Father Bob Lombardo doesn’t want to forget the past, but he wants to move forward with the future.
He and the small Franciscan mission that serves the poor from the West side rectory of the old Our Lady of the Angels parish are working on plans to restore the historic church and reopen it as a Catholic Church.
"I’m hopeful we can get it all up and running," said the jovial friar in his traditional canvas cloak. "What we hope to do is open it as a place for prayer on the West side."
The church on West Iowa Street closed in the 1990s after the parish merged with St. Francis of Assisi. It is perhaps best known for the tragic 1958 fire that claimed the lives of 92 children and three teaching nuns.
"It has a very special place in the hearts of people in the Chicago area," Lombardo said. "Anyone, especially the fire victims, families from that era, are always welcome to come back."
But there is a lot of work that needs to be done before that can happen.
Along with the blessing of Cardinal Francis George, Our Lady of the Angels also needs between $1.5 to $2 million to restore water-damaged walls and ceilings and check for structural problems.
Neighbors said a renewed church would be an asset to the neighborhood.
"It’s a good thing for the kids to come around," said Kelly Longstreet, who has lived near the church for more than 30 years. "They are doing a great thing giving back to the community."