Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Site Dedicated to Memory of St. Philip Neri Fire

February 20th, 2015, Promulgated by Dr. K

This is Ben re-posting on the anniversary of the St. Philip Neri fire.

Most Rochesterians are probably familiar with the heroic story relating to the fire that destroyed the old St. Philip Neri church on Clifford Avenue. For those unfamiliar, a priest and nun sacrificed their lives in order to save the Blessed Sacrament from destruction by a fire that was consuming their church. A special website has been created to keep alive the memory of these two servants of Christ.

The website can be accessed here:

Below is a video collage:



10 Responses to “Site Dedicated to Memory of St. Philip Neri Fire”

  1. Jim Thompson says:

    This is a wonderful way to remember our dear pastor Fr. Weinmann and beloved Sr. Lilian Marie SSND. Now that our parish has been sold I often wonder if any church in the diocese celebrates a mass for them on Feb. 20. This tragedy lives with all of us who were there that day. May they rest in peace Amen.

  2. Choir says:

    Father Weinmann and Sister Lilian are Eucharistic martyrs.

  3. Dr. K says:

    “Is that the tabernacle that’s now at Sacred Heart Cathedral?”

    Indeed it is. If only it were more visible. Say, in the center of the church.

  4. raymondfrice says:

    I have been of the opinion for years that one of the former classrooms at the Pastoral Office/former St Andrew’s seminary should be developed as a diocesan museum to preserve our Catholic presence in the region. What a wonderful place it would be for confirmands to visit as a part of their sacramental preparation and learn of their religious heritage, all the way from the Jesuits in Victor in the 17th century to the Religious who sacrificed their lives at St Philip Neri’s Church.

    I really think someone should float this idea by the Diocesan archivist and Bishop Matano.

  5. christian says:

    Thank you for the clarification Anonymous. It says a lot about Sister Lillian Marie that she thought of the children and took off her veil as a possible hindrance in her rescue effort. And while looking for children, she came upon Fr. Weinmann, did not abandon him, but tried to get him safety. That’s a powerful witness!

    Having to look for children because the fire happened near lunchtime suggests the children were left unsupervised during this period of time, probably outside in the parking lot. I can’t say enough about the dangers of leaving children unattended at school, especially outside.

    Did they ever find out the cause of the fire?

  6. christian says:

    According to the home page of the website, the fire was started by an arsonist, but there is no news of the arsonist being caught.

    It would be a terrible burden for a child/or children to bear, if accidentally, or intentionally out of anger or sickness, if they started a fire in the church where two beloved staff members died as a result. It would especially be difficult if the child or children had, or had had, Sister Lillian Marie as a teacher.

    I think it would be a terrible burden for an adult to bear if they had accidentally, or carelessly, or intentionally out of anger or sickness, set fire to the church where 2 people died as a result.

    I pray for whoever was involved, that their conscience will be set free.

  7. JLo says:

    Christian, in 1967 we did not fear for our children’s safety as we do today… recess for that generation of elementary school aged kids and those of us before them were spent in “parking lots”, for want of fenced playgrounds, where we happily jumped rope and played other games right next to our schools. Would that children and caregivers today knew of such freedom from worry, as parents and school authorities have security guards all around them these days. So much for “progress”. +JMJ

  8. Jim says:

    What a wonderful testament regarding two dedicated people….now saints! I was an eighth grader at St. Thomas Apostle in 1967, and remember hearing about the terrible fire that day. I’m so glad that this story was posted, because most of us never really heard about the details of what happened. I appreciate the summary of the story of Fr. Weinmann and Sr. Lilian Marie’s heroic efforts. God Bless them both, and May they Rest in Peace!

  9. Choir says:

    Here is another story this time about a school fire in Chicago in 1958.
    Please pray for the repose of their souls.

  10. christian says:

    JLo-True, there was not the same fear of children being kidnapped from school grounds in 1967, but the safety factors of large groups of children left alone unsupervised for extensive periods of time were still present.

    This situation was not only present in parochial schools, but also in public elementary schools in the 1950’s and 1960’s where children were left to mingle and play among themselves for long periods of time during the day to give the staff a break during lunchtime and/or other times during the school day.

    During Public Elementary School Days – Incidents happened when more aggressive and stronger children, especially boys, overpowered other children physically, especially girls, and attacked, shoved their way, or pushed others to gain entry to playground equipment, or during the process of sharing playground equipment with other children. ***One of the incidents – my younger sister, who was smaller for her age, was pushed/shoved hard by a boy of the same age, who was bigger, stronger, and more aggressive, while they were both on the “merry-go-round” playground equipment. ***My sister required emergency medical care.

    Fights also occurred on the playground and there could be multiple students ganging up on one student or factions of students against one another. I’m not saying bad fights or significant injuries were an every day occurrence, but they did occur throughout the years on an ongoing basis. There was also some playground equipment that was broken due to unsupervised, rough, and improper use.

    Remember, when you played at home, you were able to play with children you chose, that you got along with pretty well. You could go back home when you wanted or they could go back home when they wanted. At school, you were set among a variety of other children, some you may not have necessarily got along with very well, some even bullies -both boys and girls, that neither they or you would have chosen to play with outside of school, and you were not able to leave and go back home when you wanted.

    At Parochial School – When we traveled to the local parochial school for partial or full days of religious instruction along with the parochial students, we were all sent outside to mingle in the parking lot or on the grass, and occupy our time after we had our lunch or for some type of break. It never occurred to me to enter the church without the nuns.

    When we were left in church without appropriate supervision, some of the boys carved their initials into the wooden pews. (It was not that uncommon for boys, and some girls, to carry a pocketknife back then). It must have happened elsewhere, because I have come across initials carved into pews at a variety of Catholic churches.

    Most churches had lit votive candles as well as altar/vigil lights in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I think it is/was a bad recipe to leave children unsupervised where children have free access to a church where there are lit candles and tapers for lighting other candles, after-lunchtime when faculty is having their lunch, or free-time when the faculty are having their break. Children tend to fool around, at least a certain percentage of them do, and it wouldn’t take much to accidentally knock over a lit candle by pushing, shoving, or fighting. There is also a percentage of children who are mesmerized and obsessed with fire who may want to light other candles or play around with fire.

    Sr. Lillian Marie McLaughlin and Rev. George Weinmann
    “Only love to God shall stand and prevail; not boasting, denouncing, or threatening.” – Michael Sattler

    Going into a burning church in an effort to save any children that might have still been inside illustrates what a loving, courageous, and selfless saint Sr. Lillian Marie McLaughlin was. Her Mother Superior, also speculated that she wanted to pull Fr. Weinmann, an elderly priest, out of the fire. She did not abandon Fr. Weinmann in his time of need.

    Hopefully, Parochial and Elementary Schools, as well as other grade levels, utilize a student accountability system to establish that all students that should be there are present and accounted for, and additionally have adopted the supervision of children in after-lunch times and break times.

    There are reports of a Chalice with Holy Communion found in close proximity to Fr.Weinmann and Sr. Lillian Marie, and a Tabernacle left in a Confessional. I can’t help but think Sr. Lillian Marie talked Fr. Weinmann into leaving the Tabernacle behind and just taking the Chalice with Holy Communion. It had to be somewhat cumbersome and awkward to carry a Tabernacle in a burning, smoked -filled church. Not only would it be more strenuous because of the depletion of oxygen, but metal can become quite hot in a fire. In that era, there was more ingrained formality regarding the housing of the Holy Eucharist and of Sacred Vessels and Tabernacles. Fires can grow out of control quickly even if you first estimate you have enough time to carry something like a Tabernacle out, and often, there is not time in the moment to think of an alternative option, especially if it something that is an unusual practice.

    I would hope that nowadays, if a priest or anyone else wants to save the Holy Eucharist in a church fire (or rectory/convent fire), that they would wrap the Holy Communion in a purificator, other linen, or something nearby (and stick in their pocket if necessary) and exit, as we would all like to still have them around.

    As Choir’s post points out, (Our Lady Of The Angels’ Fire) there was not Freedom From Worry in Parochial (or Public) Schools in the 1950’s or 1960’s (or beforehand) as safety issues lurked, although unseen, unknown, or unnoticed. Action and Improvements for future students and faculty came out of this horrific tragedy.

    There were all type of code violations including doors chained open, in addition to the unsafe situations of the school building already noted in article from the link posted by Choir, yet it had just passed a safety inspection under the “grandfather clause.”
    ***It was learned that when the fire alarm was pulled the first time by a lay teacher as she was evacuating students from the school building, it made no sound. After taking students to the church and running back to the school building and pulling the fire alarm a second time, it finally rang, but the fire alarm was not connected to the fire department.
    ***The school janitor first noted the fire while he was walking by outside and he had the 2 boys assisting him emptying barrels evacuate the basement and inform teachers of the fire. The first informed lay teacher told another lay teacher, and the two of them looked in vain for the principal to get permission to evacuate (apparently the principal had not informed them she was teaching at another annex for a teacher who called in sick). The 2 lay teachers decided to evacuate students without her permission.
    ***The janitor had run to the rectory and asked that the fire department be called immediately at 2:30 P.M., yet there was an unexplained delay of 12 minutes before someone in the rectory called the fire department at 2:42 P.M.
    ***It was also cited that more lives could have been saved if nuns had their children evacuate instead of sit and pray, while waiting for the fire department to arrive.

    In 1962, a 10 year old boy confessed to setting the fire under a lie detector test, but the family court judge found him not guilty due to insufficient evidence.

    I feel so bad for those school children and the nuns that lost their lives due to the fire, and also for their families. I will pray for their souls.

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