Loyola Magazine

1955 Humanities Center Fire

Black and white photo of a large group of people watching firefighters extinguish a fire in the Humanities Building
Photo courtesy of Loyola/Notre Dame Library

Right around noon on June 24, 1955, the building known as the present-day Rev. Francis Xavier Knott, S.J., Humanities Center started burning in the largest fire in Loyola’s history. Thirty-five pieces of firefighter apparatus were required to bring the eight-alarm fire under control, and 12 firefighters were injured in the process. 

The quick-to-spread fire was believed to have originated in the basement of the Tudor-style mansion, known as the Loyola College Faculty House, that was home to the 26 Jesuit priests on the Loyola faculty. 

The Rev. George Zorn, S.J., acting rector and treasurer, was one of the first to detect the fire and helped ensure everyone evacuated safely. 

“Hardly had I gotten outside when an explosion blew a piece out of the roof, and the smoke and flames really started to pour out,” he wrote in a handwritten minister’s diary of Loyola. “In fairly quick succession there were about five more explosions.” 

Brother Stephen Alvey, S.J., managed to rescue the Blessed Sacrament from the Jesuits’ chapel in the building and escape unharmed. Valuables destroyed by the flames and water included the chapel itself, rare old books, priest vestments, and in some cases, years’ worth of faculty work. 

The Jesuit core value of community shone through as countless offers of kindness poured in. 

“The most touching,” the Rev. Robert P. Arthur, S.J., dean of men, told the Baltimore Sun, “was a visit yesterday from three 6-year-old girls, who came with a box containing $2.56. ‘It is a collection for you, Father,’ they told me.”

View more photos of the Humanities Fire of 1955