hall’s fourth floor on Dec. 13, 1977. Katie Andresakes ’80, Jackie Botelho ’79, 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.

The Memory of Sense

A scent can be so evocative as to bring back memories of a time long past. Your mother’s perfume, freshly-mowed grass, roasted turkey.


When I was in college, I used a certain shampoo (whatever was cheap at the time). Revlon’s Aquamarine was in my plastic bucket during my sophomore year at Providence College, and the scent of it will take me back. Back to December of 1977, back to a snowy night when students eager to unwind from the rigors of studying for finals let loose in the quad with an impromptu snowball fight.

I’ve written about that evening here and also here. There was a fire that night in one of the women’s dorms, and ten girls died. Those of us who were students at PC remember, because how could we ever forget? I write this post annually, to remember Laura Ryan, Cathy Repucci, Barbara Feeney, Gretchen Ludwig, Jackie Botelho, Sallyann Garvey, Donna Galligan, Dotty Widman, Debbie Smith, and, of course, Katie Andresakes. I write it also to honor the survivors, young women and men who lived with pain and remembrance and even guilt.

In the weeks following the fire, I consoled myself with music. And so the memory is not only scent, but sound.

“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