Our Lady of the Angels

I only attended Catholic school for a few years--through third grade, at St. Joan of Arc in Cumberland RI. The elementary school was built in the mid-to late 1960's --I remember it as being light and bright, with wide windows, and lots of fire doors. Although it was a one story school, we had numerous of fire drills --and when I asked why, the nun said that lots of children had died in a fire in a school, and we did not want that to happen again. I did not press further--even as a little girl, I knew this was too horrible to contemplate.I realized much later that she was referring to the Our Lady of the Angels school fire, in Chicago, the 51st anniversary of which was a few days ago. Clearly, and rightly, that nightmare had been on the minds of everyone who built a school in the 1960's.Looking around the website on the fire, I found this iconic image of the fire--a fireman carrying out the body of a child, and was struck by its similarity, at least in feel, to an iconic image from September 11--firemen carrying out the body of Chaplain Mychal Judge. Both are a type of modern pieta.In scripture, the idea of religious redemption received some of its vitality from its comparison to a very worldly phenomenon-- the idea that a close relative would or should buy you back from slavery (redemere). In our time and place, that image isn't so vivid--the practice of slavery, while shamefully still among us, has gone underground. I think a good place to look for where we existentially experience a sense of this-worldly redemption is in the work of first responders, especially firefighters. Dennis Leary, raised Irish Catholic, has done a very good--but very edgy-- show called Rescue Me, which is the story of NYC firefighters in the wake of September 11, and the various meanings of being saved in personal, professional, and spiritual life. Maybe there's something here for theologians to think about, too.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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