A Philadelphia Catholic school community whose parish has historical ties to St. John Neumann is recovering after a March 21 fire devastated its building.
A three-alarm blaze broke out at Our Mother of Consolation Parish School in the city’s Chestnut Hill section just after 3:30 p.m., less than an hour after classes had been dismissed for the day.
A parent collecting her child had alerted school staff to the fire after seeing smoke coming from the roof, according to Sister of St. Joseph Christine Konopelski, pastoral associate for faith formation at OMC, speaking with local media.
Remaining staff and students were evacuated from the building. The fire was placed under control shortly before 5:30 p.m. and remains under investigation, Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel told local media.
One responding firefighter sustained minor injuries and was taken to the hospital for treatment.
Students have been temporarily shifted to a remote learning plan, as damage to the school has shuttered the building “for the remainder of the year,” said OMC pastor Father John Fisher, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, and OMC school principal Patricia Sheetz in a joint statement issued March 21.
Father Fisher and Sheetz noted they are “working to identify potential locations in proximity to our parish where the children can begin attending class again in person,” having already received “many offers” for space usage, including from “local churches, elementary schools and (nearby) Chestnut Hill College.”
The two also said they have been “deluged” by support, with Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez, Auxiliary Bishop Timothy C. Senior and vicar general Msgr. Daniel Kutys expressing concern, along with several elected officials and OMC parishioners, parents and alumni.
The school, which along with the parish buildings is listed on Philadelphia’s register of historic places, was first opened in 1862 in an old tenant house donated to the Sisters of Saint Joseph by philanthropist John Middleton, a Quaker who converted to Catholicism. In 1854, Middleton had petitioned St. John Neumann (1811-1860), then bishop of Philadelphia, to create the parish that became OMC, with Middleton largely funding the church’s construction.