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Jillian 20 – Fire in the House!

Jillian 20 – Fire in the House!

Sometimes Jillian tells me funny stuff, sometimes life stuff and sometimes general stuff that is not very much of anything.

This time I reckon we got some dramatic substance.

Can't remember when this was nor where in the world, but it was obviously exciting and emotional for Jillian.

The Beginning.

During her religious period Jillian was persuaded to go on a 3 day retreat. Having never done anything like this, before, she figured why not? Could be interesting (probably not that much fun as it was a non-speaking – unless in structured discussions - and non fraternising between sexes kind thing.) But interesting is definitely a word that comes to mind. She was not to know how interesting.

It started on a Friday night and went until after the evening meal on the Monday following. Approx 3 days. At least that was the plan.

The format was a dinner and evening fellowship with all participants on the Friday, (no alcohol came as a bit of a blow to our Jillian, but 'in for a penny, in for a pound' she thought), followed by days of prayer – of course; study of The Bible, biblical and saints stories, meditation, rest and relaxation, discussions of social and community activity, and some personal development material relating to goal setting and life planning. All sounded fine and a bit of a change from the daily routine, which was pretty much the idea of the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the 1520s.

This retreat was run by these Jesuits in a complex of 4 buildings on the outskirts of the city. One building was a common area with meeting, cooking, eating and other such admin rooms, there was a dormitory for girls and one for boys and the priests lived in the 4th building. They were all separated by lovely and secluded walkways and gardens. It was very quiet and even serene particularly for outer suburbia.

“Actually,” said Jillian, “It was really very lovely. I was looking forward to it and would probably have enjoyed it immensely.”

“Probably?” I questioned.


“Yep.” she nodded. “That is the story here. It never happened. Well the opening dinner did and we headed off to our separate dormitory rooms for a read of some saintly literature and an early night. But it was not to be.”

“Oh.” I mumbled. “What happened?”

“We found out later what started it, but at about midnight the boys dormitory went on fire. The building was a bit like a T where the top bar part was a long corridor with individual bedrooms on one side and in the middle where the down-stroke of the T is there was a lounge with a fireplace, large comfy armchairs and sofas, etc for reading and such.

It seemed a spark from the fire had somehow gone into the woodbox (which was full of small cut logs, kindling and newspaper on the bottom), during the evening after dinner, and no-one noticed anything untoward.

After lights out this must have flared up and began to burn the wall beside and behind the fireplace. One of my friends who was in the boys building said they were all very surprised to wake up to the sound of fire and a huge amount of smoke. The silence thing flummoxed them for a minute or two until they realised that this was an emergency and that quite probably as of this moment the retreat was over.

This friend came out of his room which was right at the top of the T to find that the corridor wall just outside his room – the rear wall of the lounge - was completely engulfed, and that the only fire hose reel in the building was on that wall in the middle of the fire. A few seconds longer he thought later, and he would have been no more. He dropped and rolled along the corridor knowing that there was a door at each end, and he could get out.

Safe; he ran round to the front of the building where he and others were able to assure themselves that all the other boys had evacuated. By this time the priest and the girls were collecting in the area in front of the main building. I think some of the priests, and the boys too, were having trouble deciding which was more exciting – the girls' night-attire or the fire. Suffice to say there was hotness all around.

Being Friday night, and outer suburbia there were pubs and drunks in abundance, and a big fire like this is always a draw-card. My friend saw a couple of likely lads throwing rocks at the fireys who were working hard to stop the blaze from reaching a number of gas cylinders and some waste tar drums – from the driveway upgrade a few weeks earlier. He alerted a fireman with a big hose (you know what I mean – stop it) who then turned this towards the two idiots and needless to say the rock throwing was a wash-out.

The building was not completely destroyed, but might as well have been. It was going to have to be demolished.


We had an emergency meeting in the main meeting room to formally close the retreat, and after ensuring that we had collected all undamaged stuff from the boys building (with help from the fabulous firemen), we all began to head home.

Some people had been dropped off by family and were going to be picked up at the end so Jillian and her - very lucky to be alive - friend began a taxi service to take some of these new acquaintances home.

There were a number of other admin kind of things needing to be done and Jillian's friend (I think I remember now, his name was Patrick) offered to help the priests who were a tad upset and not sure what to do nor to whom to turn in this completely unforeseen and extremely unusual circumstance. The upshot was that Jillian and Patrick managed to get to their homes - to their own safe, unburnt beds - late on the Saturday night.

It was a pretty dramatic retreat. Nothing like what was expected. Probably took a few days for the adrenaline to leave the system and for things inside to return to normal. Patrick could not remember he or anyone he knew being that close to death. It was an awakening. As good as any retreat for bringing one closer to God and renewing one's zest for life.

The next week

Patrick was able to retrieve the remains of the very burnt crucifix that had been above his bed-head (on the wall nearest the actual fire) and he brought it along to the Church service at his local Parish on the following Sunday. The priest gave a sermon on the fragility of life while Patrick stood there with this burnt offering in his arms.

Beat that for Drama.


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