Students-turned-teachers help to advance the Friars’ mission.
By Mark Vruno
Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?
Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 32 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr. Holmberg, who doubles as the school’s clubs/activities director.
“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”
Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”
Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for nearly six decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg: “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Co-Chair.
“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Blackfriars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”
Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012
Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 58 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: Millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”
Learning Resource Coordinator Grace Lilek David ’08, who is in her sixth year of teaching at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Mrs. David. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.
“Faith is another reason we come back,” Lilek surmises. “It is very easy to feel more connected to God at Fenwick. When I consider the fact that the Dominican Order was founded over 800 years ago and couple it with the fact that Fenwick is the only high school in the United States run by the Dominican Friars, I am compelled to keep the tradition alive and the school thriving. And even though not every Fenwick student is Catholic, there is a respect for the faith that built this school. There is also a type of faith that goes along with calling yourself a Fenwick Friar.
“Finally, the greater Fenwick Family, is another reason we come back, David concludes. “Whether you connect with one teacher/staff member/counselor or several, or one friend or several, someone in this building always has your back. And then, when you come back to Fenwick and nervously enter the building for an interview, you are greeted with a smile from Mrs. Tartaglia, who remembers you from the time you were a student, and you know you are home. I simply do not think you can find that anywhere else.”
Here is a breakdown of who the alumni are and what they teach/do:
23 ALUMNI ARE TEACHERS
Samantha Carraher ’96 – Spanish Teacher & World Languages Department Chair
Amy Krzemienski Christophell ’06 – Science Teacher
Marianne Palmer Carrozza ’96 – Spanish Teacher
Brigid Baier Esposito ’96 – Science Teacher
Roger Finnell ’59 – Math Department Co-Chair
Alex Holmberg ’05 – Social Studies Department Chair, Economics Teacher
Kyle Kmiecik ’00 – Learning Resource Coordinator
Ray Kotty ’85 – Math Teacher
Peter Lamkin ’85 – Science Teacher
Cristina Tallarico Lilek ’05 – Spanish Teacher
Grace Lilek David ’08 – Learning Resource Coordinator
Jennifer Morris Ori ’06 – English Teacher
Kyle Perry ’01 – English Teacher
Erin Power ’07 – Health/Physical Education Department Chair and Psychology Teacher
John Quinn ’76 – Social Studies Teacher
Kevin Roche ’05 – Physics/Computer Science (CS) Department Chair and Math/CS Teacher
John Schoeph ’95 – English and French Teacher
Theresa Steinmeyer ’12– English Department Chair
Elizabeth Perry Timmons ’04 – Science Teacher
Mike Trankina ’84 – Science Teacher
Lauren Davis Trifilio ’97– English Teacher
Kate Kujawa Whitman ’01– English Teacher
Arthur Wieckiewicz ’11– Social Studies Teacher
FOUR ALUMNI ARE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS
Mickey Collins ’03 – Director of Scheduling & Student Data
Eleanor Comiskey Cain ’06 – Assistant Principal
Ray Moland ’96 – Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Scott Thies ’99 – Athletic Director
FIVE ALUMNI ARE STAFF MEMBERS
Marilyn Nicodemo ’98 – Manager of Special Events
Peter Durkin ’03 – Director of Alumni Relations
Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50 – President Emeritus
Igho Oraka ’03 – College Counselor
Jimmy Sperandio ’85 – School Resource Officer
READ ABOUT MORE ALUMNI WHO TEACH AT FENWICK.