A Bond Forever

Reprinted from an article in the Providence College alumni magazine, May 18, 2021.

The family tradition that is Providence College has been manifested over the decades in many and various ways. Generations of Friars have attended PC. (In my case: my dad John M. Reynolds ‘40, my cousin Kathy ’73, my sisters Ann ’78 and Mary Beth ’84, and me ’80. My husband James ‘79even though we didn’t know each other then, and his father Ray, also ‘79.) it’s a family tradition! Many of my classmates have sent their children to PC. For those of us who were students in the late 1970s, there is one event that has, and always will, define us.

To write about the Aquinas Hall dormitory fire of December 13, 1977, a tragedy that ultimately claimed the lives of 10 young women, prompts sharp and difficult memories. Memories of youth and innocence, of traveling back through time to golden days full of promise and hope. And in one night, much of our innocence and sense of invincibility was lost.

In 1977, there were no cell phones, no internet, no texts or Skype or Zoom. There was no Netflix or Hulu, no TSA at the airports, no ATMs, no AIDS. The Berlin Wall still stood, and Jimmy Carter was the president. There was great (and not-so-great) music, and if you were dining in Raymond Cafeteria, you might have heard Donna Summer singing about leaving a cake out in the rain at “MacArthur Park” over the intercom system. We wore clogs and Fair Isle sweaters, and we sported Dorothy Hamill haircuts.

Family and friends of the Aquinas Hall fire victims receive Holy Communion during a memorial Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence on Dec. 18, 1977. (Photo from Providence College magazine)

For many young women in the mid-1970s, going away to college was an important part of the rite-of-passage experience. A different state perhaps, a new dormitory adventure, and roommates! For some of us, the entire experience was unfamiliar. And daunting. But that’s how bonds begin. Everyone is starting out and going through the same unfamiliar rituals, to varying degrees. Few of us had cars, so our entertainment consisted of basketball or hockey games at Alumni Hall or Schneider Arena, tipping a few pitchers at the Rat, the occasional concert or lecture at ’64 Hall, or just hanging out in each other’s dorm rooms or in Mural Lounge, where the hot ham and cheese grinder was $1 and an ice cream cone was just a quarter.

There were three dorms for girls (which is what we were in those days): Meagher, McVinney, and Aquinas. Each dorm had its own personality, and all three buildings faced what is known as the Quad — a quadrangle of green space flanked by the three women’s dorms, plus McDermott Hall for boys. There were girls who met each other as roommates freshman year and stayed friends forever. And there were attachments forged through tragedy.

I’ve written about that December day, listing all 10 of the young women, even though I only knew two of them well enough to greet by name. But because we’re so connected, because we’re family, all of us, our Friar community is linked by the tragic Aquinas fire.

On Dec. 13, 2002, the 25th anniversary of the Aquinas Hall fire, Providence College dedicated an alcove in the new St. Dominic Chapel to the 10 women who died. They are remembered at a memorial Mass in the chapel each December. The Mass was livestreamed for the first time in 2020. (Photo from Providence College magazine)

When people die young, at the very beginning of their adult lives, one can’t help but imagine what they would have become, how their lives might have turned out. The 10 girls who died in the fire that snowy night will remain youthful in our memories.

Every year in December we stop to remember, because we can’t ever forget. When I return to the Providence College campus, I pause to look up at the fourth-floor windows of Aquinas and offer a prayer for the girls who perished, and for their family members. But I also pray for the girls who survived. One of those survivors told me that for many years, she tried to figure out why she was saved, what was her purpose. Was it her marriage? The birth of her child? She said it took decades to realize she was saved for many reasons, and she tries, even now, to understand. It’s a question that is beyond comprehension, she said. So she focuses on what matters in her life: kindness, expressing to loved ones how much they mean, letting go of anger, cherishing friends.

All these years later and the memories can be as sharp as yesterday. That’s the thing about memory, even as we grow older. Now in our 60s, we often joke about forgetting the most meaningless things, yet none of us can forget the fire. I can remember a conversation with Katie, or the last time I saw Debbie.

Life is filled with moments — some so happy you’ll swear you must be dreaming, and some so tragic you wonder, for years, why they occurred. But if I can learn a lesson from my friend Kim, it is to find joy in small moments, to express kindness, and forgiveness, whenever possible, and to give thanks to the tightly knit community that is Providence College.

Martha Reynolds McVeigh ’80 ended an accomplished career as a fraud investigator and in the past 10 years has written ten novels. Her novel, Villa del Sol, was awarded the 2018 Book Prize in Literary Fiction by the Independent Publishers of New England.

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



The Year of Living Minimally – Week Eight

My husband and I bought our first house in 1995, a few months after we married. I’d lived in at least six apartments before I met him, and each time I moved, I hauled boxes and bags full of my stuff to the new place.

At one point during the unpacking, I pulled a pair of size 7 jeans from a box of clothes. I held them up, staring at the tiny waist, reluctant to put them in the bottom drawer of my dresser, where they’d resided for over ten years.

“Whose jeans are those, hon?” he asked. 

“They were mine. I used to wear them.”

He walked over to me, and in the kindest voice said, “Oh, honey, you’ll never wear them again.”

And he was right! For the one year that I could fit into those jeans, I had poor eating habits, was at times bulemic, and I was 25 years old. But I held onto them, as if keeping the jeans were magic and could make me skinny. 

We keep clothes for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you spent a lot of money on that dress, and even though you haven’t worn it in seven years, you can’t let it go. Or the jeans that would fit great if you lose just ten (or twenty) pounds. The shoes – oh, the shoes. We buy a shirt because it’s on sale, even though we have nothing to wear with it and don’t even really like it. But it was 75% off!

And sometimes, we keep clothes for the memory. Your wedding gown, preserved because you hope your daughter will want to wear it. Your baby’s christening gown. Your college sweatshirt. 

Still, we don’t have to let everything go. In 1994, a month before we married, my husband and I took a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard and he bought me a beautiful Irish-knit sweater. I don’t think I’ve worn it in twenty years. It still fits, but it’s bulky, and I prefer layers. There is emotion and the memory of a wonderful day tied to that sweater, and I want to keep it.

So, here’s what’s going in the donation bin this week:

After I ended my full-time job, I boxed up most of my professional attire and donated it, keeping a few pairs of slacks and two or three blazers. I haven’t worn a dress in over six years. I kept this one, thinking I’d need it for a funeral, but I’ve been to plenty of funerals in the past six years, and dressy slacks are perfectly acceptable.  

I bought this sparkly outfit when my friend Fr. Brian Shanley, who I’ve known since fifth grade, was named president of our alma mater, Providence College. I think it was 1995, and I’ve had no reason to wear the outfit or the shoes again.

A pile of scarves, never-worn t-shirts (Austin, Montreal), dressy tops, belts. Off they go, hopefully to folks who can use them.

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.

What December 13th Means to Us

War Memorial Grotto - Providence College
War Memorial Grotto – Providence College

For the past few years, I’ve posted here and again last year about a fire. A dormitory fire at Providence College on December 13, 1977 that claimed the lives of ten young women. If, like me, you were a student at PC, or the parent of a student, a sibling, close friend, or alumnus, this event most likely has stayed with you, even 37 years later.

We remember December 13 every year, with memories as fresh and painful as they were decades earlier. December 13 is the date. Not December 12. We don’t commemorate the terrorist attacks on September 10, or remember Pearl Harbor Day on December 6.

Robin Craig Piebes (PC ’80) recalls: “When I talk to people about Providence College and what sets it apart, it’s that community. It was being taken in by girls I didn’t know that night. It was being given their clothes to wear, watching boys move cars and carry girls who had no shoes. It was the comfort a college president gave by living in the dorm with us afterwards and sending flowers every holiday. All of these things are what I have always thought of Providence to be.”

When we were students, there were so many daily Masses, you could attend a quick service between classes at this Catholic college. Today, there are Masses on Sunday and on weekdays, but no scheduled Mass on Saturday. The college chose not to hold a special service on December 13 (Saturday) this year, and that’s too bad. Because December 13 is the day we remember.


The comfort of having a friend may be taken away, but not that of having had one.

Note: The college decided to hold a memorial Mass on December 13 at 8:00am, after pleas from alumni.

“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


Two Blizzards


Traffic snarls around Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence, R.I., on the afternoon of February 6, 1978, the first day of the 1978 blizzard. The 24-hour storm that pounded the Northeast crippled Rhode Island for more than a week, cutting off power, closing the airport and straining state resources. (AP Photo/The Providence Journal, Richard Benjamin)

I was a sophomore at Providence College, and this blizzard came just two months after a devastating fire on campus that eventually claimed the lives of ten young women. We were rehearsing the musical “Candide,” and it was the first year I was an active participant in behind-the-scenes action. By the time rehearsal had ended and we stepped outside, we knew this was no ordinary snowstorm. Fortunately, the liquor store around the corner accepted personal checks (no ATMs). Two of my friends and I walked up Smith Street to the Stop and Shop supermarket, because we’d learned that they, too, accepted checks. After buying as much junk food as we could, we then had to carry two brown bags each, full of chips, cookies, and M&Ms, two miles back down Smith Street to the college. Oh, and the elevators were out. We lived on the fifth floor of McVinney Hall. But as was the case so many times that year, I lived in my own little world and was oblivious to what was going on around me.

These days we’re connected all the time. The meteorologists started talking about a potential blizzard last Monday, so there was plenty of time to prepare. And we’re adults now, so our focus is different. Snow began falling Friday morning – a fine, light snow that didn’t look threatening at all.  The snow continued, getting heavier and denser by afternoon. By the time it ended on Saturday, my little town had two feet of snow. No power outages here, thankfully, but we may have lost a few shrubs and I don’t like so much snow on the roof. High winds (up to 60mph gusts) Friday night brought down a lot of branches. Other communities weren’t so lucky, and the loss of power in such cold weather means a hardship we’re not accustomed to experiencing. These are things we think about as adults, I suppose. Still, walking around the neighborhood yesterday felt ethereal: peaceful, white, pristine.

stop sign  photo by Martha Reynolds
stop sign photo by Martha Reynolds

It’s what we expect in winter. We’re New Englanders!

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.