Faculty Focus: Meet Fenwick Math Teacher Maria Nowicki

Ms. Maria Nowicki is in her 10th year of teaching math at Fenwick.

What is your educational background?

MN: I have a BS from the Kelley School of Business [at Indiana University]; majored in Quantitative Business Analysis. Master of Arts from Dominican University in Teaching.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

MN: I worked for Control Data, a division of IBM at the time, right out of school in the late ’80s. I was the interface between programmers and the sales forces. I loved it because it combined my programming background with customer communication on a daily basis.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment? Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Meet Fenwick Math Teacher Maria Nowicki”

Forever Friars: Fenwick Legend and Coach Tony Lawless Was Born 110 Years Ago

This year would have marked the 110th birthday of the late Coach Lawless, who for nearly half a century worked for the students of Fenwick and the school since its inception in 1929.

By Mark Vruno

Happy Birthday to Coach Lawless. This year marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Fenwick legend Tony Lawless. At least we think so. No one still living is certain when Anthony R. Lawless was born. His nephew, Mike, who like his revered uncle has spent a lifetime as an educator and coach — in the family’s hometown Peoria (IL) High School — says the elder Lawless often fibbed about his age to prospective employers when he was young. “Uncle Tony wanted jobs but didn’t want them knowing how young he was. So we were never exactly sure how old he was,” Mike Lawless notes with a laugh.

What we do know is this: Tony Lawless graduated from Spalding Institute in Peoria in 1924. He played on the Fighting Irish’s national Catholic high school championship basketball team that year, before moving to Chicago to attend college at Loyola University. He later was inducted into Loyola’s Hall of Fame for both basketball and football.

Continue reading “Forever Friars: Fenwick Legend and Coach Tony Lawless Was Born 110 Years Ago”

Accomplished Choral & Theater Teacher Melanie Lamoureux Returns to Fenwick

Soprano Melanie Lamoureux, fresh from earning a Master’s in Music Education from NU, is poised to extend the range of singing Friars’ on-stage performances.

By Mark Vruno

With the start of the 2017-18 school year only five weeks away, Fenwick is pleased to announce the return of Choral and Theater Teacher Melanie Lamoureux to its Expressive Arts Department. Before taking a two-year sabbatical to further her studies at Northwestern University (NU), Lamoureux had been Fenwick’s Director of Honors Choral and Theater Studies from 2012-15. A 2005 graduate of Hinsdale Central High School, she says she is looking forward to working with Choir Director/Fine Arts Teacher Sue Senese and Department Chairperson Rizelle Capito to continue to build on an excellent program here. Ms. Lamoureux again will be teaching junior and senior choir classes as well as an acting class.

“When Ms. Lamoureux came to Fenwick we already had a strong choral program in place,” explains Principal Peter Groom. “In her short time here, she added a Madrigal Choir section and a Theater course. She made an immediate impact, and our students really enjoy working with Ms. Lamoureux,” Mr. Groom adds.

Continue reading “Accomplished Choral & Theater Teacher Melanie Lamoureux Returns to Fenwick”

Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher Rick O’Connor

English Teacher Rick O’Connor brings his broadcasting expertise to Fenwick’s students.

What is your educational background?

RO: I have a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island and a M.A.T. from National-Louis University.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

RO: I was the Executive Producer for “The Steve Cochran Show” on WGN Radio for eight years. Prior to that, I held positions at Fidelity Investments and Putnam Investments in Boston.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

RO: When [Basketball] Coach [Staunton] Peck and I are not discussing the Red Sox and White Sox and other world affairs, we recommend books to each other. The current recommendation is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I just started it, and so far, so good!

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom? Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher Rick O’Connor”

Faculty Focus: Meet Science Teacher and Alumnus Kevin Roche

Science Teacher Kevin Roche is the subject of our monthly series focusing on Fenwick’s fabulous, award-winning faculty.

What is your educational background?

After graduating Fenwick, I attended U of I to get my degree in civil engineering. I also minored in Spanish there. I also am about to get [fingers crossed!!] my Masters in the Art of Teaching Math from Dominican University in May.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

I was a technology consultant for Accenture (a consulting and professional services firm). My main role over those two years was working with electric utilities to better engage customers with their usage information. We designed and implemented online portals and in-home devices that would update in near real time so customers would see how their actions impact their energy. We also worked on the social science side to better motivate customers to save on their energy usage.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment? Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Meet Science Teacher and Alumnus Kevin Roche”

Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher and Alumna Jennifer Ori

English Teacher and alumnae Jennifer Ori ’06 is the subject of our monthly series focusing on Fenwick’s fabulous, award-winning faculty.

What is your educational background?

JO: I earned my B.S. from Marquette University and my M.A. from DePaul University. I had great experiences at both places, but I am especially tied to Marquette where I had great academic advisors and teachers and formed close friendships.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

JO: I taught freshman, sophomore and junior English at Greenfield High School outside of Milwaukee.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

JO: I love coaching tennis with Mr. Draski, my former tennis coach. Getting a “behind the scenes” look at what was happening when I was a player is such a unique experience. We are lucky to work with such a great group of girls and families. Outside of Fenwick, I enjoy cooking and baking, trying new restaurants, and visiting new places. I also enjoy volunteering at Misericordia.

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
Continue reading “Faculty Focus: Meet English Teacher and Alumna Jennifer Ori”

John Polka, Beloved Biology Teacher and Hall-of-Fame Track Coach, Has Retired After 52 Years at Fenwick

Brother Rice alumnus who put the science in service for a half-century was fêted on June 15th.

Science teacher John Polka graduated with a B.A. in biology from St. Mary’s University (Winona, MN) in 1964, taught at a public school for one year, and has been at Fenwick High School ever since. Teaching some 5,000 students at the same school over a 52-year stretch is a milestone that few educators have achieved, but Polka comes by his love of teaching honestly: He is one of nine teachers in his family. The Brother Rice alumnus says he always had an interest in science and has taught biology since day one. Later, he earned a master’s degree in biology from Chicago State University.

Of his students at Fenwick, “They’re alive academically,” says Polka, who resides in River Forest. “They want to learn — it’s not dumb to be smart. And they challenge you; they keep you alive academically.” Polka developed the Ecology of the Rainforest and Marine Biology programs, traveling with students into the rainforests of Costa Rica and Peru. A trip to Belize featured hands-on marine biology lessons. A love of running is as much his passion as anything related to the classroom.

Continue reading “John Polka, Beloved Biology Teacher and Hall-of-Fame Track Coach, Has Retired After 52 Years at Fenwick”

Friar You Should Know

Meet Fenwick’s security ‘chief,’ Jimmy Sperandio ’85.

By Mark Vruno

Most of us know his smiling face at the school’s front reception desk after hours, but few members of the Fenwick community actually know who Jimmy Sperandio is. For example, did you know that Jimmy is a Friar alumnus who graduated from FHS in 1985? Or, that his day job is working as a detective for the Village of Oak Park Police Department (OPPD)?

A 26-year OPPD veteran, Sperandio grew up in Elmwood Park and went to Fenwick with Father Dennis Woerter, O.P. “We both were from Elmwood Park,” Jimmy says. “Fr. Dennis was a year behind me in school. When we were about 12 years old, he was one of the few left-handed batters playing baseball in the neighborhood. I felt bad because I would bean him all the time,” he adds with a laugh.

A few years later, the two were playing soccer for Fenwick and then attended Loras College together in Dubuque, Iowa. “We tease each other but generally have a lot of affection for each other,” Fr. Woerter adds. “Jimmy has always looked out for other people.  He is the one who got me to join our fraternity, and he took me under his wing my first year playing soccer at Loras. One incident I do remember is a game in the mud in the Rock Bowl, the stadium at Loras. I got hurt during the game and was lying on the field for a while. The first person at my side was Jimmy, and he also told the ref to stop the game because I was hurt. I also recall that he helped get me off the field — which was probably quite a sight, considering our height difference!”

Also enrolled at Loras at the time was Laura Docherty, a college counselor in Fenwick’s Student Services Department: “Jimmy was one of our ‘scopes’ in college — one of the best looking guys in our class! Beyond that, though, Jimmy was nice to everyone. He also was a really good soccer player,” Ms. Docherty recalls. Sperandio later transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he completed his criminal-justice studies.

“One of my favorite memories here at Fenwick is that one of our senior football players lived in a rougher neighborhood,” Docherty continues. “The poms and cheerleaders were nervous to go there and ‘TP’ the apartment building before homecoming. Jimmy went and did it. The family and player were so grateful!”

In 2006 Jerry Ruffino, Fenwick’s operations director, transformed the school’s security department into a more formal operation. One of the first things he did was to hire Sperandio as director of security. “Back then, we only needed people at the front desk for about two and a half hours a day,” remembers Ruffino, who himself is a retired Maywood firefighter. Now, he reports, Jimmy’s crew numbers 10 – a combination of present and retired Oak Park police officers – “working for us five and a half hours a day, six days a week. “Almost all of them are Catholic Leaguers, with the exception of a couple public-school converts,” he jokes.

Coffee and Street Law

On May 19, for the second consecutive year, Detective Sperandio helped to organized the “Cop on a Rooftop” fundraiser at the local Dunkin’ Donuts on Roosevelt Road for Special Olympics Illinois. Police departments from more than 100 Illinois municipalities participate in the annual event; the Oak Park store has raised nearly $5,000 the past two years. “We park the Fenwick mini-bus in the Dunkin’ Donuts’ lot and some of our students volunteer, collecting donations and handing out coupons,” Ruffino says. “It’s a great cause.” There is Friars’ tie, too: Special Olympics Illinois Chief Marketing Officer Chris Winston is a Fenwick Dad of Cassidy Winston ’19.

For the past 10 years or so, Sperandio also has been teaching an 11th period, non-credit class at Fenwick called “Street Law.” Typically, anywhere between 10 and 20 student Friars are enrolled. Sometimes it’s difficult for Jimmy to keep smiling, especially with some of the crazy, day-to-day “stuff” he sees on the rough-and-tumble streets as a cop. The recent car jack/murder in Oak Park, for example, really shook him up. But he never loses faith. “Fenwick is my refuge – it always has been,” Jimmy notes. And then, there’s that smile again.

Continue reading “Friar You Should Know”

Fenwick Unveils Trophy Case for Johnny Lattner’s Heisman

Sixteen members of “Papa John’s” clan returned to campus to see his trophy’s new place of honor, prominently situated in the football star’s beloved high school alma mater.

By Mark Vruno

Few people have loved Fenwick High School more than the late John “Johnny” Lattner, Class of 1950, the student-athlete who went on to national stardom on the football field for the University of Notre Dame. In 1953, Lattner won the coveted Heisman Trophy while playing running back for the Fighting Irish. To date, he is the only Illinois high school player to have gone on to win the Heisman.

When Mr. Lattner passed away in early 2016 at the age of 83, his wake was held in the Lawless Gym at Fenwick. At Johnny’s request, his family bequeathed his Heisman Trophy to the school. On Wednesday, May 24, Irish eyes were smiling as three generations of Lattners gathered to see the emotional unveiling of a beautiful case built especially for the only Heisman Trophy that resides in an Illinois high school. “I can hear him,” said Peggy, his widow, as she listened to a recording of her husband’s voice on a pre-ceremony video. (View the Washington Post’s four-minute, “Traveling Heisman” video.)

The event was filled with emotion and pride. “Our Dad grew up on the West Side in a tough neighborhood,” reflected Jack Lattner, one of Johnny’s sons and also a Fenwick alumnus from the Class of ’80. “People discouraged him from going to Notre Dame because they said he wouldn’t play there. He wanted to prove them wrong…. If seeing this trophy in school inspires just one kid that he can do anything, it will have served its purpose here.”


Continue reading “Fenwick Unveils Trophy Case for Johnny Lattner’s Heisman”

Alumni Spotlight: Sheena Quinn ’00


Sheena Quinn ’00 is in her third season as Director of Public Relations for the Chicago White Sox.  She oversees the organization’s public-relations efforts, annual SoxFest fan convention and multicultural community outreach.

“I started in journalism at Marquette University and then jumped to PR my sophomore year after learning more about the industry,” she says of her career path. Quinn is married to Peter Purvis, a musician who tours in the chart-topping Celtic pop band Gaelic Storm. “We live near my family in Edison Park [Chicago] — including my brother and sisters who all graduated from Fenwick — with our rescue dog, Dottie.”

Quinn helped to connect White Sox All-Star pitching ace José Quintana with NBC’s Jimmy Fallon of “The Tonight Show” for a short segment this past April. In the skit, Quintana thanks Fallon for helping him learn English through his show and offers to teach Fallon a little Spanish. The appearance resulted in a wave of positive buzz on social media, reaching a national audience of more than 2.6 million and generating $471,000 in publicity value.

Fenwick was a one of the most pivotal experiences in my development,” Quinn explains. “I met some of my best friends, developed critical learning, problem-solving and teamwork skills through my classroom skills, but also my experience playing for the girls’ basketball team there with Coach Power. Fenwick challenged me to pursue big dreams and gave me the foundation of knowledge to help achieve them.”

Prior to joining the White Sox, Quinn spent nearly 11 years at Public Communication Inc., a national integrated communications agency, where she spearheaded media and special-event campaigns for a variety of entertainment, museum and sports programs, including Shedd Aquarium, the Arena Football League and KeyLime Cove. Quinn contributed to several campaigns, including the opening of Six Flags Great America’s Hurricane Harbor in Gurnee, IL, a campaign that broke the park’s pre-season and season ticket sales record; the Chicago Rush’s Arena Bowl Championship celebration efforts; and the multiple PRSA Silver Anvil Award-winning program to save the nonprofit community health center, Howard Brown Health Center.

Quinn graduated cum laude from Marquette University in Milwaukee with a bachelor’s degree in communications and public relations. She is involved with the Publicity Club of Chicago, the Marquette Ethnic Alumni Association and participated in the Filipino American History Month celebration in October 2016 at the White House, discussing issues of interest to the Filipino-American community with members of the Asian American Pacific Islanders Initiative. 

Go Friars, and go White Sox!