Holy Name Cathedral Fire

February 4th 2009

Article from Chicago Sun Times Fire damages Holy Name Cathedral


Fire crews have put out an early-morning blaze that shot through the roof at Holy Name Cathedral, the 134-year-old Chicago landmark and the seat of Cardinal Francis George. Flames from the three-alarm blaze shot through the church's blackened roof for about an hour before they were replaced by plumes of white smoke. The fire was struck out at around 8 a.m. No one was hurt.

While the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well as the city's Office of Fire Investigations has been brought in, arson is not suspected, said Chicago fire department spokesman Larry Langford.

George was inside the church shortly after the fire was out to survey the damage.

Church officials say there was extensive water damage, and fire officials were pumping water out of the basement. The fire also burned gaping holes into the roof. "I'm just grateful to God that the damage isn't worse than what it was," the cardinal said. "Chicago has always bounced back from fires We'll bounce back from this." Chicago Archdiocese Chancellor Jimmy Lago said he expects the church to be closed for months.

He says sacramental records that were kept in a fireproof vault in the rectory are believed to be safe. Lago and fire department officials said the church suffered significant water damage.

Priests and nuns were inside the rectory near the cathedral when the fire started, but everyone escaped safely. No one was in the cathedral.

One firefighter was injured battling the blaze and was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in good to fair condition, Fire Media Affairs spokesman Quention Curtis said.

The Rev. Dan Mayall, Holy Name's pastor, said those in the rectory were awakened by a priest knocking on doors. The fire alarm went off, and everyone exited the building safely, Mayall said. Langford said ten people in the rectory escaped without injury.

The fire department got the initial call at 5:29 a.m. for a fire burning in the roof of the cathedral at 735 N. State St. Flames were visible coming from the roof of the church about 6 a.m.

Restoration and repair work on the building was recently completed after engineers determined that structural weaknesses in the roof caused a 10-pound piece of decorative wood to fall 70 feet from the ceiling last February. No one was injured in that incident. "We have gone through a lot in the last year and it's a shame to see that we're back to square one again," Mayall said. Parishioner Kathy Sorvillo, 60, lives just a block away and after hearing about the fire on the news, she came to see how bad it was.

"To rebuild something so beautiful is going to be hard," she said bundled up against the cold. "I'm really sad. I don't know what we'll do now." The church and its nearby buildings, including a school and rectory, take up an entire block in downtown Chicago. The fire hadn't damaged those buildings. The original Holy Name was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire and the parish rebuilt, opening the new cathedral in 1875. The fire comes amid a $10 million "Restore & Renew" fundraising campaign to renovate and update the cathedral and other structures on its campus. The last major renovation took place in 1968.

According to the church's Web site, a 2006 engineering study found "several critical items" in need of updates, including fire protection in the rectory and replacement of the roof membrane. The church had already replaced its floors and refinished pews.

The church, built in the Gothic revival style, can seat 1,520 people and has a 70-foot vaulted ceiling. Its spire reaches 210 feet.

Holy Name Cathedral history

- Holy Name Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, one of the largest Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. - Holy Name Cathedral replaced the Cathedral of Saint Mary and the Church of the Holy Name, both destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire in October 1871. - The cathedral was dedicated on November 21, 1875.

- North Side mobster Hymie Weiss was shot dead outside the cathedral in 1926.

- Pope John Paul II became the first Pontiff to visit Holy Name Cathedral in October 1979.

- In 1989 the Gallery Organ was installed. With 5,558 pipes, it is one of the largest organs in the Chicago area.

-A new terrazzo floor, refinished pews and new boilers were installed in 2007.

  Photographs of Fire

Newspaper Articles

January 4th 2009 Chicago Tribune

Fire Damages Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral
January 4th 2009 Chicago Sun Times Fire damages Holy Name Cathedral
January 4th 2009 Chicago Sun Times Inside look at Holy Name after the fire
January 4th 2009 Catholic New World Fire engulfs Holy Name Cathedral
January 5th 2009 Chicago Tribune Investigators look at church's electrical system
January 5th 2009 Chicago Tribune Investigators focus on electrical problem as possible cause
January 5th 2009 Chicago Tribune Cardinals' hats survive fire at Holy Name Cathedral
January 5th 2009 Chicago Sun Times A day after fire, parishioners seek normalcy at Holy Name
January 6th 2009 Chicago Tribune De-icing system is investigated in Holy Name Cathedral fire
January 14th 2009 Chicago Tribune Holy Name getting help from other churches in rebuilding effort
January 15th 2009 Chicago Sun Times Holy Name receives help after roof fire
January 15th 2009 Catholic New World Fire at Holy Name Cathedral doesn’t stop parish life