By John Nerger ’74
I loved my Fenwick experience of many years ago, but also painfully remember how I often felt trapped, confined, somewhat “quarantined” by life’s circumstances at the time. While attending school, I worked for a newspaper distributor overseeing about 100 paper routes and assisting the manager. This was a seven-day-a-week commitment, 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and a half-day apiece on Saturday and Sunday. My job, home chores and Fenwick’s rigorous course load left little time for much else besides eating and sleeping.
Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed my job and reveled in its responsibilities, realizing at some level I was getting experience that would pay off eventually. It’s just that it didn’t leave me much time for extra-curricular activities, like the clubs and sports many of my Fenwick friends enjoyed.
I felt cheated of a normal social life because, come Saturday evening, I was often exhausted and wanted to get to bed, knowing my alarm was set for a 5 a.m. jarring wake-up the following morning. I resented not having much time for a girlfriend or just hang out with neighborhood pals. My family didn’t have a car I could borrow to escape the confines of home.
Since my parents were financing Catholic education for their five children, I felt a little guilty going to Fenwick, where the tuition was higher than other schools, so I worked out of a sense of obligation to help with the bills. I worked that much harder at my classwork because I didn’t want my parents to think they were wasting their money on me.
Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, Fenwick equipped me with the tools that helped me stay sane during those challenging times as an adolescent, even helping me tunnel under the barriers of my “quarantine” to escape:It was at Fenwick where I acquired a love of reading. When I read, I could go anywhere, any time — and I did.
- It was at Fenwick where I gained a love of learning. Math, science and language (Latin) opened new doorways for me. The life of the mind had no walls or limitations.
- It was at Fenwick where I began to strengthen what had been a thin and immature faith. Prayer took me to another world, an eternal spiritual realm I was just beginning to discover; one that returned far more than I gave to it, and one that proved more instrumental than anything else over my 63 years.
- It was at Fenwick where my character would be shaped. Its rules, discipline, expectations and moral code, while not so obvious at the time, prepared me to thrive at university and persevere throughout my career.
- It was later, after graduation, when I found how rigorous physical labor and exercise, Fenwick’s daily gym classes and intramurals notwithstanding, could free me of anxiety and improve my health and well-being.
- And it would be later still when I would discover how love of another could be liberating and unbounded, freeing me from my selfish self; although the generous love experienced in my immediate family, and my Fenwick family to a considerable degree, certainly set the right conditions for this to occur.
During the decades since, I’ve seen many ways one can find oneself trapped, even imprisoned. We may feel trapped or shackled by jobs we dislike, fears, unhealthy addictions, illness, sin and bad habits. I’ve experienced my share of these as well.
Today’s quarantine may require a little extra creativity, though the fundamentals learned years ago in high school — reading, learning, praying, good character, exercising and loving — offer more than enough freedom from any type of confinement.
Thank you, Fenwick, for delivering what’s needed to weather the Great Quarantine. Perhaps it takes a little confinement to help us become truly free. As St. John Paul the Great wisely said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”
About the Author
John Nerger graduated from Fenwick in 1974, served 35 years in the federal government (U.S. Department of Defense) and is now a consultant living in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife, Kathy. He has two sons and one granddaughter. “By the grace of God, I survived the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, where I was serving in 2001,” Nerger shares.
How Do Friars Respond During Crises?
Fenwick asks the Alumni Community to share memories of when the world seemed upside down and how, we as a community, responded. We want to hear from you about your experiences living through crisis. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.