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On this day in history: Chicago Fire

The Chicago Fire erupted on this date in 1871, killing up to 300 people and destroying roughly 3.3 square miles of Chicago, leaving more than 100,000 residents homeless. Saint Patrick Academy, founded by the Christian Brothers, survived the fire later becoming Saint Patrick High School in its current location at Belmont & Austin. Brother Terence McLaughlin recently posted a first-hand account of the days following the fire by one of the young Brothers stationed at the academy. 

Below are the daily entries of Brother Anthony of Rome and his biography.


Notes from the diary kept by Brother Anthony of Rome, then a young member of the St. Patrick’s Academy community, Van Buren Street, Chicago.

Sunday, Oct. 8, 1871.  Last day in 99 Van Buren St: Last night Saturday, Oct. 7 there was a great fire, the largest in Chicago up to that time.  The next day we little dreamed of the catastrophe that was hanging over us.  On that memorable evening at recreation time we were sitting in the Band Room listening to Brother Director reading the account of Saturday’s fire, not thinking that before the close of that night we ourselves would be obliged to abandon our house and run to the Lake Shore, carrying with us as many things as we could save. The fire commenced about 9:30 P.M. It then spread a good distance on the West Side, burning St. Paul’s Church.  Towards midnight it crossed into the south division.  At first we apprehended no danger, but when we saw the Armory and later still the Pacific Hotel in flames we thought it time to move.  The fire burned dreadfully fast.  The strong wind helped on by the lack of water (the water works having been destroyed), soon did its terrible work.  Nearly 30,000 people have been burned out, seven Catholic churches destroyed, the Bishop’s residence, our academy, all the hotels, railroad depots, etc. The like has not been seen in the nineteenth century since Moscow.

Oct. 9. Day of conflagration, destruction, murder and robbery!  Chicago has been ruined. From Harrison St. to Lincoln Park and from the Lake to the river is a desert.  Our house took fire about 2:30 this morning and we had a great time of it hauling things to the Lake Park.

Oct. 10. A cool but melancholy day for the citizens of Chicago.  The fire has been pretty well stopped but still there is danger.  Brother Visitor arrived this morning. Several incendiaries caught and put to death.

Oct. 11. Martial law.  The city in command of General Sheridan, and martial law proclaimed in the burned district. Brother Sub director and myself traveled over a part of the North Side but could not see our house.

Oct. 12. Day of separation.  Brothers Abbonian, Joseph, Altinian and myself went to St. Patrick’s last night, there being no room in Bridgeport (the industrial school).  Brother Sub Director and myself went to the Tribune Office this morning to publish our losses.  Brother Hilary got thirteen passes to leave the city.  Our destinations as I know them are:  Matthew and Abbonian to Peoria; Jucundian, Joseph, Luperius, Eunician, Altinian and Cadonia to St. Louis; Diogenes to St. Paul and Hilary to Memphis.  The six for St. Louis left this evening.

Oct. 13. A nice day.  I am stationed at St. Patrick’s until further orders.  I had to give lessons to some young Brothers all day.  Brother Visitor was here to-day and would have gone to St. Louis this evening were it not for the arrival of Brother Patrick, Assistant. I wish I were settled down permanently somewhere.

Oct. 14.  A gloomy day.  Drizzling rain. Brothers Edward (Visitor and Patrick, Assistant, were here this morning. They are going to Prairie du Chien.  Brother Patrick says there is great sympathy for Chicago in the East.

Oct. 15.  A special collection was taken up for the orphans today.  The bishop is to hold his office at St. Patrick’s rectory from 9 to 3 each day.

Oct. 16.  A nice day.  Brother Director and Diogenes were out to-day looking at the city.  I wish I were settled down.

Oct. 17.  A splendid day.  We had lessons all the morning.  In the afternoon we went walking.  A great many business houses are erecting on story frame buildings for the present.

Oct. 19.  A very fine day. Bros Patrick and Edward were here today.  This afternoon Brother Alexander and myself took a long walk on the North Side and lost our way coming home.

Oct. 20.  A nice day.  Brothers Matthew and Abbonian went to Peoria this afternoon. This morning we read our compositions on the Fire.  Brother Director said mine was the best.

Oct. 23.  A beautiful day.  Prof. Ryan received a telegram from Brother Visitor to-day to go to St. Louis. He went this evening.

Oct. 24.  A very misty day.  Brother Diogenes and myself were at St. John’s School this morning.  On S. Wabash Ave. what were formally quiet dwellings are now stores, banks, etc.  A great business street.

Oct. 29.  A nice day. Our school was used as a church to-day because it was considered dangerous to have services in St. Patrick’s in its present condition.

Oct. 30.  A good day but threatening rain. The parochial school commenced to-day.

Oct. 31. Raining all day.  This month will long be remembered as that in which the beautiful city of Chicago was almost entirely destroyed.  Also for the breaking up of our community on Van Buren Street.  A few weeks ago there were 15 of us in community; now here are but 3.

Nov. 1. All Saint’s Day.  Brother Visitor was here this morning but started immediately for St. Paul.  Brother Hilary from the South is to be the new Director of St. Patrick’s (The Academy).

Nov. 5. Brother Hilary, our new Director arrived this morning.  Brother Visitor also spent a short time with us.  I had expectations of getting my change but was disappointed.

Nov. 11.  Brother Visitor went to La Salle this afternoon.  He promised to change me soon.

Nov. 12. The priest announced the opening of the Academy for next Tuesday.

Nov. 13.  We put down a good number of desks in the Academy to-day.  After dinner Brother Director told Brother Florence and myself to go down to the relief district for our money

Nov. 14.  A cold, gloomy day.  We commenced school in the Academy to-day and had about forty boys.

Nov. 15.  Last day in Chicago.  Brother Visitor’s orders for Bros. Brandon, Clementian and myself arrived to-day.  We are to go to St. Louis and start to-night.

Brother Anthony of Rome

Brother Anthony of Rome (John Walsh) was born in Wilmington, Ohio, and entered the Novitiate in 1866 in Carondelet, Missouri.  He died on May 27, 1919, in Glencoe, Missouri, at the age of 65 and is buried in Glencoe.

John Walsh was born on December 3, 1854, in Wilmington, Ohio, but his family later moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where John first met the Christian Brothers.  He was the son of Manes and Anna Sheehan Walsh. On April 2, 1866, John had the distinction of being the youngest man to ever enter the novitiate, having completed only eleven years and 4 months.  He was one of the first seven candidates to enter the new Novitiate at Carondelet, Missouri.  On May 9, 1866, he received the robe of the Brothers and the religious name of Brother Anthony of Rome.  His first teaching assignment came at St. Patrick School in Chicago, Illinois.  He remained in Chicago from 1867 to 1871, teaching at Bridgeport Orphanage and St. Mary’s School.  In 1871, following the October fire in Chicago, Brother Anthony was one of the three Brothers sent to Memphis to establish the first community of Brothers in Memphis at Christian Brothers College.  Pages from his diary give quaint insights into the early days of the Brothers in Memphis.  He spent seven years there before being assigned to St. Paul where he remained until 1881 when he taught at Christian Brothers College in St. Louis, Missouri.  Brother Anthony returned to Memphis in 1882 for three more years of service and then was assigned as Sub-Director at St. Patrick’s High School in Chicago.  He returned to Memphis for a fourth time as Sub Director in 1886, becoming Director in 1892.  He returned to the College in St. Louis for eight years in 1902 and became Inspector of Schools in 1910 at Glencoe, Missouri.  Two years later Brother Anthony was assigned as Director in Kansas City, Missouri and in 1914 he was assigned to St. Joseph, Missouri.  He returned to his beloved Memphis in August of 1916 where he returned to the classroom.  In 1919 he became ill and went to St. Louis, Missouri, for medical treatment.  He died there at Alexian Brothers Hospital at age sixty-five, having been a De La Salle Christian Brother for fifty-three years.

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