Teaching to be a Champion: Vocation and Unity in Christ

How a young alumna’s Fenwick education has influenced and informed her understanding of and action on behalf of her vocation.

By Tierney Vrdolyak ’14

One motto of the Dominican Order that has resonated with me these six years out of Fenwick is contemplare et contemplata aliis trader – “to contemplate and hand on to others the fruits of contemplation.” In my experience with Catholic educators there, so many have lived this truth: to contemplate Christ and share with others (students, specifically) the mystery of Christ through their words and works, their lessons and lives is the Divine call of the teacher. Through their witness and God’s grace, I have come to realize my vocation as teacher, too. I’d like to relay one person’s authentic witness as teacher to you in the hopes that you might contemplate and share with others this fruit.

As I have come to believe through education observation, theory and practice, a teacher succeeds when the student develops; the teacher more than less fades into the background.[1] The teacher leads only when he or she serves; the teacher imitates Jesus Christ, the Divine Teacher, who freely humbles Himself to the point of death to Himself (the words “humble” and “human” are derived from the Latin humus, meaning “earth” or “soil” – that is, what is on the ground). The truly successful teacher is the one who stimulates the student’s receptivity – qualifying the pupil for all vocations (priesthood, religious life, married life, single life) and opening up avenues for vocations within vocations (professional life) – and remains humble by letting God lead, the students follow, and oneself adapt to their promptings. The teacher, therefore, takes on the “He must increase, I must decrease,” dynamic of which the Gospel speaks (John 3:30), adjusting his or her view of the harmonious human person to the individual student’s personality. Fenwick teachers have helped countless students come face to face with reality, welcoming our vocation and that of others with joy.

Friar tennis alumni/former teammates Annie Krug ’14 (from left), Tierney Vrdolyak ’14, Coach Tom Draski and Kaelin Schillinger ’14 during the 2014 Summer Tennis Camp.

Mr. Draski was my tennis coach during the Frosh-Soph fall seasons of 2010 and 2011. From the first week of tryouts through the last banquet, Coach Draski encouraged the team to seek and find wonder in all things. His practices, lectures and personal example oriented us toward our good as individuals and as a team. Although his teams had an 11-peat at that point, winning wasn’t the goal. Growing into our authentic selves was.

Practice

The “Ten Ball Drill” was certainly an example through which we learned to love building speed, stamina and strength during practices. It was a joy to place each ball on the racket before our teammates’ feet on the doubles’ sideline as we ran to collect the next ball from the opposite side.

Lecture

Coach Draski’s words, too, and the way in which he spoke, encouraged us to be nourished and renewed together. Before each tournament, Coach Draski called us together to pray through Our Lady and read a poem entitled, “The Champion.” He divided the poem into stanzas, which some players would recite and on which all would reflect. These words – which to me point to our universal call to greatness, which is holiness – have stuck with me in small and large decision-making moments. Before I took part in a city-wide half marathon last May, for instance, I warmed up with a prayer and this poem. Some phrases that resonated while I ran the race were: “You’ve got to think high to rise./ You’ve got to be sure of yourself before/ You can ever win a prize./ Think big and your deeds will grow, think small and you’ll fall behind./ Think that you can and you will; it’s all in the state of the mind…Our Lady of Victory, pray for us!” I was able to run at a personal-record pace among many others – perhaps tennis players themselves – keeping Coach’s words in mind. Before your work or school day today in these times, we can ponder these lines again.

During each tournament, Coach would invite us to “give a love tap” to our partner after every point – win or lose – letting our partner know that she is good, she can do it and you are there for her. He would invite us, too, to come to him in difficult situations during breaks in a game, set or match. Coach Draski would then poke his pointer through the wire for us to each tap it and afterwards ask, “How are we doing?”

Personal Example

Not only did his practices and words inspire my teammates and me, but his personal example reflected all that he tried to teach. I will never forget Coach Draski’s smile, finger taps, fist bumps or chuckle at some pasta party conversation. I will never forget his personal stories that shed light onto the words we spoke in the “Champion,” making me think about the wonderful power of our minds to think well and wills to act well, no matter the situations within our societies, families or selves.

Working together on hatching and raising chickens, learning the life cycle first-hand.

After graduation from college in 2018, through the guidance of grace, my human nature, mentors, courses and many more encounters, I realized my call to be a Catholic educator. For two years, I attended graduate school in theology while teaching theology within a Catholic middle-school setting. Following this program, beginning this August, I was led into teaching in the home-school setting using the Montessori and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd model as guides. Here, I have the opportunity to walk with three children, fostering a relationship with each child and God through formative learning experiences.

Before I began down this new avenue, I contacted Coach Draski, thanking him for his impact on my understanding of vocation. He had this to share: “It’s good to have something to hold on to in life as a goal … take it from me, don’t stop learning, there is a lot still out there. I’m honored to have but a small part in your life. I always knew you were destined for greatness and still are….  You have the two most important intangibles of successful teaching: a great smile and enthusiasm. Use those to win over their hearts and minds. Another quote I will share with you from successful coach Pat Summitt is, ‘Players/students don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.’”  

Although I named only one, we can all identify educators who have helped us to more clearly contemplate: Who is God? Who am I? What are my God-given gifts? What are the needs of my community? In what do I find joy?

As St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (a.k.a. Edith Stein), a 20th century philosopher and Carmelite, penned in her essays that the vocation of educator is realized in one who has not only inborn gifts for teaching, but also a personality with certain character traits including an intuitive faculty that allows one to know a person’s soul. In other words, the educator – with his or her balanced temperament and genuine knowledge – has an inner concentration drawn from prayer that overflows into the personal love he or she has for his or her pupils.

The true educator leads not only by the act of teaching well, but also by the words used and example lived. The true educator, then, opens his or her pupil’s soul to the workings of grace and the development of the pupil’s powers in accordance with God’s image. I pray and work that I might be an educator after the likeness of Christ, like so many Fenwick staff and faculty.

About the Author

Originally from Hinsdale, IL, Tierney Vrdolyak taught middle-school religion at Nativity Catholic School in Indianapolis while earning her M.A. (theology) from the Echo Program at the University of Notre Dame. She also has a B.A. in theology/liberal studies and business economics from Notre Dame.


[1] Insights influenced by Catholic educators and philosophers Edith Stein, Maria Montessori, Romano Guardini, Jacques Maritain, Gianna Gobbi, and Sofia Cavaletti.

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