AFenwick Preaching Team Member shares his Ash Wednesday faith reflection.
By Will Chioda ’21
I would like to start off Mass with a small but encouraging note: The last time we had an all-school Mass was almost exactly a year ago today, on Ash Wednesday. This feels like a step in the right direction towards getting closer to normalcy.
If anyone listening has had the immense pleasure of getting to know me, you might know that I am not a person who forgives easily. I tend to hold a harsh and lengthy grudge against a person. Most of the time, this defense mechanism against getting hurt again prevents me from deepening relationships and trusting others. The irony in this is that I am far from a perfect person. I have wronged, hurt and offended many, including a number of our fellow classmates listening right now. However, Jesus calls believers to be forgiving, which is something that I plan on focusing on during this Lenten season.
In my research and reflection on the topic of forgiveness, I noted a subtle connection between the dictionary definition of forgiveness, and a personal favorite prayer of mine, the Peace Prayer. While the dictionary says that forgiveness is the willingness to pardon, St. Francis’s prayer reminds us that it is in pardoning that we are pardoned. In other words, the motivation to forgive others is that, in return, our own wrong-doings are forgiven. In my case, there is no way I can fully love others if, in fear of being hurt again, I focus my attention only on what another person has done wrong. My strongest, most loving and supportive relationships are those in which differences and misdeeds are mutually acknowledged and forgiven.
With the arrival of the Lenten Season comes a call from God. As students of faith, we are presented with the opportunity to foster personal growth and to create positive change. Lent is a reminder to repent, turn to the gospel and seek forgiveness for our sins.
Lent during a pandemic: How Dorothy Day’s story poured on a Dominican Brother like a sweet sun shower.
By Br. Joseph Trout, O.P.
Servant of God Dorothy Day did not support the New Deal. This was an utterly intriguing fact even before the current pandemic and ongoing relief-package debates. Dorothy Day was a fixture in progressive and socialist movements of the early 20th century who converted to Catholicism and continued a life of radical commitment to the poor, nourished by daily Mass and the Rosary. PBS released an outstanding documentary on her a year ago (“Revolution of the Heart“), which I cannot recommend highly enough.
She not only established communities for the poor, she chose to live with them in poverty herself. Yet, this champion of the forgotten initially opposed the New Deal and only gradually came to see it as necessary to help people survive the Great Depression. She was not particularly enthusiastic about it. Why not? And what on earth does this have to do with Lent?
To the first question, Dorothy Day’s logic is fairly straightforward: It is our job to serve our neighbors. Outsourcing the works of mercy to the government erodes the community that binds us together. It eases the consciences of the successful who can fool themselves into thinking, “We have paid our taxes, let someone else deal with those in need!” She feared the depersonalization of the needy and a world where we could talk about “people on welfare” rather than our family, friends, neighbors in need. We build up the Kingdom of God, not Caesar.
I know very little about economics, let alone economic policy. I don’t know what the best way out of a depression or a pandemic is. I have zero policy proposals for you here. It certainly seems like “communities coming together” is too simplistic to solve our problems, but I can also imagine Dorothy Day begging each of us to act now and help those struggling regardless of what the government does. Jesus did not say, “whatever Caesar did not do for one of these least ones …” but rather, “whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” If Jesus and Dorothy Day are to be taken seriously, you and I have some work to do.
What’s Lent Got to Do with It?
What, then, of the second question? What does any of this have to do with Lent? For me, gearing up for Lent has been a challenge. Sure, it calls us into the desert every year — but aren’t we already in the desert? This year, it feels like we are being asked to buy property and take out a mortgage in the desert. This has become our home, and here we are to stay. Just last week I heard someone genuinely asked if schools will be in a hybrid next year and I shuddered a little. How can anyone care about normal penitential practices such as giving up desserts and alcohol after a year of significant sacrifices? What more could God be asking of anyone?
I have to admit when I first asked myself that question, an inner voice rebuked me. Lent happens every year and has for millenia. I don’t know what a season of penance meant in World War II, or during the Depression, or any number of other plagues in history. (I’m sure people prayed a lot!) Much of our world is always vulnerable without easy pleasures. And, to be honest, I haven’t really lost the things I personally enjoy. I spent last Saturday morning reading War and Peace and then running on a treadmill for an hour. I did both of those things for my enjoyment — not penance. I never really liked going out to eat anyway. It’s hard to get too upset about hybrid teaching and not being able to visit family as much when I look at unemployment numbers, death tolls and food-pantry shortages.
Perhaps this is exactly the point. Lent has never been about these little sacrifices in and of themselves. It always has been about love: learning to actually love God and neighbor and to be less self-centered. Now, as someone who can enjoy running on a treadmill, I probably shouldn’t give others specific advice about penitential actions. Human beings have great variety in their pleasures and pains. Whatever penance and sacrifice are, they should always move us outwards. They transform us into a new Christ. To put it simply: Lent is about losing ego, not weight. I am forced to ask myself what my life is all about. What do I hope for? What do I do with what I have been given? Can I stop spending money on my pleasures to find a greater joy in loving my neighbor? That has always been the big question. If it’s unpleasant to be generous, then I need conversion and I need it now.
Dorothy Day captures my imagination this Lent because I’m not sure how generous this pandemic has made me. She chose to live with the poor and openly admitted that it was not always pleasant. She loved them anyway. She refused to outsource love and mercy. I, however, have complained a lot this year (just ask Principal Groom, he has plenty of text messages to confirm this). I have spent a lot of time running, reading and focused on me. Sure, I’ve helped others and prayed rosaries while running, but have I found joy in love? Have I been attentive to the needy? Am I more like Christ than I was a year ago? Whatever I think about the government’s response to this pandemic, have I made the world a better place?
As much as I hate to admit it, it really is time to take up a home in the desert. God will send manna and quail. He’s certainly sent plenty of (frozen) water. He will nourish us. No, this isn’t the promised land. Let’s not lie to ourselves about that. However, the central Christian mystery is that dying with Christ brings us new life; his spirit will breathe new life into our dry bones. This is the sure promise of faith. As impossible as it seems to believe, Jesus asks us to die a bit more to ourselves out here in the desert so that with him we may create a beautiful oasis. He has asked us to be merciful as he is merciful. How will we answer him?
Brother Joe Trout, O.P. (“BroTro”) is Chair of the Theology Department at Fenwick, head coach for the Boys’ Bowling Team and an assistant coach for the Girls’ Cross Country Team. He grew up in Fort Wayne, IN, and graduated from Purdue University in 2009 where he studied Math Education. For a year Br. Trout taught middle school math in Crawfordsville, IN, before entering the Dominican Order in 2010. He completed a Master’s in Theology from Aquinas Institute in 2015, focusing his research on the relationship between morality and psychology based on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas , O.P.
A former class president and Oak Parker writes about trading his orange-and-blue colors of the Youth Huskies football program for the Friars’ black and white in 2011 – and never looking back. But what about that other “black-and-white” issue?
By Aaron Garland ’15
Growing up, I hated Fenwick as a kid. I believe it was because I always imagined myself in an orange and blue uniform at OPRF High School. Playing under the lights on Lake Street was a dream of mine.
I remember in grade school, I went to watch OPRF play Fenwick in a basketball game. The energy was crazy! It was standing room only at the field house. Iman Shumpert [now with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets] was the star at the time, and I felt like he embodied what OPRF was about. Another reason I was attached to OPRF was because I played for the Oak Park Youth Huskies and looked forward to continuing the sport together. A few guys who were a part of that team were Lloyd Yates [OPRF & NU, see below], Christopher Hawthorne [Fenwick ’15] and Antonio Cannon [OPRF & Augustana College].
My journey to Fenwick began with my Mom. Around sixth grade, she would always say, “You’re going to Fenwick.” I didn’t think she was serious until she made me take the Fenwick entrance exam. I didn’t want to do it but, in my heart, I knew it was the best thing for me. The academic expectation at Fenwick scared me. Growing up, when Fenwick High School came up in conversation, the academic prestige was mentioned. I knew Fenwick would challenge me academically. A piece of me wanted to take the easy way out and leave the exam blank on test day. That wasn’t my style, though. I liked challenges!
When it came to test day, I remember it was early on a Saturday morning. I had a basketball practice shortly after, so my plan was to take the exam as quickly as possible so I could go hoop! As I took the test, I hoped that Fenwick would not accept me.
While waiting on my results, I continued my regular routine playing sports and hanging out with friends. Growing up in the Oak Park-River Forest area was special. For the bulk of my childhood, I hung out with mostly white guys and girls with a sprinkling of blacks and Latinos.
I finally got my test results, and I was in! Two of my close friends received letters of acceptance as well. So the three of us were headed to Fenwick. During our first assembly, Mr. Borsch told us to look to our left and right. He went on to say that the person next to us would not be here in four years. I was shocked that he said that and wondered why people didn’t finish. Was it the tough academics? The dress code? Or the rules? As I looked around at the freshman class, I was hoping that I would be one of the few to remain. Sadly, after one and a half years, both my friends were gone. I won’t go into detail on why they didn’t remain; let’s just say Fenwick was not the right fit for them.
I had a couple close calls at Fenwick myself that could have gotten me kicked out. I am grateful for the mercy that was shown by Wallace Pendleton [Fenwick Class of 2005], our Dean of Students at the time. Wallace was a former Division 1 athlete [Akron football] and he is African American. I believe being black in that situation actually helped me and he saw something in me. Thank you, Wallace. At this point, I was tested to expand my friendships beyond the friends I came in with. That same year, my sister transferred to Fenwick from Trinity, so that was a plus. [BONUS BLOG: Read how alumni Maya Garland ’14, Aaron’s sister, defied the odds.]
I played basketball, football and baseball my first year at Fenwick. I later switched to only playing football. I always believed I was a great baseball player, but I knew football was going to be the sport that sent me to college for free. I later switched to only playing football. The summer before my junior year, I received a full-ride scholarship to play at the University of Connecticut.
Playing sports at Fenwick made it easy to be accepted by others. I had some good teammates like Keshaun Smith [Class of 2014], Robert Spillane [’14], Chris Hawthorne ’15 and Richard Schoen ’14, but the list goes on and on. Along with good teammates, I had some great coaches: Gene Nudo (football), Mark Laudadio ’84 (basketball) and Titcus Pettigrew (football). However, I felt bad for the minorities who were not connected with others through sports.
I would be lying if I said racism did not exist at Fenwick. I also wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said everyone there was racist. There was definitely a disconnect between minorities and whites.
‘East Kids’ and ‘West Kids’
I mentioned earlier that I grew up with mostly white guys and girls and a sprinkle of blacks and Latinos. So attending Fenwick, a majority white school, was not new to me. No matter what school I attended growing up, minorities always stuck together.
Naturally, we all feel more comfort when we are around the same race. However, I never wanted to put limits on friendships based on race, so I made an effort to be friends will all races. Personally, I can’t remember anytime that someone called me the ‘N word’ or was openly racist towards me while at Fenwick. I was the class president my junior year, so I guess I had won the hearts of my classmates the first two years. I would have been class president two years in row if I had decided to run my senior year, but I wanted to give someone else the opportunity to add the position to their high school resume. I enjoyed being class president, it gave me a sense of purpose outside of sports. It also helped me get rid of the stereotype that blacks attended Fenwick only for sports. I am not sure if I was the first black class president at Fenwick, but I’m sure I was one of the few.
Racism has been talked about for centuries. Here is my take on it: I believe it starts at home. Kids do outside what they are taught at home. In Fenwick’s situation, a lot of kids come from the western suburbs, such as Burr Ridge, Western Springs and Hinsdale. We called these people “west kids.”
Those neighborhoods lack diversity. So, due to the lack of diversity in those neighborhoods, it leads to kids being awkward around minorities. I remember going to parties in the west suburbs and feeling like I was being “watched” by the parents a little more closely than others. I am not saying everyone from the west suburbs is racist. I believe the interaction is just different with them. It’s not their fault that they grew up in a neighborhood that lacks diversity.
At Fenwick, you had two types of white kids — those who fit in with the minorities and those who didn’t. The kids who fit in seemed to have grown up in the Oak Park, Elmwood Park and Chicago area. Also known as the “east kids,” these students seemed to be more familiar with minorities due to their environment. So, it was not a problem of race but rather with environment.
I am grateful for the experiences I had at Fenwick. My classmates and teachers all made it a unique experience. Of course, academically we learned a lot and were challenged. Fenwick prepared me for college courses at UConn. Honestly, I felt like Fenwick was harder than college academically. I believe this is the reason I was able to graduate from college in three years and serve on the leadership board of the college of liberal arts and sciences.
Aside from the books, it was the people I appreciated learning from, especially Gene Nudo and Rena [Ciancio ’00] McMahon. Coach Nudo told me to be the kind of guy that colleges want to put on the front page of their advertisements. Nudo was my favorite coach throughout my sports career. He loved his players. Ms. McMahon was my counselor. She always believe in me and knew how to listen when I needed someone to talk to. If I wasn’t in class or practicing, I was talking to Rena or Nudo in their offices.
I learned how to be a young man at Fenwick, how to speak, how to treat people and, most importantly, how to keep God in your life. One of the statements we heard at Fenwick was “Everything in moderation,” which has stuck with me until this day!
My first job when I came back from college was with state senator Don Harmon, who is now the president of the Illinois Senate. This job came from the help of Fenwick alumnus Sean Harmon [Class of 2004], Don’s cousin. While working with Senator Harmon, I started coaching freshman football at Fenwick. I am currently working at the Cook County Board of Review as an appeals analyst. I say this to show that Fenwick opened up doors for me when it was time to join the “real world.” I am confident that the prestige of Fenwick will continue to do that. Moving forward, I am going to be a helping hand in bringing diversity, equity and inclusion to Fenwick so that more minorities will have the opportunity to attend one of the best schools in the state.
I encourage students to love one another and find things in common with people who don’t look like you. Whether it be academics, hobbies or sports, we all can relate somehow. Also, make time to have conversations with the adults in the building. There are many great minds in that building, whether it is the lunch ladies or those working in administration, from whom you can learn something.
I want to give thanks to the following people who were not mentioned above. Mrs. Nowicki (math teacher); Mr. Arellano (retired speech teacher); Tony McCormick [’78] and Becky (athletic trainers); Mr. Ruffino (friend, former coach and facilities director); Mr. Ori (admissions director, ’03) and Mrs. (Morris) Ori (English teacher, ’06); Mr. Schoeph (English teacher, ’95); the ladies in Student Services, Ms. Rowe and Ms. Shanahan; Kita (lunch lady); Mark Vruno (football coach); Mrs. Carraher (Spanish teacher, ’96); Mrs. Megall (retired Spanish teacher); and Coach Heldmann (RIP). Lastly, thank you to my Mom and Dad for sending me to Fenwick. I am sure a left a few out … thank you all!
IN ADDITION TO INTERCEPTIONS, HARD-HITTING TACKLES AND ACROBATIC PASS BREAK-UPS, AG’S SENIOR HIGHLIGHTS FROM FENWICK FOOTBALL FEATURE SOME ELECRIFYING KICK RETURNS, TOO!
BONUS BLOG by Maya Garland ’14 (Aaron’s sister):
Read why “west kid” Jack Henrichs ’22 thinks his commute from La Grange, IL, to Fenwick was worth the adjustment his freshman year.
At the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), this young black woman promised herself to stop being naïve and continued proving her critics wrong — on and off the basketball court.
By Maya Garland ’14
High school is an undervalued moment in our lives that is pivotal in shaping and defining who we are to become. Fenwick High School has played such a foundational role in my life. There are many lessons I have learned during my time at Fenwick that will resonate with me forever. Some of these lessons are straightforward, one being “everything in moderation.” But some of the other lessons Fenwick has taught me are somewhat more difficult and perceived as not appropriate to bring up.
I did not realize or understand most of these more challenging teachings as a naïve, sheltered high-schooler. It wasn’t until after graduating from Fenwick that I now can fully understand them. I won’t share the details of them all! But one that stands out to me the most is that not everyone in the halls I walked in saw me as an equal, whether classmates or faculty members who did not perceive me as the other students. To some, my appearance marked me as inadequate or trouble. I can’t count how many times I walked into an advanced class on the first day of school, and other students would ask if I had the right course because they didn’t believe I had the knowledge to be in an honors class.
I am not here to complain or badger this community. More so, I am here to thank you all. My time at Fenwick was the reason that I made one of most significant lifelong promises to myself – that I would never be that naïve again! I cannot neglect the stereotypes that I must defy due to the representation of my skin color. It is a fundamental reason why I walk with my head held high, and I defy all odds of what some might believe a “colored person” should be in everything I do.
For example, I heard that less than 2% of minority women major in engineering in college and less than 1% go on to receive their master’s in engineering. From the first day I stepped on UAB’s college campus, I made sure to let my academic advisor know that I wanted to major in biomedical engineering. Five years later, I not only graduated with my master’s in biomedical engineering, but I was the first student of any race to do so in the shortest amount of time.
Much More than Basketball
I thank some families at Fenwick because they insinuated that basketball will be my only glorified moment in my life and that I would not amount to anything else outside a basketball court. These comments motivated me even more after I had my third major surgery in college and knew there wouldn’t be any more opportunities to play basketball professionally. Instead of being devastated, I didn’t want to give them any possible claim to their remarks. So, I made sure to always keep a smile on my face and let anyone who approaches me about my misfortunate injuries know that my life is bigger than the game of basketball. Shortly after ending my basketball career, I accepted an offer from Amazon as an engineer in their research and development department.
My time at Fenwick was immaculate – it was the first time I thought I was in love (and the second). It instilled confidence in me that I could do anything. It provides more moments to share with my brother, to witness his transformation from the boy who refused to go to Fenwick to the man he is today. [BONUS BLOG: Read alumnus Aaron Garland ’15‘s journey at Fenwick.] Lastly, it introduced the Bible into my life. I owe so much to this school; however, I have only been back twice to visit Fenwick, and both times were to use the gym amenities to train for the upcoming basketball season.
I am reluctant to go back now because I am somewhat disappointed in myself for not disproving the status quo of how a minority teen should act and be. Although I am proud of my accomplishments after Fenwick, I understand that I proved my critics right on multiple occasions during my time at Fenwick. After school, I lived in JUG. I was part of the group of students who almost didn’t graduate due to the number of tardies I accumulated throughout my senior year. Lastly (most disappointing one of them all), my high school grades did not reflect someone who would graduate cum laude in college.
For a very long time, I thought that my upbringing from being raised in River Forest (a predominantly white neighborhood) and attending Trinity High School as a freshman — then transferred to another predominately white school (Fenwick) — affected my connection to other black kids. Most of them didn’t give me the validity of being a young black girl trying to make it because of where I grew up. However, it also negatively instilled an ignorance in me to believe that racism didn’t exist in my life. I honestly thought that the questionable choices I made during high school were seen as youth growing pains by others, and that’s why no one spoke up about my actions. But, now I understand that no one encouraged me to do better because they expected trouble from someone who looked like me. But I also know that some students like me didn’t have the output as myself or my brother.
So, I am writing to several groups today. I am speaking to the minority students at Fenwick to encourage them not to let the stereotypes define them in this world. Use those labels that you are marked with from birth to drive you to do anything you want. I know the struggles many of you face and how you have to fight the assumptions the world labels you with because of your skin color. But you also have to fight the doubt that lies in your head for the simple reason you are a young human being, and we all experience self-criticism or doubt! I know how you fight to concentrate on your school work when there’s too much noise at home; how you keep it together when your family’s having a hard time making ends meet.
But most importantly, I know the strength that is in each one of you. The small incidents that my brother and I both share with you all infuriated us both. We recalled them because they were unfamiliar. These incidents are what the white community doesn’t understand about being a person of color in this nation, that there are daily repulses we face no matter what age we are; wherever it may be, in schools or in workplaces, some people talk over us while others don’t even see us. I encourage you all to never dim your light out of courtesy to anyone. You embody all of the courage and love, all of the hunger and hope that have always defined our reasoning for pushing forward.
I am also speaking to the majority in the Fenwick community. Fenwick is in a unique position to not allow this to continue in its school environment. The potential leaders that can be molded from the influence Fenwick provides haven’t even begun to scratch its surface. Therefore, I am challenging all of you in this community to continue to grow and evolve. There has never been a more epic state of time, with the controversies we face in this country, to revolutionize the future minds to come!
READ THE GUEST BHM BLOG BY MAYA’S BROTHER, AARON GARLAND ’14:
My journey to Fenwick was different from my fellow classmates. Unlike most of them, I didn’t have any family members who were Fenwick alumni. I remember vividly, on the first day of school, one of my classmates telling me how his aunt, uncle, parents and even cousins all attended Fenwick. Weird, right? Well, to me it was. My mantra is live your own life and not follow in the footsteps of others, even if they are your family members. It’s okay to create your own path and paint your own canvas.
It all started in eighth grade when I was invited to try out for Nothing But Net, one of the top AAU programs in the state. I managed to have a great tryout and impressed all the players as well as the coaches, which eventually led to a permanent spot on the team. One player who I particularly seemed to develop a rapport with was Xavier Humphrey [also Class of 2009], who was ranked as one of the top players in the state. To this day, he is still one of my best friends.
After practice, Xavier and his father asked what high school I planned to attend. At the time, I was lightly getting recruited by Von Steuben and Lane Tech, but the Humphreys insisted I should take the exam at Fenwick because the school is known for academics and athletics. At first, I was resistant since I valued an urban and diverse experience, which I already had in public school. However, my mother, who was a special-education teacher, and father, who was a private investigator, encouraged me to explore Fenwick. They always believed that exposure leads to expansion. After shadowing at Fenwick, I realized it could be a solid option. I took the exam along with Xavier; we both passed, and it was a done deal: We were officially Friars.
I didn’t play varsity basketball as a freshman but played on the sophomore team. Coach Thies, now Athletic Director at Fenwick [and a Class of ’99 alumnus], was one of the first coaches at the school who believed in my basketball abilities. We finished the year with an impressive record of 27-1. After my freshman year, Coach Quinn decided that I was ready for the challenge and bumped me up to the varsity team. My playing time fluctuated my sophomore year, but my junior senior years are where I started to develop my brand. Throughout my final two years, we won many games and cracked the Top 15 state rankings at one point during both seasons. Coach Q, who pushed and challenged me every, single day in practice (and even kicked me out a few times), was really instrumental in helping me achieve my childhood dream by receiving a full, athletic Division 1 scholarship to the University of Albany.
As an African-American male, I had many challenging and eye-opening experiences at Fenwick. Some were good and some were not so good. Mr. Groom, now Principal of Fenwick, to this day still reminds me that I shouldn’t have stopped playing baseball. He was totally right, but he didn’t know the real reason why I stopped playing. Unfortunately, there was an incident where I was called a derogatory word during practice. It left a sour taste in my mouth, not only because this was the first time I experienced racism, but it came from someone I considered to be a friend.
The social issues we continue to face today have, sadly, always been around and are deeply ingrained for many. It was unfortunate that my experience happened but, hopefully, it can be a lesson for current students to treat each other with respect and dignity — independent of race, socioeconomic background or other factors that make us diverse. I know the person involved in the incident contradicts what Fenwick stands for. However, to mitigate these types of experiences, students should focus on having strong, honest and constructive communication about injustice at home, within their community and at Fenwick.
Fenwick has taught me many valuable life lessons, and I will forever be indebted to the school. Punctuality, discipline, work ethic, knowing your self-worth, social skills, integrity, humility, empathy and earning respect are some of the qualities that I learned throughout my four years. Education was paramount in my household, as my mother was a teacher and sister attended Stanford University and then received her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. I knew in order to be challenged academically, Fenwick’s rigorous curriculum was what I needed.
Not only was education a key component in my decision to attend Fenwick. I knew that graduating would open doors and create so many job opportunities for me in the future. Fenwick has a robust network and an incredible amount of resources that will support anyone in attaining their personal and career goals. After being laid off due to COVID-19 last March, Coach Quinn connected me with Peter Durkin, Director of Alumni Relations [and Class of ’03], who then connected me with other Friars to help find a new opportunity. Within days, Peter introduced me to Mike Healy (Class of ’03), who had recently opened up a new social club called Guild Row and was looking for a salesman. We spoke over the phone a couple of times and, within a week, he offered me a job. The saying “Once a Friar, always a Friar” didn’t resonate with me until I noticed the support from all alumni who went above and beyond to help me secure a job. Therefore, I will always be indebted to the school and appreciative of what the Fenwick community has done for me thus far.
I want to thank Coach Thies, Coach Quinn, Mr. Groom, Coach Laudadio, Mrs. Carraher and Father Joe for making my experience at Fenwick worthwhile and memorable. Friar Up!
Last month, I received a truly extraordinary Christmas gift. My eight-year-old daughter, Josie, came running into the kitchen to tell me that “The Bears are on the phone.” I almost fell over. Perhaps the seeds were sewn during my Fenwick days cheering for the Black and White, or when I legally became a “SAYERS” in 2010, but I am now, quite unbelievably, the most devoted Bears fan that I know. On Mondays during football season, you will find me driving around town in my Honda Odyssey full of little kids, listening to the game recap on 670 the SCORE. It’s only a matter of time until I become a regular caller.
Needless to say, having The Bears call me on the day before Christmas Eve was an unexpected thrill. But the message I received when I picked up the phone was nothing short of miraculous. The Bears had selected Devices 4 the Disabled, a local non-profit organization, as their 2020 Community All Pros Charity, an honor that comes with a transformative gift of $101,000.
The mission of Devices 4 the Disabled’s (D4D) is to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the medical equipment they need. Our model is simple. We refurbish used medical equipment and provide it for free to those who need it most: those without insurance, and those with limited financial resources. However, behind this simplicity is life-changing work. Without proper medical equipment, people are essentially imprisoned in their environment without the ability to live independent, healthy lives.
When it feels like no one can help, D4D steps in. Sadly, we often see people in the wake of tragedy: a gunshot, a sudden stroke, a devastating diagnosis has turned a family’s world upside down. D4D meets people in this space and creates a bridge to mobility, freedom and independence. Read on for the story of a remarkable woman who is taking back her life.
In the summer of 2018, Tania was a bright, social 22-year-old woman who loved children. She dreamed of being a mother. In one horrible moment, Tania’s life was permanently changed. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time: hit by three bullets intended for someone else.
After multiple surgeries, Tania survived, but she is paralyzed from the neck down, breathing through a ventilator. She cannot walk, turn herself in bed, sit up or breathe on her own. Tania is dependent on all self-care, including feeding and dressing. Her life has been transformed.
The impact of this violence devastated Tania’s family. Her mother, eight months pregnant, rushed to the hospital to find her oldest child in critical condition. How would she be able to care for Tania while also caring for a baby and two other children? To compound this tragedy, Tania’s family did not have health insurance or the financial resources to acquire the medical equipment necessary to bring her home safely. Without these critical tools, Tania’s life expectancy outside of this hospital could be one to two years.
After months of recovery, Tania was finally able to begin the therapy that would allow her to go home. To do this, she needed a complex, customized power wheelchair. Clearly, Tania’s family could not afford such a sophisticated piece of medical equipment. And without it, Tania’s therapy could not begin.
D4D steps in
D4D had a complex power wheelchair in its warehouse donated by the ALS Society. We made all of the necessary modifications and adjustments so that the wheelchair was appropriate for Tania. We couldn’t wait to surprise Tania with her new chair.
On the day the chair was delivered, Tania’s hospital room was filled with doctors, nurses and therapists awaiting the arrival of the surprise. Tania’s mother was there. We had been told that mom had never cried in front of Tania. She said she needed to be strong for her daughter. When we arrived with Tania’s new wheelchair, mom took one look and broke down crying. Her daughter would have a life. Her daughter could begin the long journey home.
Tania has now spent 14 months in the hospital. Due to COVID restrictions, she has not had the comfort of visitors (even her mother) since March. Tania desperately awaits the day that she can come home, to live with her family, to meet her 13-month-old sister. D4D continues to work hard to bring that day closer.
D4D recognized that in order to be safely discharged, Tania would require several pieces of medical equipment besides the wheelchair. We got to work. We delivered an electrical hospital bed and a patient lift to help her mother transfer Tania from the hospital bed to her wheelchair. We also installed a porch lift that would enable Tania to get into her home from street level. Seeing this equipment in her home brought Tania’s mother to tears once more. A miracle was happening. Her little girl could finally come home.
Fenwick alumna Claire Moroni Sayers (Class of 1998) is the Director of Development for Devices 4 the Disabled, a Chicago non-profit that provides medical equipment to those in need. Mrs. Sayers lives in Elmhurst with her husband, Nick, and three future Friars: Josephine (’30), Juliette (’32) and Genevieve (’35). She invites all of Friar Nation to join the Bears and become a D4D partner. Email her with questions at Claire.email@example.com.
Fenwick student Vaughn-Regan Bledsoe ’21, a resident of Maywood, IL, has been named a LINK Unlimited Class of 2021 QuestBridge Match Scholar. Ms. Bledsoe, a Friars’ Cheerleading Team captain and Black Student Union president, will attend Duke University on a full scholarship!
QuestBridge, a national nonprofit based in Palo Alto, CA, connects some of the nation’s most exceptional youth with leading institutions of higher education and further life opportunities. Last year, QuestBridge received more than 18,500 applications. After a two-step application process, Bledsoe was chosen as one of only 1,464 QuestBridge Match Scholarship Recipients (an 8% acceptance rate). As a QuestBridge Scholar, her financial-aid package provided by Duke University covers tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and travel expenses for all four years.
“I’m incredibly excited for Vaughn and not at all surprised that she was chosen as a QuestBridge Match Scholar,” says Timeica E. Bethel-Macaire, the director of post-secondary success and support at LINK Unlimited Scholars and Bledsoe’s nominator. “She spent countless hours working on her application and researching universities. I’ve been an educator and mentor for the last 10 years, and I’ve met very few students as conscientious and determined as Vaughn!”
Ms. Bethel-Macaire adds that Bledsoe fully embodies the LINK core values: integrity, resilience, accountability, drive, selflessness and intellectual curiosity. “Vaughn is a leader among her peers [who] received the LINK All Around Outstanding Scholar Award last year. She is so intelligent, deserving, reflective and mature beyond her years. I’m thrilled that Vaughn will be able to attend her top choice university on a full-ride scholarship, especially as a first-generation college student.” Duke is one of 42 colleges and universities partnering with QuestBridge. Brown and USC also were on Bledsoe’s short list.
Steve Napolitano, her LINK mentor, adds: “Upon meeting Vaughn for the first time, I was entirely convinced that she would not only excel academically but that she would embrace the full Fenwick experience,” says Mr. Napolitano, who is the past-parent of a Friar (son, Vince ’13) and a coporate partner in the Chicago office of law firm Kirkland & Ellis. “She has exceeded every possible expectation with both her intellect and passionate and infectious personality. She will be an immeasurable asset to Fenwick going forward. My wife, Karen, and I are tremendously proud of her. I hope we were able to contribute in small measure to her success, but most of it rests with Vaughn herself and with her mother, Annette. Vaughn is simply unique!”
Bledsoe’s mother, Annette Ford, learned about LINK Unlimited Scholars when her daughter was an 8th-grader at Ascension Catholic School in Oak Park. At the time, Ms. Ford was inquiring about scholarships (to Fenwick), and fellow parents encouraged her to investigate the opportunities available through LINK in Chicago. Vaughn had strong grades when she began the initial interview process four years ago and was among the approximately 50 children (of the 200 or so who applied) to receive partial tuition scholarships at private and charter secondary schools in the Chicago area. At Fenwick, she is the recipient of the Pat and Linda O’Brien Scholarship. “What exciting news! Linda and I feel honored to be part of Vaughn’s success, and we are confident her Fenwick education will serve her well at Duke,” says Mr. O’Brien ’59, who is the retired VP of finance at Utilities, Inc.
Once at Fenwick, the then 14-year-old began “preparing for college in my freshman year,” reports Bledsoe, who has taken a challenging course load with honors and advanced-placement (AP) classes. She attended LINK career/college panels and, before COVID-19, its ACT and SAT prep events. The organization’s “Saturday Academy” is two hours packed with seminars and speakers, she explains. Last February, Bledsoe applied for QuestBridge’s program and was accepted in May 2020. Then, the waiting began.
“This scholarship is highly competitive: about 18,000 kids apply nationally,” says Bledsoe, who notes that she was not overly confident about her chances. QuestBridge whittled it down to 6,000, then 1,000 students. Early last December, Vaughn text-chatted with other students whom she had met through the applicant pool. With nervous anticipation, she opened a letter on the QuestBridge online portal informing her that she had won a scholarship. “I literally screamed [from excitement],” recalls the driven 17-year-old.
Her mom was not so surprised. “I knew in my heart that Vaughn would go to a good college,” Ms. Ford shares. “But when I heard her scream like that, at first I thought something was wrong. Then we huddled together in a joyful hug. She has worked so hard and did it all on her own.” Their daughter-mother bond remains tight-knit. “At first, I didn’t like the idea of Vaughn having a mentor,” mom admits. “I was afraid that someone would come into her life and ‘replace’ me.” After opening up her mind, however, she realizes it was the best course of action for her child’s future: “Now, I love LINK.”
Fenwick College Counselor Ms. Igho Oraka ’03 adds: “Vaughn has been a pleasure, and the Fenwick community is a better place with her presence and commitment. Her sense of self and leadership will be missed, but I know she is needed at Duke, and we are excited to see what is next for her!”
How Friar alumni are changing the face of cancer support with buddhi.
By alumna guest blogger Kathleen Brown ’00
Starting a new school without many friends is rough. Doing it while 14 years old and in cancer treatment out of state was less than ideal. For the first four months at Fenwick, I was back and forth between Chicago and Memphis — where St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is based — receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments for a rare form of bone cancer.
Meanwhile, I tried to fit in with my new classmates and keep my illness, wig and scars under wraps, somewhat unsuccessfully. It helped having an older brother (Kevin Brown ’98*) there to look out for me, but ultimately until I started to open up about what I was going through, it was challenging for me to make genuine connections and begin to heal. It was in the Fenwick cafeteria where I told new friends about my illness, and in the women’s bathroom adjacent where I exposed my wig and began to see that, although I was different in some ways, we were all going through something.
As I looked forward to my final chemotherapy treatment in early December freshman year — ready to put cancer behind me — I was unprepared for the mental-health crisis compounded by the loss of my guardian angel, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, to a cancer recurrence two weeks before.
I was fortunate enough to meet Cardinal Bernardin at the start of my cancer journey, and we became pen pals; he was one of the only people I felt comfortable opening up to about my real feelings. It felt like “my friend Joe” and I understood each other.
Several months into my treatment protocol, while at the local children’s hospital where we met, I developed a staph infection that eventually sent my body into septic shock. Without much hope of my survival, my parents asked him to perform the Anointing of the Sick. Miraculously, my vitals stabilized and they were able to transfer my care to St. Jude, where we stayed connected through letters and phone calls. (This was before the days of the Internet, cell phones and social media!) Although I didn’t have any friends my age in cancer treatment, it was comforting to know that he had been through it and, as a survivor, did so much to support others.
When I learned of his passing on November 14th, the grief and loss I felt was suffocating. Until then, as a naive teenager, cancer had been an inconvenience; a temporary setback. I could not comprehend how the disease could take this incredible man’s life and spare my own. While my family and friends prepared to celebrate the end of my treatment and Christmas at home, I put on a brave face — and quietly plotted to end my life.
Survivor’s guilt is one of the many mental-health side effects that cancer patients experience and are ill-equipped to manage on their own. If I expressed how I really felt — sad, scared sh!tless, angry, anxious — how would it make my loved ones feel? For so many of us, it feels like we’re the only one in pain, but suffering is part of the shared human experience.
I credit my family, friends and teachers at Fenwick, and social activities I engaged in (Student Council, softball, basketball, Campus Ministry and Kairos) for getting me through my darkest days. Once I began to share, the world seemed to open up, and I got more comfortable being myself, scars and all. After I was declared “cancer-free,” I got involved in giving back to the community, through a variety of fundraising activities for St. Jude and as a mentor to many other patients. As a public speaker, volunteer, event organizer and board member, I found fulfillment in serving others, and living Fenwick values to lead, achieve and serve. Despite finding success in advertising sales for over a decade with Comcast and Disney/ESPN, I yearned to do more with St. Jude and accepted a fundraising leadership position to work for a fellow Friar (Jenny DiBenedetto-McKenna ’97) in 2014, where I spent five years in field event and corporate development — a true dream job.
During my time fundraising for St. Jude, I got to meet thousands of people impacted by cancer. With our shared experience; I learned how many were also putting on a brave face, quietly suffering in silence while their friends and family had no idea about their private struggles. On nights and weekends, I sketched ideas of a “pipe dream” business plan for a platform that would bridge the divide between patients and well-intentioned supporters; where patients in treatment and recovery could connect with each other in an online community with events and resources that felt more fun and upbeat — like a place you wanted to go back to. And users would be empowered to share how they were feeling with a social tool, complete with helpful prompts for family and friends to support them with love notes or wellness wallet funds that could be redeemed for things like a meditation app or a therapy session.
I was reminded about the gift of wellness in January 2019, when results from a secondary cancer biopsy came back clear of disease, and decided to leave my job at St. Jude and go all-in to make buddhi (“to be awake”) a reality, because when it comes to coping with cancer, we could all use a bud. After months of research and development, I raised capital (from a number of Friar alumni!) to build the platform and make strategic hires to launch in October 2020, with the first being our Community Director, who also happens to be my sister, Meagan Brown ’07.
While we are just getting started, with social and marketplace features coming in the first quarter of 2021, buddhi has already made a big impact in the lives of thousands of cancer thrivers and supporters. None of it would be possible if not for support from the Fenwick community and the values instilled in us to lead with service. I have audacious goals for what buddhi can accomplish, because the need is both great and urgent, given compounded isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one should have to go through cancer alone, and I am reminded daily of the power of community to heal.
* Brian ’95, Kevin ’98, Kathleen ’00 and Meagan Brown ’07 are the children of Mary Kay and Fenwick alumnus/Hall of Famer Pete Brown ’71, whose father, Roger, was a proud member of the Friars’ Class of 1946.
By Ted Londos (Originally published in the Oak Leaves newspaper, April 1972)
“There will always be a Fenwick. Yes indeed, the prep-renowned Friars will continue to make the usual good brand of history in both the academic and sports world for many years to come.”
These were the unequivocal utterances of youthful, brilliant Richard B. Kennedy , assistant principal of this great school when interviewed by this reporter.
My two-hour-long visit to Friarland was dictated by an abundance of disturbing rumors that Fenwick would eventually meet the same fate that befell a few of their Catholic high school counterparts, because of dire pecuniary straits. Well, after much talk and probing with other official Fenwick sources – I was assured, in no uncertain language, this just ain’t so!
Tony Lawless and Dan O’Brien in unison couldn’t conceive of anyone entertaining the idea of an exodus for the Friars from the Catholic prep ranks. Fenwick’s lofty status in the all-important fields of academics and athletics precludes such idle chatter. This writer evokes an Amen.
How many Oak Park-River Forest citizens know the splendid history of Fenwick?
I know that over the many, many years – folk from everywhere marveled at the architectural beauty of Fenwick High School. Our people exuded pride, and the school building was acclaimed by countless as “the most esthetic looking edifice in our village.” It is located on Washington Blvd., between Scoville and East avenues.
Variety is given in its 300-foot length by the wall in front of the gymnasium, the extended tower in the center of the building, and the castellated effect in the main entrance. Its three stories contain 19 class rooms, laboratories, library, cafeteria, swimming pool and gymnasium. Modern equipment in class rooms and laboratories add to the efficiency of its educational facilities.
Fenwick owes its birth to an invitation extended in 1928 by George Cardinal Mundelein, Archbishop of Chicago; to the Dominican Fathers, and the founding principal, the Rev. Leo C. Gainor, to erect and administer a new high school to serve the educational needs to the rapidly growing west side of Chicago and its western suburbs. The school, begun in November, 1928, was finished in August of 1929 and opened its doors to the first students in September of the same year.
Fenwick was chosen as its name in honor of the pioneer Dominican in the United States and the first Bishop of Cincinnati, Edward Dominic Fenwick, whose educational ideals and labors contributed so much to the early Catholic history of the Middle West.
It’s common knowledge that Fenwick is primarily a day school for boys – offering every facility for the highest and broadest mental culture. The big aim is to provide a thoroughly dependable foundation in solid elemental subjects conducive for college and for life in the world.
Fenwick’s faculty is second to none in the world of storied three or four R’s and higher learning. In addition to regular collegiate work – they have followed the seven year course of philosophical and theological subjects in the various Dominican Houses of Studies and have made special studies for advanced degrees in leading Catholic and European universities.
In the 43 years of its existence, Fenwick’s record in the field of sports can be tagged as truly spectacular – one of the finest athletic programs in the United States – always under the superlative coaching guidance of the great Tony Lawless. More important, countless members of its graduating classes have won exceptional recognition and honors in colleges throughout the United States. Add to this the many, many athletes who brought fame to their respective colleges as well as to the Friars [and] to Oak Park.
At the University of Notre Dame, out of representatives of 800 preparatory and secondary schools, the graduates of Fenwick have consistently ranked first in group excellence. At Xavier and Holy Cross, Fenwick alumni attained a Percentile mark of 90.9 percent, to rank second among graduates of 50 schools. Similar records at Purdue, St. Benedicts, and Providence College bear strong evidence of the type of training received at Fenwick and of the scholastic ability of its graduates.
We fervently pray and hope that this still-young school will ever remain the major force in the education and formation of the young men of Oak Park and the Chicago area.
closest friend for 46 years summed up the great Coach’s qualities in an address
to Friar student-athletes one month after his death at age 73.
By late coach/trainer Dan O’Brien ’34 (Fenwick Sports Banquet, December 1976)
1929, 250 people applied for the position of athletic director at Fenwick High
School, an all-boys Catholic school opening in September of that year. Principal/President
Fr. Leo Gainor, O.P. selected 26-year-old Anthony R. Lawless to direct the new
school’s athletic program. From Peoria, IL, Mr. Lawless was a graduate of
Loyola University, Chicago, and the lone layperson among the then all-Dominican
faculty and staff. He was the Friars’ head football coach from 1929-56 (record:
177-43-8). A member of the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame, Lawless also was
Fenwick’s head basketball coach (1929-47) and founded the Chicago Catholic
League Coaches Association.
There comes a time in the life of every athlete when
he draws back and takes a hard look at his experiences in order to assess the
returns that might have been. His initial inclination will be to recall the
emotional peaks, the victories: the win over Loyola’s football team; the cross
country effort against Gordon Tech; the golf team’s close finish in the league
and district competition; our tennis team’s dramatic victory in straight sets.
It is perfectly natural to cling to these memories for personal satisfaction.
However, your more meaningful returns – rewards that
will affect your lifestyle and personality – will come in the form of your
character-information. This type of return will, in most cases, come as the
result of behavior patterns formed from personal contacts – benefits derived
from the regard you have for your leader or coach. No doubt most of you, presumably,
have developed this type of respect for your respective coaches.
I believe it is very timely to consider the returns we
have received from our association with the incomparable Tony Lawless. This
very unusual man had personal characteristics that are rare by any standard of
reference. His lifestyle was anything but commonplace; it was truly unique.
Father Conley’s beautiful homily reflected insight into Tony’s character in his
peak years as a coach. My forty-six years with him have given me a singular
opportunity to discern what made him tick and the legacy he has left us.
A Supreme Court justice said he learned in his youth a
lesson that remained indelible throughout his life: human happiness is not
gained from a series of pleasures but from total dedication to a goal above and
An even greater authority said: “He who loses his life
shall find it; he who finds his life shall lose it.” It is a lesson of history
that happiness comes only to those who surrender themselves to a work greater
than themselves. There is no greater delight than to feel necessary to
something you love. A young mother, even if ill herself, when walking the floor
at midnight with her sick infant, is doing what she prefers to all else in the
world. Children never understand mother until they have children of their own.
Tony would have no trouble discerning that young mother’s feelings.
Father Gainor, the founding principal of Fenwick and a
priest of exceptional talent and insight – who brought Tony to Fenwick – had a “rule
of thumb” in judging the potential value of a student or employee. He believed
that a person, regardless of his shortcomings, had value to Fenwick if he had
demonstrated love for Fenwick. Tony Lawless was close to the heart of that
Tony truly loved his work in a most extraordinary way;
he really relished coming to work in the morning. The size of his salary was of
little or no consideration with him. He filled his every day in a work he
deeply loved; being paid for it was a bonus.
Tony was a romantic at heart. While still very young, he fell in love with Fenwick and all it stood for. To the very end, that love was undiminished. What he left us came from a great heart in love with a sublime dream.