While students sleep in, instructors and school administrators reflect on the spiritual side of their teaching ministry.
By Brother John Steilberg, O.P.
During the course of the school year, the faculty and staff at Fenwick participate in Dominican Formation Days. These late-start dates for students are an opportunity for the faculty and staff to reflect on who we are as a Catholic and Dominican school. Dominican formation stems from our need for ongoing education and formation in Catholic values vital to the mission of our school. We would like to share some thoughts shared by our faculty and staff after attending our most recent Dominican formation day in February.
One faculty member commented, “Dominican formation helps us better understand the Dominican tradition central to our school identity and helps us strengthen community with one another.” Another faculty relayed these sentiments: “It is important for us to participate in Dominican formation so that we can continue to grow spiritually as a community and to continue to remind us of our mission.” Another stressed the need to extend our mission to how we live, teach and preach here at Fenwick every day. “I would see the purpose as continuing to reflect on how we can best understand and live out our Catholic Dominican identity in specific ways.”
Dominican formation centers on the Four Pillars of Dominican Life:
The Four Pillars are a descriptive way of explaining the essence of and daily practice of Dominican life. The Dominican friars here at Fenwick live out the pillars in a very intentional way and oftentimes in a very external way. But all of our faculty and staff, in a wide diversity of actions, live out the pillars as part of their particular Christian vocation.
“Our job at Fenwick is to do more than teach and support academically, but to show through our actions the meaning of Christ’s love.”
One teacher described this shared mission of both the Dominican friars and the staff in this way, “As teachers, we must be able to model the Dominican Catholic values of the school.” Another teacher asserted, “Also, to remind us that our job at Fenwick is to do more than teach and support academically, but to show through our actions the meaning of Christ’s love.”
The Fenwick Community
Each year, our Dominican formation programs focus on one of the four pillars in particular. This year we reflected on “community,” how we are called by God to live together as Christian people. As a community, we discussed questions such as:
What is the most important thing we do that brings us together as a community?
What issues divide us at times?
What items do we need to work on?
We also examined where are the margins of our community are and how we can bring the gospel message to those margins. Our conversation was heartfelt and lively around these difficult questions.
What Makes Fenwick Different?
In later meetings we discussed our identity as a Catholic school. What makes us different, being Catholic and Dominican, from other schools in the area? One teacher explained it this way: “Every school prepares its students to lead, achieve and serve. Not every school’s mission is predicated upon a deep theological commitment to the dignity of the human person.” One faculty member explained, “to be Catholic is to be counter-cultural. Our identity and our values need to be true to who we are — even though that may not be popular or generally accepted.”
“Not every school’s mission is predicated upon a deep theological commitment to the dignity of the human person.”
We then discussed how to avoid going too far in emphasizing what makes us different, so that we can preach Jesus’ universal message of the gospel that is meant for all of mankind. This can be a challenging balance: to be true to our Catholic identity yet open to diversity, welcoming to all people, and proclaiming God’s mercy available to every person.
Finally, we discussed where God is in this picture here at Fenwick. Faculty members expressed this idea: “God is [present] in relationships with other people, with our students and our colleagues.”
As we strive to build a faith community, what does that say about what we believe about God? What is God asking of us, as a faith community, as a high school? These are challenging questions. These are questions that may take a lifetime to answer. But that is what we are about here at Fenwick. We seek the Truth.
And yet another differentiator that makes Fenwick special is that six administrators also teach courses to students.
This last point of differentiation is akin to the difference at universities and colleges where actual professors teach under-graduate classes (as opposed to those taught by teaching assistants enrolled in graduate school). The six Fenwick administrators in the classroom are (from left in the above photo):
Director of Scheduling & Student Data Mickey Collins ’03 – Accelerated Anatomy
Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton – Orchestra Director
Principal Peter Groom – Foreign Policy (History)
President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P., PhD – Dominican Spirituality (Theology)
Assistant Principal Eleanor Comiskey ’06 – Algebra
Student Services/Enrollment Director James Quaid, PhD – Advanced Placement U.S. History
Every weekday afternoon for 45 minutes, you won’t find Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. in his office or on the phone. Instead, he’s in a classroom teaching Theology (Dominican Spiritualty) to senior students. Principal Peter Groom, who teaches History (Foreign Policy), has said that teaching and interacting with students in the classroom is the highlight of his work day. What is it that they enjoy about the teaching portion of their day-to-day responsibilities?
“Teaching is a way for me to be connected to the students on a personal level,” explains alumnus Michael “Mickey” Collins ’03, who teaches a science course in Accelerated Anatomy when he’s not overseeing the scheduling and data of Fenwick students. “I spend most of my time seeing names, test scores, course requests and schedules of students, but not as much face-to-face [time] with those students,” Mr. Collins adds.
“I think the fact that our administrators still teach keeps them more connected than most administrators at other schools.” – Assistant Principal/Orchestra Director Laura Pendleton
Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton notes, “The unique thing about being an education administrator is that none of us chose this profession. We all chose to be teachers first and then ended up in administration for a variety of reasons and circumstances. To be able to work in administration and continue to teach, which was my first passion, is a gift,” says Ms. Pendleton, who also is Fenwick’s Orchestra Director. “It takes you back to your early career, and I enjoy having the time working with the students vs. the adults. They keep you close to the pulse of the school.”
Why They Teach
“I think the fact that our administrators still teach keeps them more connected than most administrators at other schools,” Pendleton continues. “Also, most days teaching my class is a stress reliever!
“It is important for school leaders to stay connected with the student body because,” she says, “first and foremost, we are here for them. I can imagine that if you are not in front of students every day you might start to get a little disconnected. Teaching my own class is very beneficial for me when supervising teachers. Being in their classroom becomes more than just an isolated event and more of a collaboration: I’m also in a classroom with these students every day; I have the same issues. It gives us a very up-to-date understanding of what our teachers are going through. We have a unique student body here at Fenwick, and it’s important to know their needs specifically.”
Dr. James Quaid, former Fenwick Principal and current Director of Student Services & Enrollment, returned to Fenwick this school year. “I began my career as a teacher and always loved working with students as a teacher, coach and/or moderator,” Dr. Quaid shares. “Administrative work involves planning and finding ways to help students, teachers and parents/guardians. It also involves a lot of reaction to issues in which people are frustrated or upset. When I am in a classroom, I get to work in a very positive environment and enjoy watching students learn and grow. If you plan, communicate and react properly, there really are not that many negative things that happen. For one period each day I can just enjoy the experience.”
Last week a group of Fenwick “snowbird” alumni gathered in the Arizona desert on March 15 to watch the Chicago Cubs defeat the White Sox under partly sunny skies and 71-degree temperatures. The school’s baseball and softball teams have caught the warmer-weather bug, too, as the annual spring athlete migration is set to begin.
The evening before the crosstown-classic rivalry at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ, a handful of faithful fans braved howling winds and biting, 43-degree temps to watch the Friar boys’ baseball team demolish Ridgewood’s Rebels from Norridge/Harwood Heights by a score of 15-2. It was 2019 opening night under the lights at Triton College.
The highlight was senior Lucas Kolovitz (above, in Florida last year), a D1 recruit committed to Purdue University – Fort Wayne, blasting a towering homerun that, with Mother Nature’s assistance, traveled nearly 400 feet into the angry, River Grove sky. (Junior Will Hendricks also smashed a triple, while fellow junior Greyson Cone’s cannon-like arm was on display at third base.) The windy win marked number 817 for Varsity Baseball Coach Dave Hogan, who is entering his 39th season as the Friars’ skipper. Coach Hogan has tallied the second most baseball victories at one school in Illinois, dating back to 1980.
“We have eight games scheduled in Florida, three of them in the Atlanta Braves’ spring training big-league stadium,” reports Assistant Varsity Coach and baseball alumnus Kyle Kmiecik ’00. On Monday, March 25, the top end of a double-header features the cousins Groom on the mound: Fenwick senior pitcher Jimmy Groom will try to match heat with his younger, flame-throwing cousin Tommy: a right-handed junior who hurls 90-mph fastballs for Bishop Moore out of Orlando. (Tommy’s father, Chris, taught Spanish at Fenwick in 1994-96, Principal Groom says of his brother. “He also coached sophomore baseball,” reports Mr. Groom.)
The projected high temperature for game day is a balmy 82 degrees at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The nightcap pits the Friars against the Lions of Orange High School from Pepper Pike, Ohio, near Cleveland.
The following evening Fenwick faces the Quakers of Sidwell Friends, a selective, private school in the Washington, D.C.- Bethesda, Maryland area. Next up on Wednesday is another Quaker team from Philadelphia: the William Penn Charter School; on Thursday it’s the “Fords” from the all-boys Haveford School, also in Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia).
Our Chicago-area boys close out their trip in the sun with a mid-day double-header on Friday, March 29: Game 1 (10:30 a.m.) brings competition from the Patriots of Germantown Academy (Washington, PA), originally called the Union School and dating back to 1759. Game 2 (first pitch at 1 p.m.) is against the Bears of Landon School, a 90-year-old, college-prep school situated in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.
It was about the time that Anne was killed that a show called “The Newsroom” came out. Aaron Sorkin started his hit HBO show with a piercing diatribe by the star Will McAvoy, contesting, “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”
I concur; polarizing viewpoints from those that refuse to find the middle ground, lackluster statistics on our health, academic performance, and mass incarceration, and embarrassing stories about our elected leaders are a few of the examples that have me nodding along with the tirade. The character played by Jeff Daniels ends his rant hopefully with, “but it can be.”
Anne is my ‘but it can be.’
Anne was killed in a terrorist attack delivering books to a local school in the Zabul Province of Afghanistan as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer in 2013. She was a part of the United States’ diplomacy efforts to create lasting and sustainable peace in Afghanistan by fostering positive relationships. Anne died a martyr-like death, being killed while spreading nothing but goodness; she was delivering books to young kids.
Anne was a classmate of mine for 12 years of our young lives. From crowning The Virgin Mary her 8th-grade year to riding her bike 4,000 miles in college to raise money for cancer research, she exemplified, even before her foreign service career, what makes me so proud to be an American. Anne “stood up for what was right, she fought for moral reasons, cared for her neighbors, never beat her chest, reached for the stars, aspired to intelligence; didn’t belittle it, and was courageous,” just what Will McAvoy commended America’s past for.
Although it is the better part of a decade that we have been without Anne, I see her everywhere in my life. On one of my running routes, there is a black and white portrait of her (top and at left) along the train tracks. At St. Luke’s, I see her parents who are regulars and ministers during the Mass. Coaching girls’ cross country, the program she was a part of, I see Anne in the supportive, altruistic teammates. Walking to my parent’s house, I pass by the Anne Smedinghoff Memorial Garden at the public library. I see Anne when I talk to her teachers like Mary Beth Logas who encourages her students to understand the system in order to do the most good. I see Anne in my colleague, fellow ’05 grad, and dear friend of Anne, Crissy (Tallarico) Lilek, who exudes the same serene magnanimity that Anne did. I see Anne everywhere.
At each athletic event, during “The Star Spangled Banner,” I think of my contemporaries and former students that have selflessly dedicated themselves to serve our country. Different faces come up each time and I beam with pride knowing such wonderful people. Without fail, Anne Smedinghoff crosses my mind during, “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” I become emotional as I imagine the attack on her as she was about to donate those books, but I also see the American flag raised high over Lake and Lathrop by fire truck ladders as her family leaves with her in casket after the funeral Mass at St. Luke’s.
Who is God? Much of theology at Fenwick revolves around this question. Who is the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, the God-man Jesus? What does it mean to interact with this God? They are big questions, and the answers have significant impact on our lives of faith. It makes a big difference if we think that:
A) God tested Abraham with the sacrifice of Isaac just to see if he will do literally anything God asks no matter the cost, or
B) God tested Abraham to develop Abraham’s confidence in the true goodness of God who will honor his promises (descendants through Isaac) even when it seems completely contradictory to present experience.
Is God demanding beyond our comprehension, or good when it seems impossible? Is faith about blind obedience or profound trust in goodness? Personally, I find hope in the latter and not the former. Most times I read the news I need to be reminded that God truly is good though it just doesn’t seem to be the case in the world.
Christians need to wrestle with these kind of questions both for our relationship with God and our proclamation of Christ. Who is this God we stake our lives on? Who is this God that promises to save us?
However, there is perhaps a more fundamental question for today’s world: Who ISN’T God? What is God not? These are essential questions for a scientific age that dismisses God as superstitious explanation for inexplicable realities by our inferior ancestors. Is God really just our answer for what we don’t understood? Aquinas’ proofs are actually the opposite: God is the explanation behind what we do understand. God is the grounding of science beyond science itself. He is the logos — the very meaning of all existence and truth.
This topic pervades the videos of Bishop Barron. Many conflicts over science and religion come from people using totally different definitions of God. He astutely points out that the God rejected by Christopher Hitchins and Richard Dawkins is also rejected by Aquinas and the wealth of Catholic history. We simply don’t mean the same thing when we talk about God.
Click here to view one video where Barron jumps straight into the issue.
As the season of Lent is kicking off, one spiritual purification to consider is not a moral one, but a theological one. Watch some videos by Barron or other Catholic theologians to get rid of the “Golden Calves” we build up. They aren’t just money and power but misunderstandings of the Way, the Truth and the Life. Ponder again what God we don’t believe in, and look again to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ to see exactly what God we cling to in faith.
This is the third post in our series of reflections on the work of Bishop Robert Barron, upcoming recipient of the Lumen Tranquillum (“Quiet Light”) Award. You can find the first and second posts here:
Ten years ago in your life, where were you? If 50 is the new 40, then 40 is the new 30. A lot can happen in the span of a decade: Young alumni finish college, some attend graduate school, then begin to establish themselves in their professional careers; others contemplate marriage, perhaps. Slightly older alumni may have had children and started families. Older children in junior high school, hopefully, are considering taking the admissions test at Fenwick this coming December.
In the late winter of 2009, now 28-year-old Kenneth “Kenny” Matuszewski ’09 had a typical case of “senioritis” at Fenwick, counting the weeks until graduation and finalizing his plans to attend the University of Notre Dame. (In South Bend, he would major in biological sciences and Spanish.) But something profound happened during Christmas break of his junior year that, literally, changed the course of Matuszewski’s life, he says.
After the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Matuszewski and 37 of his classmates traveled to New Orleans to help people rebuild their homes. He vividly recalls “seeing the devastation, three years later.” More than 1,835 people died in the Category 5 hurricane and its subsequent floods, making it the deadliest storm in U.S. history.
“We went … as a part of the Mission New Orleans trip, a Fenwick organization,” Matuszewski explains. Their three chaperones were teachers Mr. Paulett, Mr. Ruffino and Ms. Logas, he notes. “While I had little experience with power tools or construction, I was still able to do something and help a family move into a home. That experience motivated me to find ways I could help people with my strengths; through my pro bono work, I realize I have found such opportunities.”
Fast-forward 11 years: “I have always felt it was my duty to use my talents as an attorney to give back to the community around me,” says Matuszewski, who grew up in La Grange Park and now resides in Westchester, IL. “That is why I have developed a commitment to pro bono work over the years. While this desire was instilled in me by my parents, who were and still are involved in the local library board and Special Religious Education (SPRED), Fenwick further honed it through the [Christian] Service Project.”
Latin students at Fenwick know that pro bono publico is a phrase used to describe professional work undertaken voluntarily and without payment. Unlike volunteerism, it is service that uses the specific skills of professionals to provide services to those who are unable to afford them.
Matuszewski at a Glance
Graduated from Fenwick High School, 2009 (Kairos leader, Friar Mentor, JETS, Scholastic Bowl, NHS, football, band)
University of Notre Dame, B.S. in Biological Sciences and Spanish, 2013
Chicago-Kent College of Law, J.D., 2016 (Managing Editor of the Chicago-Kent Journal of Intellectual Property, 2015-16)
On March 21st will be honored by United State Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) with the 2018 Pro Bono Service Certificate for the second consecutive year.
Family of Friars: Kenny’s three younger siblings also are Fenwick alumni: Kevin ’10, Carly ’15 and Jasmine ’17.
Pro Bono and More
Today, Matuszewski serves the community in several ways. His pro-bono activities include work for the Chicago-Kent Patent Hub. “The patent process can be expensive, confusing and inaccessible to inventors. However, the barriers to entry for low-income inventors are even greater,” he explains. “As a volunteer attorney, I help low-income inventors obtain patents for their inventions. Over the past couple of years, I have worked with inventors who have invented devices ranging from simple footstools all the way to computer applications.” As a result of his efforts, Matuszewski earned the Patent Pro Bono Service Certificate from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for 2018 and 2017.
The Future Philanthropist Program (FPP) is an adolescent leadership-training program sponsored by the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, which invests $25,000 annually into community social-service agencies that provide programs for adolescents. Fenwick has five students presently participating in the program: Isaiah Curry ’19, Camille Luckett ’19, Aimee Morrissey ’20, Roger Rhomberg ’20 and Ethan Seavey ’19.
As the only high school in the United States sponsored by Dominican Friars, Fenwick is sui generis (unique). We want our Ministry to be a valued local anchor, a visible metropolitan resource and a recognized national lighthouse for our Thomist Educational Philosophy. Every high school in the United State has a contractual obligation to the state legislature which chartered it to train patriotic citizens and literate workers. In addition to those legal obligations, Fenwick, as a Thomist School, has a covenant obligation with the Supreme Being to train moral servant leaders. To that end our curriculum includes Speech, Moral Theology, the Christian Service Project and the Kairos retreat.
Those lessons our students learn in the classroom, such as in Speech class, are important. Even more important are those lessons which our students learn inside the building but outside of the classroom, such as liturgy assemblies in the Auditorium. The most important lessons our students learn, such as Kairos, are taught to them outside of the building. Adolescent leadership training is an important component to the Fenwick Thomist experience.
FPP’s leadership affirms the symbiotic relationship between our school and the community. “The Future Philanthropists Program is proud to have partnered with Fenwick High School for the last nine years to teach juniors and seniors the art, science and business of philanthropy,” says program coordinator Karen Tardy. “Our Fenwick students are always eager and very engaged in the program, and they work hard to made a difference in our communities through grant-making, fund-raising and volunteering. We appreciate the commitment Fenwick has made to the Future Philanthropists Program and their help in creating the leaders of tomorrow.”
FPP participants make a two-year commitment to attend monthly dinner meetings with a small affinity peer group and an adult mentor. Student members of the affinity groups come from Fenwick, Trinity and Oak Park-River Forest high schools. Community leaders share their observations about the past, present and future of our community with the students who, in turn, identify the most critical needs of adolescents in the community. They then solicit grant proposals from community service agencies to address these needs. The students award $25,000 in grant funds provided by the OPRFCF to implement the most promising proposals. Students then conduct field investigations to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the proposal implementation.
We hope this early life experience will encourage future philanthropists to stay within the community during their adult years to donate their talent, time and treasure to the advance the quality of life in the community where our Ministry has flourished.
Fenwick and the Village of Oak Park
Oak Park would not be Oak Park, and Fenwick would not be Fenwick, without one another. Fenwick, celebrating its 90th year in 2019, has flourished in the Oak Park/River Forest Community for these past nine decades. The school’s architects carved an Oak Park shield carved in stone above our front door on Washington Blvd. It is our intention to be a valued local anchor, a visible metropolitan resource and, as I mentioned before, a recognized national lighthouse for the Thomist educational philosophy.
The presence of vibrant parochial educational institutions, such as Trinity and Fenwick, was an important part in the community’s continuity and evolution. John Gearen ’32, an alumnus from the Class of 1932 (and the school library’s namesake) was a racial inclusive, and the late John Philbin, who sent his children to Fenwick, was a sexual-orientation inclusive. Both men were Fenwick Community leaders who served as Village President. Former Village Clerk Ginny Cassin also was a Fenwick parent. Oak Park is the garden in which we have blossomed.
Fenwick turns 100 in 10 more years. It is our intention to thrive and not just to survive in the next 100 years. It is interesting to note that the Fenwick Hispanic ethnicity enrollment is 17% of the student body. Our institution could be a magnet to attract the next great demographic evolution of Oak Park.
For the Martin sisters, Katie and Sarah, CAAEL and its kids-at-risk mission always have been a family affair.
By Mark Vruno
Research indicates that extracurricular activities encourage peer interaction, promote cooperation, build student-adult relationships and help strengthen the student-school connection, points out Fenwick alumna Sarah Lorenzi ’97(née Martin). “Students who participate in these activities achieve higher grade point averages, miss fewer days of school and are more likely to graduate,” she adds.
However, each year thousands of Illinois’ students — those excluded from the educational mainstream — are unable to participate in these types of experiences. “And that’s where CAAEL comes in,” explains Ms. Lorenzi.
Lorenzi is president of the Chicago Area Alternative Education League (CAAEL), an organization that provides and governs interscholastic activities for at-risk and special-education students. Annually throughout the eight-county Chicago metropolitan area, CAAEL gives more than 5,000 students access to extracurricular activities they otherwise would not have. “We sponsor a variety of events year ’round: academic bowls, spelling bees, chess, bowling, basketball, flag football, volleyball, soccer, softball, art, badminton and high ropes courses — 1,000 events each year,” she notes.
“CAAEL is unique in that it does not run after-school programs. All activities are directly integrated into each school’s educational curriculum and schedule, with competitions taking place during the school day,” Lorenzi adds.
CAAEL’s participants often share one or more of the following 10 characteristics. For example, they may be:
“That’s the magic of CAAEL,” she quickly adds. “Our students come in all different shapes and sizes — different races, different socio-economic backgrounds, different disabilities and abilities. Yet they come together each week and interact beautifully.”
The wide range of students CAAEL successfully serves truly defies the norm. As a result, CAAEL kids can learn to see beyond themselves. They develop empathy. They learn to embrace diversity. “As different as our kids are, they have this in common: They deserve to have fun,” insists their leader. “They must be seen and valued. CAAEL is the only organization providing this broad scope programming for Illinois’ growing number of high-risk youth.”
A mother of three children of her own, Lorenzi grew up playing softball in Forest Park, went to Fenwick and Northern Illinois University (B.A. and M.Ed.), then taught at Longfellow Elementary (Oak Park) before making the leap of faith in five years ago to help her father, CAAEL founder John Martin.
Humble, heartfelt beginnings
“My Dad started CAAEL in 1976,” Sarah recalls. I grew up witnessing the amazing impact CAAEL had on an ever-expanding number of at-risk and special- education students.”
It all began when he was teaching in an alternative school for kids with severe behavioral challenges, remembers Fenwick faculty and Dominican Laity member Dr. Jerry Lordan, O.P.
“Sarah’s father was a high school physical education teacher and coach [at the Stone Park Education Center]. From time to time he would have kids with disabilities transfer into and out from his classes. He could see their desire to participate in sports curtailed by their assignment to alternative-education schools without extracurricular activity programs,” Dr. Lordan explains.
“Rather than whine and moan, ‘Somebody ought to do something!’ he decided to be the change he wanted to see. John started the CAAEL,” Lordan continues. “At first it was just sports like basketball and baseball, which are played indoors. Then they added baseball, softball and track. Then they added poetry slams, spelling bees, art shows, musical performances, dances, etc.” Lordan notes that the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park is a financial sponsor to the CAAEL Coed Softball Tournament held in June in Forest Park.
Pioneering perspective: Fenwick’s first black graduate reflects on the segregated life of his youth. “Mine is a difficult story to tell,” he says, offering a history lesson in the process.
Interview by Mark Vruno
School records dating back 64 years confirm that alumnus Richard Cochrane ’59 blazed a trail as Fenwick’s very first African-American student and graduate. Originally from Maywood, IL, Mr. Cochrane now lives in the sunny Southwest. In high school, he was active in student government (class treasurer and secretary) and played football and basketball (captain).
Last February, one-time Fenwick student turned educator Marlon Hall, PhD. shared his freshman-year experience of the early 1970s, when he endured verbal abuse and physical bullying – all racially inspired. In one of several replies to Dr. Hall’s guest blog, Cochrane pointed out that his memories of Fenwick were quite different and much more positive 17 years earlier:
“Dr. Hall, I appreciate your sharing your Fenwick experiences and the strength they gave you. In context, in 1950 the world-renowned chemist Percy Julian became the first African-American to take up residence in Oak Park. His home was fire-bombed on Thanksgiving Day of that year and again in 1951. In May of 1954 the Supreme Court rendered the ‘Brown vs. Board of Education’ ruling. In September of 1955 I walked into Fenwick as a freshman, two years before the ‘Little Rock Nine,’ and I am black. There were no other black students and there would only be one more in the next four years. “Many of my experiences were similar to yours but the negatives were overwhelmed by the support of the majority of the student body, and the faculty support cannot go without mention. There were whispers and some name-calling and even a fight or two, but the Dominican family pushed, nudged and refused to let me think of anything but finishing. I was also aware of the financial burden that I was placing on my family.In return, I received an excellent education both academically and socially….”
Cochrane’s heartfelt response prompted our Alumni Relations Team to reach out. We learned that Rich is “happily retired” and soaking up sunshine in New Mexico. Our questions and his answers:
Richard, where did you attend college? Please tell us about your professional background and STEM-related career.
RC: After graduating Fenwick in 1959, I attended St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, where I majored in chemistry. While there I played freshman basketball and varsity football for two years until my knee gave out. I got a job in the coatings and ink industry and, eventually, spent 35 years with Sun Chemical Corporation. I held positions in lab synthesis, tech service, lab management, operation management and national accounts. I retired from Sun in 2003.
What was it like being the only black student at the Fenwick?
RC: In 1955, I believe my freshman class enrolled about 354 students and the school enrollment was about 1,236. As I’ve said, I found the faculty very supportive and the student body mostly treating me like any other student, with a smaller group either curious or distant. Only one of the other three students from my parish in Maywood [St. James, which closed in 2006] was close to me at Fenwick.
On the first day of school, when I went to the office to pick up my class schedule, the staff called back one of the students I was with to ask if I was really going to attend school there. A notable few of the upper-classmen were kind enough to offer short words of encouragement. If I missed the Madison St. bus, I would walk west until the next bus came and would often find the Oak Park Police close behind to make sure I reached Harlem Ave. The single greatest factor was the Dominican community. I got the feeling that they would not let me fail (or even consider quitting).
Did you have a sense that you were making “history” at Fenwick?
RC: I had no sense of making history but there was a constant feeling of not being totally “at home.” Remember, at that time Oak Park had a population of 62,000 [there are 10,000 fewer residents today] and had only one black family — and their home had twice been bombed.
Fenwick nurtured the service seeds planted by the parents of this alumnus, who has been employing the power of business to solve social problems for five decades.
By Mark Vruno
Fenwick High School and University of Notre Dame alumnus Paul Tierney, Jr. ’60 resides on the East Coast in Darien, Connecticut, and New York City. But his humanitarian roots were planted at home in La Grange Park, IL, and at St. Francis Xavier Parish & School.
“My mother and father always talked about the importance of doing good works for your fellow man,” says Mr. Tierney, who is three months into his retirement as chairman of TechnoServe, an international, nonprofit organization that promotes business solutions to poverty. The company works with enterprising people in the developing world to build competitive farms, businesses and industries. “Our clients are small, poor, grassroots,” he notes.
Tierney encourages the use of private equity and venture capital to fund entrepreneurial firms in locales such as Africa and Latin America. As he told Forbes magazine in 2010, he believes this funding approach “can be a superior alternative to the traditional development funds funneled through the likes of the World Bank,” the international financial institution that provides loans to countries of the world for capital projects.
Paul Tierney at a Glance
From La Grange Park, IL / St. Francis Xavier
Fenwick High School, Class of 1960
University Notre Dame, 1964 (magna cum laude)
Harvard Business School, 1968 (Baker scholar)
U.S. Peace Corps (Chile)
Growing up Catholic had a lot to do with his public-service interests, especially helping those less fortunate. “My parents taught that with great gifts, great action is expected,” points out Tierney, who has had a highly successful career in investments. The then-youngster heeded the advice of Mr. & Mrs. Tierney, whose ideals and principles, in turn, were honed and nurtured by the Dominicans at Fenwick. Fifty years ago, using the power of business to solve social problems was somewhat radical; it definitely was not a mainstream notion.
Tierney graduated magna cum laude in 1964 from ND, where he majored in philosophy. He applied to law school, business school and several doctoral programs but instead chose the Peace Corps, U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s volunteer organization founded three years earlier. “I was sent to Chile on an economic-development program to work with farmers in the agrarian reform movement,” he explains. “My job was to help people structure and improve cooperatives.”
While in rural South America, Tierney says he met a lot of bright people in development. “but few of them knew business or had practical skills.” So, after his service, he went to Harvard Business School (HBS) on a fellowship from the Ford Foundation“to learn how commerce actually works. By the time I finished my MBA program [in ’68 as a Baker Scholar],” he adds, “I thought that more effective work in economic development would be done in the private sector.” In a 2002 profile written by the Harvard Business School, Tierney says he realized he could make a larger impact on society if he first succeeded in business. “I’ve really had two careers,” he observed, “one as a for-profit financial entrepreneur and one as a crusader for economic development.”
Tierney set out on what would be a 30-year career in investment management, first starting a merchant bank in London and then overseeing financial programs at the U.S. Railway Association, which would become Conrail (now CSX). Next, he was a senior vice president at White, Weld & Co., which Merrill Lynch purchased. In 1978, he co-founded Gollust, Tierney & Oliver, the general partner for Coniston Partners, which was a $1-billion value investment partnership focused on strategic block investing and private equity. The firm split up in the mid-1990s.
“After about 15 years of building my own company, I felt like I should come up for air,” Tierney reflects. “I’d made some money, I had some experience, I saw how the real world operated, and I understood capital markets. But I still had a taste for the work I was interested in when I was in the Peace Corps.”
Technology in the Service of Mankind
Tierney started looking for ways of getting re-engaged and surveyed several organizations. “I found many relief organizations, but I didn’t find many development-assistance organizations,” he told HBS. “I wanted something that was hands-on and firm-based, not just a think tank or a Band-Aid.” A friend mentioned TechnoServe, and Tierney’s world changed
Businessman and philanthropist Ed Bullard founded TechnoServe in 1968 after his experience volunteering at a hospital in rural Ghana, West Africa. Bullard was inspired to start an organization that would help hard-working people harness the power of private enterprise to lift themselves out of poverty. He launched TechnoServe – short for “technology in the service of mankind” – to help poor people by connecting them to information and market opportunities. “It was a much smaller organization back then, with a single office in Norwalk, CT, and an annual budget of around $5 million,” Tierney remembers.
“I visited four of the countries TechnoServe operated in and, as I saw what was going on in the field, I became more and more confident that this was an organization with a good approach that was making a real impact.” Tierney kept stepping up his involvement with TechnoServe, starting as a volunteer member, then a board member, then chairman of the Executive Committee and, ultimately, chairman in 1992.
For 27 years he was at the helm, steering the philanthropic “ship” into countries such as Haiti in the Caribbean, India in South Asia and Mozambique in Southeast Africa along the Indian Ocean coast. Based in Washington, D.C., TechnoServe today has grown to more than 1,500 employees and operates in 29 countries. “Thirty-five years ago, there were only five or six [countries],” Tierney reports. TechnoServe has become a leader in harnessing the power of the private sector to help people lift themselves out of poverty. “By linking people to information, capital and markets, we have helped millions to create lasting prosperity for their families and communities,” proclaims its website.
One of his favorite success stories from the field is set in civil war-torn Mozambique, where Tierney encountered female workers in a cashew-processing facility who were grateful for their jobs. “It was very hard, grinding work, but these women told me they were happy to be able to do it in safe conditions,” he remembers. “They were sending their children to school with the money they were earning.”
At a coffee project in Tanzania, people literally broke out in song and dance, praising TechnoServe for the work it did, which has contributed to a greater level of education in the community. “It is gratifying to see how this type of work allows a second or third generation to continue on a trajectory of significantly increasing their standard of living,” he shares.
Meanwhile, at Aperture Venture Partners, the other half of Tierney’s time was spent assisting portfolio companies interested in healthcare in a variety of ways – from strategy and raising capital to M&A, business development and corporate governance. He also is co-founder, managing member and partner of Development Capital Partners, LLC, a New York-based investment firm with an exclusive focus on “frontier” and emerging markets such as Africa, India and Latin America. His son, Matthew, is the other co-founder.
Fenwick builds on foundation
When he thinks back to his high-school days 59+ years ago, Tierney cites the overall culture and style of Fenwick: “Its tradition of education and achievement,” he notes. Father Regan had a particularly strong influence over young Paul. “He was the best theology teacher, in my opinion, and made the most sense out of Christianity and Catholicism.”
Father Jacobs was Fenwick’s Dean of Studies in the late 1950s. “He was approachable,” Tierney recalls, “and talked a lot about [my] interests.” He has fond memories of Latin Teacher Fr. Hren’s invitation-only “Mozarteum” group that featured pizza and music. “For me, it added a level of sophistication to school,” says Tierney, admitting that Gene Autry cowboy songs were about the extent of his play-list genre early in life.
“At Fenwick, I participated in a lot of teams, clubs and activities,” he remembers. The 1960 Blackfriars yearbook lists Tierney as a member of the National Honor Society as well as the golf and debate teams. “Father Conway taught math and coached debate at that time,” he says. “We also competed in oratorical contests,” which is where Tierney developed his capacity to think on his feet, argue, debate and speak in public. He reflects: “These skills have served me well, always.”