86 Years of ‘Passing the Hat’ for Friars in Need

For students who’ve lost a parent during high school, the Fenwick Fathers’ Club has always extended a helping hand.

When 91-year-old Bernard “Barney” Rodden ’39 passed away four years ago, the World War II veteran and Fenwick alumnus’ family asked that memorials be directed to Fenwick High School’s Fathers’ Club Tuition Continuation Fund. Established in 1932, the fund covers tuition for students who have lost a parent while at Fenwick.

Imagine attending high school and having your father or mother die. Sadly, such family tragedy has struck hundreds of Fenwick students over the years and, for 86 years and counting, the Fenwick Fathers’ Club has been here to help.

Senior Colleen Stephany’s mother passed away in 2016. Ms. Stephany told her story to the Fenwick picnic audience last month.

Current Fenwick senior Colleen Stephany ’19 knows firsthand the pain and tragedy of losing a parent. Her mother, Carol O’Neill, passed away two years ago at the age of 54. When Ms. Stephany spoke at the Freshman Family Picnic last month, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house:

Hi, I’m Colleen Stephany, an incoming senior. Mr. Sullivan, the president of the Fathers’ Club reached out and asked if I could share with you all how the club has impacted me. [Editor’s note: Frank Sullivan ’86 is a Fenwick Dad.] I couldn’t be happier to be standing here in front of you.

I was raised in River Forest with my three siblings, my single mom, and an abundance of extended family who were always around. My own father wasn’t really in the picture since before I started at St. Luke, so my mom began to sacrifice tremendously to keep my siblings and me in Catholic schools very early, taking jobs in the area and sacrificing her own personal luxuries to guarantee us the warm, welcoming communities [that] Catholic schools provide.

In the fall of my 5th grade year she was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer, causing her to step down from her current job. My grandparents and extended family were phenomenal in helping cover our fees but tuition for four kids in grade school, high school and college was always just so difficult. As the amounts kept rising, people from all areas, especially Fenwick, swooped in to help without ever making us feel like charity or below everyone else, which I believe is one of their most valuable attributes. My mother always strived to keep our lives as normal as possible, but when she couldn’t on her own, the Fathers’ Club never failed to help her achieve that normalcy. As I got older and understood the situation we were in, and how my mother and grandparents’ health was worsening, I began to worry on where I’d end up — but my Mom was always so confident with Fenwick.

I didn’t understand because I thought it’d be more of a burden on her than a public high school, but now I can see her logic clearly. She wanted me to have support and a family as strong as Fenwick High School. She was confident the Fathers’ Club, Father Peddicord and the rest of the administration would take care of me, and she was exactly right. I will never forget the embrace I got after losing my Mom my sophomore year, and the fact that this was the first place I wanted to go afterwards. I think this speaks volumes of Fenwick. The love the Fathers’ Club, administration and school showed our family surpassed any type of financial help they could ever give.

People may just see it as a group who fund-raises to make improvements to the school or their events, but that’s not the Fathers’ Club at all. They continually work to maintain and strengthen the community and love of Fenwick for every person who walks through the doors. Parents, students, faculty and alumni are all in the minds of the Fathers’ Club and the administration, and I am eternally grateful I was able to feel the love of Fenwick. So on behalf of my Mom, my siblings and my whole family, I’d love to thank them for allowing me to have the honor of graduating from here and making me always feel at home at Fenwick.

The Tuition Continuation Fund

2018-19 Fathers’ Club President Frank Sullivan, Fenwick Class of 1986.

Fenwick Families can experience significant financial stress upon the death of a parent. The Fathers’ Club works with the school business office per its written policy to continue the tuition payments of families who experience such losses. This is the bedrock value of the Fathers’ Club. It speaks to the cohort responsibility that our adult males have for all the adolescents in our community. It is one of the ministerial characteristics that makes Fenwick more than just an excellent school. It is a faith community built upon enduring values transmitted across the generations. It demonstrates the social capital which binds our families together in the present and which will bind our alumni together in the future as they mature into their adult years. It makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. For more information concerning the Tuition Continuation Fund, please contact the Fathers’ Club President Frank Sullivan.

About the Fathers’ Club

The Fenwick Fathers’ Club is a volunteer organization founded on October 17, 1932. On that day, six fathers of current Fenwick students each donated $25 to be used as an emergency fund for families experiencing hardships during the Great Depression. Membership in the Fathers’ Club is open to all adults who assume the male parent role in the life of a Fenwick student.

Throughout the school year, the Fathers’ Club sponsors a Freshman Family Picnic in August, a Friar Music Fun Fest for adults in November, a Family Mass in Advent, a Men’s Religious Retreat during Lent and a Welcome Steak Fry for incoming fathers in May. Meetings are held regularly for social networking and dinner once a month.

The mission of the Fathers’ Club is to advance the ministry of Fenwick High School, to provide a social network, to enrich our faith lives, to facilitate communication and to serve the needs of our families.

Click here to join the Fenwick Fathers’ Club.

 

One Reply to “86 Years of ‘Passing the Hat’ for Friars in Need”

  1. Great article about the Father’s Club and their purpose that was started 1932. What is even more impressive is Ms. Stephany, and her courage to tell her story in front of a packed auditorium at the Freshmen Picnic this summer. So happy that the Father’s Club can assist you with their Tuition Continuation program in your last year at Fenwick. Best of luck in your years after Fenwick!

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