Mass planned to remember nun and priest killed in Rochester church fire 50 years ago

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - It was lunchtime. Jim Thompson was a 7th grader on safety patrol in the parking lot when a fourth grader ran out of Saint Philip Neri Church on Clifford Avenue, saying there were children playing inside.

Thompson said when he opened the front door of the church, he saw a wall of fire.

He then ran to the school and rectory to alert the nuns and priest.

After helping to make sure the children were all out of the school, he heard a loud explosion, but never looked back at the church.

It would be 45 minutes later when he learned Sister Lillian Marie McLaughlin and Father George Weinmann went back inside the burning church.

It's believed Father Weinmann went to save the Blessed Sacrament, a sacred part of the Roman Catholic faith. It's also believed Sister Lillian went inside to make sure there were no children in there and to help Father save the Eucharist.

Both were found in the back of the church. Sister Lillian died right away, Father Weinmann lived three days.

They will be honored by family, friends, former students and parishioners at an anniversary mass on February 26 at 10:30 a.m. at Annunciation Church.

Reverend Mickey McGrath is planning the service, which will be said by Bishop Salvatore Matano.

McGrath said this was a tragedy, and he called the victims martyrs who sacrificed their own lives to save others.

The cause of the fire was at first reported to be electrical, but many, including Father McGrath, believe it was arson and that it may have been covered up to protect the fourth grader who started that fire and two others at the church and school.

Jeannie Mulley Blum and Marie Gallo Doty said they are still heartbroken when they think about this tragedy. They said as first and third graders, they never experienced fire or death - but on this day, they witnessed both.

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