Teaching Morals and Values to Teenagers

The theology curriculum at Fenwick brings together all students to ponder important issues.

By Brother Joseph Trout, O.P.

Determining the “best” is a notoriously complicated task. Is the best team the one with the most wins? The one with the most potential? The one that wins the last game? The one that won the most consistently?

This is no less challenging in classes. Are good students the ones with the best scores; with the clearest understanding of the material; or with the most original thought? What of those who ask the best questions? The list goes on. 

Brother Joseph Trout, O.P. engages junior theology students in a morality discussion.

As a teacher of morality, the task becomes even more complicated. Some students are standouts, not because they always get the questions right on the tests, but because they have lived through difficulty and grasp immediately the significance of moral issues. Others have a deep, personal commitment to faith and justice: They innately grasp what it means to be good and raise the level of discussion, but can’t always explain their convictions perfectly. Others still have a nuanced grasp of ideas and ace the tests but demonstrate no real commitment to enacting justice in their lives. Which of those is the best?  

The great equalizer

Dominican Spirituality: Mr. Patrick Mulcahy instructing senior theology students last March.

All of this is to say that a theology class remains a great equalizer in Catholic education. Everyone, regardless of personal beliefs and upbringing, needs to wrestle with the big-picture questions of life. Does God exist or not? If so, who or what is God? What is a just world? What counts as a life well lived? No one can afford to live the “unexamined life.”

Because the subject matter is usually beyond all of us (God), everyone needs to reach beyond themselves and question their assumptions about reality. Yet it is also deeply personal — who am I? What does it mean to be me? What is my relation to God, neighbor, society? How will I know that I have lived well? Some of the highest achieving students struggle tremendously with that kind of introspection, while some of the lowest achievers soar. 

Father Thomas Saucier, O.P. holds “court” with Class of 2020 theology students.

At the end of the day, theology is an excellent subject to help develop humility because you face an unconquerable task. Calculus and grammar can be mastered, but not theology. Its subject is a transcendent God who is infinitely more complex than the human mind can understand. We can learn many truths about God and come to a deep understanding of and relationship with God, but we cannot tame God. No matter how brilliant, good, insightful, original or articulate we are, we remain equal as short-lived creatures before the one who simply is.

Perhaps the students who grasp this, who know precisely what it is that they do not comprehend, are the best ones of all.

Fostering moral servant/leaders

All Fenwick students, regardless of religious affiliation, study four years of Theology:

  • Theology I: Scripture
  • Theolgy II: The Mission of Jesus Christ and Sacraments
  • Theology III: Moral Theology
  • Theology IV:  Interreligious Dialog (may be taken for college credit) and Dominican Spirituality

READ ALSO:

“How Fenwick Students Minister to Others” (Fall 2018 Friar Reporter, beginning on page 6).

“The Myth of Science vs. Religion”

“Summer of Service”

Freshman students from the Class of 2023 get a lesson on scripture.
Continue reading “Teaching Morals and Values to Teenagers”

As Fenwick Turns 90, ‘We Give Thanks to You,’ Oak Parkers!

The Catholic high school’s spiritual leader does not take for granted the partnership forged with the greater, local community over nine decades.

By Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P., President of Fenwick High School

Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P.

Ninety years ago next week, the Dominican Order established a college-preparatory secondary school on Washington Blvd., bordered by East Ave., Scoville Ave. and Madison St. When Fenwick High School opened on September 9, 1929, some 200 boys ventured through its wooden, church-like doors. Many of them walked to school from their homes in Oak Park and on the West Side, while others coming from farther away in Chicago took streetcars.

Over these many years, Fenwick has survived and thrived, despite the Great Depression (which started six weeks after the school opened!), world wars and changing times, including enrolling female students in the early 1990s. However, the mission at the outset has stood the test of time: Guided by Dominican Catholic values, our priests, instructors, coaches, administrators and staff members inspire excellence and educate each student to lead, achieve and serve.

Fenwick today has a co-educational enrollment of nearly 1,150 students as well as two Golden Apple-winning teachers on its esteemed faculty. Our school’s impressive list of alumni includes a Skylab astronaut, Rhodes Scholars, Pulitzer Prize winners, a Heisman Trophy recipient and other leaders making a positive influence locally and internationally.

Great neighbors

From our beginning, Fenwick and Oak Park always have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. “Fenwick and the Village of Oak Park have a long history of working together,” Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb has stated. “From its inception, our fortunes and our futures have been intertwined.”

As an investment in our future in Oak Park, last month we began construction on a six-story parking structure seeded with generous funding by former McDonald’s CEO and alumnus Michael R. Quinlan, Class of 1962. By next summer, some 325 cars will be taken off the streets, so to speak.

“With this new garage, Fenwick will be taking a major step toward reducing its impact on the neighborhood,” Mr. Abu-Talen noted at the August 13 garage groundbreaking ceremony. The private school “has always worked to be a great neighbor …,” and “also is a key partner in the development of the Madison corridor.

“Fenwick has been a great contributor to Oak Park in many ways,” the Mayor continued: “first, as an educational institution of national reputation; second, as a Catholic school filling the needs of a diverse and inclusive community.”

We are, indeed, proud of our racial and socio-economic diversity. More than 30% of our talented student body identifies as something other than Caucasian, and we provide nearly $2.5 million in need-based financial aid annually to our students through the generosity of many benefactors.

They come to Oak Park

As Mayor Abu-Taleb notes, “Fenwick always has been a reason why many families choose to live in Oak Park — and the reason many others visit the Village and support our local economy.” Last school year, our students came from more than 60 cities, towns and municipalities, including these top 20:

Continue reading “As Fenwick Turns 90, ‘We Give Thanks to You,’ Oak Parkers!”

Fenwick Fathers’ Club: 2019 Dr. Gerald Lordan Freshman Family Picnic

The recently retired faculty mentor addressed new Friar parents at the annual event renamed in his honor.

By Dr. Gerald Lordan, O.P.

Welcome to Pleasant Home for the 28th Fenwick Fathers’ Club Frosh Family Picnic. We started his event in 1992 to welcome Fenwick’s first coeducational class. Three of the members of that Class of 1996 now serve on the Fenwick faculty. Pleasant Home, like Fenwick, is located in St. Edmund’s Parish. The first Catholic Mass celebrated in Oak Park was held in the barn that serviced this building. 

Fenwick is the only high school in the United States sponsored by Dominican Friars. Dominicans lead lives of virtue. Humility is the greatest of all the virtues. We are humbled by the confidence families place in us by sending us their adolescents for formation. It is a teacher’s greatest joy to be surpassed by his students. We are pleased to see so many of our former students here today as parents of students in the class of 2023. We are pleased to welcome our first fourth generation Friar! We have a member of the class of 2023 with us today who follows in the footsteps of a great grandfather, grandfather and father. 

Every high school in the United States has a legal obligation to the state legislature, which charters it to train patriotic citizens and literate workers. As a Dominican school, Fenwick follows the Thomist educational philosophy. A Thomist school has an obligation to our Creator, the Supreme Being to train moral, servant-leaders of society. The late Ed Brennan, a Fenwick alumnus and CEO of Sears, was once asked what course he studied in his graduate school of business that best prepared him to be the chief executive of a Fortune 500 Corporation. Mr. Brennan replied, “Nothing I studied in business school prepared me for my job. The only class that prepared me was Moral Theology during my junior year at Fenwick High School.”

Training moral, servant-leaders

Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. (front center) joined Dr. Lordan (left) and Fenwick Fathers’ Club President Frank Sullivan ’86 at the Freshman Family Picnic.

Our freshman students will learn this year in history class that we are in an Axial Age. Everything changes in an Axial Age. We have had an Agricultural Revolution, which made us farmers. We have had an Industrial Revolution, which made us factory workers. We are entering an Information Revolution, which will make us computer scientists. We study the past to understand the present to shape the future. We do not know what challenges beyond our present comprehension the future may bring. We must be prepared to be the moral, servant-leaders of our society so we can enable others to meet these challenges. Therefore, Moral Theology is the most important subject that our students study.

The Dominicans are the Order of Preachers and have the initials, O.P., after their names. All of our students will study speech as sophomores.

The lessons we learn in class are important or we would not bother to teach them. Even more important, however, are the lessons we learn inside our building but outside of the classroom.  Three of the Dominican Pillars are Prayer, Community and Study. Once a month we assemble in our Auditorium to celebrate Mass. It is appropriate that we meet in community to pray before we study. 

The most important lessons we learn at Fenwick are taught outside of the building. All of our students will make a Kairos religious retreat during their senior year. This is the most important thing we do at Fenwick.

3 takeways

I am going to identify three activities that will enhance our Fenwick Experience. The first is for adults. The second is for adolescents. The third is for families. These suggestions are based on educational research. They are neither my opinions nor intuitive thoughts. Pedagogy is the science of education. These suggestions come from empirical pedagogical research and enjoy a measure of scientific certitude.

  1. Adults should be active in parent associations. Vibrant parent associations are in indicator of excellence for a school. Do not just join. Do not just pay dues. Get active. Make a difference.
  2. Adolescents should participate in student activities. This does not mean just sports. It includes all manner of student clubs such as speech, drama, student government, art and music.
  3. Families should eat dinner together. They should shut off the television. They should put down the smart phone. They should talk with one another. 
Continue reading “Fenwick Fathers’ Club: 2019 Dr. Gerald Lordan Freshman Family Picnic”

What a Father Means to Me

In a post-Father’s Day reflection, a Fenwick senior remembers his late father – and thanks his big brother.

Fenwick soon-to-be senior Patrick Feldmeier wrote this essay for the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative. Patrick was honored, along with his older brother, Danny (Class of 2018), on June 6 at the Union League Club in Chicago.

By Patrick Feldmeier ’20

“One, two, three: Hi Daddy, we love you and we miss you.” (Mom always adds, ‘You’re in my heart, Sweetie.’)

Patrick (left) and Danny Feldmeier with their Dad, Bob, before his untimely death seven years ago.

These are the words my family says after grace every time we sit down for dinner. And simultaneously look at the open seat at the head of the table. Our hearts yearn for the man that God called up to Heaven seven years ago: Dad. It sends a shiver up my spine saying the word out loud, yet his presence still resonates in my family.

Every once in a while, his cologne can be smelled from his closet. His faded blue Ralph Lauren hat still hangs on the wall in my mom’s bedroom. His 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee may have finally been towed, but his K-Swiss “dad shoes” rest untouched in our mudroom. To say that Bob Feldmeier is a role model to me is an absolute understatement. Words will never express how much I miss him; how much I need him in my life; or how much I love him. Through my actions, I attempt to be like him every day.

Their father’s faded cap and “dad shoes” still can be found in the Feldmeier’s Western Springs home.

As a partner at Schiff Hardin, long hours seemed to swallow his work-week. Yet, somehow, someway, he always had time to play catch or take us to watch a White Sox game. After little-league games, my dad would take my brother and me out to “men’s dinners,” where he would teach us lessons such as, “It’s ok to admit it is cold, but it is not manly to complain about the cold.” He was also an avid Notre Dame alumnus and taught us the essence of hard work. The impression he left on me is what is most important. Through watching the way he treated my mom, my siblings and me, and kept God as a focal point in his life, I truly learned what it meant to be a father. His etiquette, manners and gentlemanliness are values I strive to model because I want my children to look up at me the way I look up to my Dad.

My father’s ultimate goal was for his family to live a life like his, which includes strong family bonds and an excellent, Catholic education. He continued to set an example of how to be a father and how to find strength through tragedy by protecting us until the very end.

Dad’s Gift of Peace

Robert Feldmeier
(1965-2012)

When he was first diagnosed with melanoma, he told my mother, “Do not tell the kids about my disease. I want to give them the gift of peace.” He truly was the perfect role model for a dad. It was more important to him to keep us happy and successful in life than for us to crumble under fear. His ultimate goal was for his family to live a life like his. Instead of succumbing to anger after his death, I honored his memory by achieving goals and setting the bar high for myself. I aspire to attend the University of Notre Dame, like him, and to provide for my family the same way that he did. His spirit lives on in my heart every day, and every day I thank God for one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me: my Dad. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from my Dad was that a man is not solely defined by his career and accomplishments, but by his display of love to his family. Perhaps that was why he was able to stay strong during his last days, because he truly had reached his ultimate goal of success in life: to love and be loved by his family.

Continue reading “What a Father Means to Me”

A Mother’s Heartfelt Reflection

The mom of five Friars addressed fellow Mothers’ Club members at the 2019 Fenwick Senior Mass & Brunch celebration earlier this month.

By Susan Lasek

The Fenwick Mothers’ Club Annual Senior Mass & Brunch
was held on Sunday, May 12 at Oak Brook Hills Resort.

Good afternoon Fenwick mothers, guardians, the Senior Class of 2019, Father Peddicord, Mr. Groom and Faculty. I am honored to be here speaking to you about my family’s Fenwick experience: a faith-filled journey that began in August of 2009 and will end on May 24 of this year.

Boy, 10 years go by quickly, especially with five children, all with different personalities and interests who participated in a variety of clubs and sports offered at Fenwick. Why did my family choose Fenwick? Well, I go back to two very precious gifts that were given to me and my husband:

  1. the gift of family and parenthood
  2. the gift of faith

Both Mark and I were lucky enough to grow up in families that were very close and where family was always #1. We also feel the gift of faith is immeasurable — one that our families value very deeply. This is why Mark and I decided to send our kids to a Catholic high school. After researching all the private and public schools, Fenwick was our first choice, hands down, no questions. We felt that it was important for our kids to be reminded of their faith every day. We felt they would have an excellent education that would prepare them for college. Bottom line, as a mother: It was most important for my kids to be in a safe and faith-filled environment.

Why Fenwick? “It was most important for my kids to be in a safe and faith-filled environment.”

What made Fenwick unique in our mind was the entire Fenwick community. You are not just going to high school; you are joining the Fenwick family. You are joining a community that will be with you for the rest of your life. Whether you are the class of 2019 or the class of 1990, it doesn’t matter because you are all part of the Fenwick family.

Mrs. Sue Lasek speaking from her heart … about Fenwick.

Some of the things that make Fenwick unique and stand out:

  • Prayers are included in every aspect of a student’s life, from the start of the day, to sporting events, theater and other activities.
  • How beautiful it is that Father Peddicord greets everyone by name after school and wishes them a good rest of the day?
  • Kairos is one of the most emotional, faith-filled experiences that touches every student. The three-day retreat brings students together who may not know each other very well and provides an opportunity for support and friendship.
  • Fenwick is truly a college-prep school. Every one of my children that went off to college thanked us for sending them to Fenwick because they felt so well prepared for their college education and campus life.

What is Friar Nation: “You are joining a community that will be with you for the rest of your life.”

To sum it up, we are thankful for the leadership that helped guide our children from being impressionable kids to strong, independent-minded young adults. We are grateful for their experiences that provided a strong base of faith and knowledge that will carry them into the next phase of their lives. We are appreciative of the entire leadership and staff at Fenwick for genuinely caring for each and every student. Teachers at Fenwick forge great relationships with their students, providing support, guidance and instruction.

Overall, Fenwick instilled a sense of tradition in our kids that make them feel as though they are a part of something bigger. I’d like to close with the following phrase our kids hear during the morning announcements at the beginning of every school day:

“Remember. our experiences are defined by our choices. Today, make great choices. Make today a great day or not, that choice is yours!”

Fenwick is forever in our hearts and minds. God Bless the Friars!

About the Author

Sue Lasek and her husband, Mark, reside in Hinsdale. All five of the couple’s five children have attended Fenwick. A quick update on each one:

Sue with Mark, her “baby.”
  • Mark II, a current graduate (Class of ’19), will attend the University of Wisconsin – Madison this fall and study physics with a minor in finance. 
  • Josephine ’18 just finished her freshman year at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She is studying nursing. 
  • Charlotte attended Fenwick from 2011-13. She will graduate from DePaul University on June 15, 2019, with a degree in neuropsychology. Charlotte had the opportunity to work with DePaul/NASA on a project that involved researching astronauts’ brains. 
  • Chris ’14 is currently working on his degree in architecture at College of DuPage and is working on a few projects with area architectural firms.
  • Rich ’13 graduated from University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2017 with a degree in economics. He is employed by Core Spaces, one of the country’s top leaders in student housing. Rich manages the Ambassador Program across the United States and conducts market research for the firm; he also is involved with business development.
The Lasek family.

Alumni Spotlight: Paul Tierney, Jr. ’60

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

Image courtesy of Notre Dame Magazine.

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)

Tierney’s portrait in the 1960 Bkackfriars Yearbook.

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.

Tierney in Ghana.

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.”

As a Fenwick student, Tierney remembered Dean of Studies Fr. Jacobs as “approachable.”

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.”

Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight: Paul Tierney, Jr. ’60”

‘Death to Self:’ Bishop Barron’s Calling Began at Fenwick

By John Paulett, Fenwick Theology Teacher

Editor’s note: Monday, January 28, is the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Catholic Church and patron of students.

Three years ago Bishop Barron (left) reconnected with Fr. Thomas Poulsen, O.P., his former teacher at Fenwick.

Readers interested in exploring the excellent videos of Bishop Robert Barron, the recipient of the Lumen Tranquillum Award from Fenwick High School this year, might start with the short presentation he gives on the man he describes as his hero: St. Thomas Aquinas. The bishop explains how it was at Fenwick, when he was 14 years old, that a theology teacher first introduced him to St. Thomas Aquinas. He describes it as a “bell-ringer” event and goes on to explain how it changed the course of his life. He seems to suggest that this seminal moment led him, through the grace of God, into the priesthood.

Besides his description of the encounter in his freshman theology class, there is another deep Fenwick link in Barron’s explanation of Aquinas. He lists three ideas, which he believes characterize the thought and teaching of Thomas. It is interesting to note how closely the three themes he describes resemble three main ideas characteristic of a Fenwick education. Many high schools talk about the “grad at grad,” or what a graduate will know and be. I would suggest that these three concepts, reflective of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, might be a good description of a Fenwick student after four years on Washington Boulevard.

Bishop Barron first explains in the video that Aquinas believed there was one truth. He explains that people of Thomas’s time (we might note of our time as well) often thought there were two truths — scientific and religious. Aquinas refused to accept that. He knew that there could be only one truth. If science and religion seemed to be in conflict, there was a problem in either the scientific or the theological method. More thought and study were required.

‘Dominicans are not afraid of reason; we embrace it.’

Barron calls St. Thomas Aquinas his hero.

At Fenwick, we sometimes express this same idea as, “Don’t leave your brain at the door of the church (or the theology classroom.)” It is a characteristic of Dominican education to apply rigorous study and thought to every aspect of our education, including our religious belief. We are not afraid of reason; we embrace it. We are convinced that reason and critical examination will lead to the Creator, not contradict creation.

And so we teach Fenwick students to question, to wonder, and to apply the lessons they learn from science and philosophy to their faith. Bishop Barron reassures us that Aquinas had no fear of reason. Neither should we.

Radical Humanism

Secondly, Barron describes the Thomistic understanding that we are contingent beings. This is a fancy way of saying that we depend on something else for our existence. That thing that is the First Cause, what does not depend on anything else for its existence, is what we call God. It was this explanation of the Proofs of the Existence of God that first rang the bell of 14-year-old Bob Barron. [A Western Springs resident, he transferred to Benet Academy in Lisle.]

I often say to myself, “There is a God and it is not me.” When we recognize that we are dependent on a power beyond ourselves (12-step programs would call it a Higher Power,) we are on the path to faith. We begin this journey with the destruction of self-centeredness and ego. Christian theology calls it “death to self.” In the gospel of John, Jesus tells us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces great fruit.”

Continue reading “‘Death to Self:’ Bishop Barron’s Calling Began at Fenwick”

Q&A with New Student Services/Enrollment Management Director: James Quaid, PhD.

By Katie Bodlak ’18

What was your previous position at Fenwick?

JQ: I started at Fenwick in 1988 as Assistant Dean of Students.  I took over as Dean of Students from ‘89-’92.  I was Associate Principal for Academics from ‘92-’93 and from ‘93-2009 I was Principal.

 

What were you most proud of accomplishing in the time?

JQ: Enrollment increased quite a bit during that period and we did some major renovation projects.  The new gym, pool, library and annex were built. We also replaced the space that had been the old the pool with computer labs, a wrestling room and a teachers’ lounge. Test scores improved (ACT and SAT) and the number of National Merits increased.  We added sports like lacrosse and had a lot of success athletically. Academically we won state and national championships with the JETS and WYSE teams. Our Arts program also grew quite a bit. It was an awesome period to be here.

Where have you been working since Fenwick?

JQ: I served the Archdiocese of Chicago for two years as the Associate Superintendent of Schools.  I was responsible for curriculum, instruction, professional development and was the government liaison for the Archdiocese.  I went to Washington, D.C. and Springfield as a representative of Catholic schools.  After two years of that service, I went back to a school and became the Headmaster of Marmion Academy [in Aurora, IL]. From there I went to DePaul College Prep [formerly Gordon Tech] and was the Principal there for the last five years.

What did you learn at your last few jobs, especially at Marmion and DePaul Prep, that you will apply to Fenwick?

JQ: You know, they had some interesting approaches to education at Marmion. They are really locked into doing certain things a certain way. They are great listeners and they are able to focus well in the classroom, so some of the things that they did there I think would translate well to Fenwick. At DePaul we converted to one-to-one and took some different approaches in the classroom as far as doing more problem-solving activities and group work.  I know that Fenwick has been moving along in that regard.  I need to get caught up with what has been happening with the Friars. When I was at the Archdiocese, I was doing a lot of research on a lot of different things that can apply to almost anything in the curriculum, so I think we can incorporate some of those things to help.

Why did you decide to return to Fenwick?

JQ: Fenwick is one of the best schools in the country. I have been around a lot and have seen a lot of different things, and it is a very unique place. I think it is very special. They take their tradition of excellence seriously. The students get a great education in the Dominican tradition and really learn to express themselves. I don’t know of any other school that requires speech or four years of a foreign language. Students really learn how to write.

Three of my children graduated from Fenwick and were well prepared for life. I am proud of how successful they have been and how they go out of their way to help others. Fenwick played an important role in their development.  They have also made true friends for life. I just want to be a part of a great school.

What is your new position in Student Services going to be?

JQ: I’ll be working down in Student Services with the deans, the counselors and the learning specialists. I’ll also be helping with enrollment and admissions. I use to do a lot of work with admissions at Fenwick, and I did a lot of work with admissions at DePaul. On top of that, I’ll be teaching a A.P. U.S. History course. My first job as a high school teacher was at Lake Forest Academy [Lake Forest, IL] and I began teaching A.P. U.S. History there in 1982. Finally, I will be helping coach [sophomore] football.

What are you looking to bring to Fenwick?

Former Principal Dr. James Quaid is Fenwick’s new Director of Student Services and Enrollment Management.

JQ: I really respect the traditions of the school. I understand the history of the school and appreciate the way things are done and why things are done. I was very fortunate to have worked at Fenwick when there were still some people around who actually knew the people who helped found the school.  They told me why certain things were done a certain way and what the philosophy behind those approaches were. There are a lot of great people at Fenwick — like Mr. Borsch, Mr. Finnell,  Mr. Arellano and Father LaPata — who have been there for many years. They understand that, too. The student’s educational experience at Fenwick will be wonderful when we follow what the original founding father were there to do. I want to help carry on those traditions as much as I possibly can.

Where do you see Fenwick in the next five years?

JQ: I think it has a very bright future with some wonderful plans about many different things. I know they started a Capital Campaign, so within five years I would imagine we would see some of the fruits of that labor.

With Fenwick being more and more plugged in, like with the Class of 2018 being the first class with iPads, how do you think technology at Fenwick will change?

JQ: I’m interested to see where it is going to go. Other countries have not used traditional paperback or hardcover books for years in schools. Around the world, test scores indicate iPads have been used effectively.  You gain some skills from using iPads, but there are other things I think are lost as a result from using them. We have to consider what everyone is doing with technology, assess what is working and what is not working, and study the data on it.  It is a tool and not the whole driving force within itself.

I can tell you that 20 years ago we were doing a lot of great things with technology at Fenwick, and Fenwick has always been at the forefront of it. Fenwick also has some really talented people working with it.

I think the biggest problem with iPads is just keeping students on task and not getting distracted, because students have so much more of an opportunity to get distracted now than they did before. That’s always been an issue, so it is important that teachers are up and moving around and making classes interesting so the students are really engaged.

With you being at Catholic schools for most of your career, what do you think sets apart a Catholic education, especially at the high school level?

JQ: I really believe in faith-based education. One thing that the Dominicans have always stressed is that learning is accompanied by moral and spiritual growth.  Classroom discussions at Fenwick are conducted on a much higher level than at other schools because the theology at Fenwick is strong.  Is it moral? Is it the right thing to do? There are not limitations one finds in public schools so you can really get into some heavy issues, which causes you to think at a higher level.

Fenwick students historically have scored high on standardized tests because they are all able to solve problems and think on a higher level. I think they are learning those skills in a Catholic environment. I really do not know of any other school that does it better than Fenwick. I really don’t. Their classes are so solid and they are so tied together with what everyone is doing with each other. You could be discussing the concept of   “a just war” in Theology when talking about the Mexican War in history class.

Do you have a favorite memory or tradition at Fenwick?

JQ: I like the Fenwick sense of humor. I could give you a million examples. Many people who attend Fenwick are really clever, and there’s an environment where there is a certain amount of cleverness and humor that I have never seen at any other school. Three of my four children went there, too, so I have great memories of them being there and the great experiences they had there. I see their friends from Fenwick often and there’s a bond that I haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s really a special place.

About the Author

Before she graduated this past May, Fenwick Broadcasting Club member Katie Bodlak conducted a telephone interview with past-principal Dr. James Quaid, who — before this summer — had not been back at the Oak Park Catholic school in nine years. Ms. Bodlak soon is enrolling as a freshman at Millikin University in Decatur, IL.

‘Lady Bird’ Is Director Greta Gerwig’s Theological Ode to the Value of Catholic Education

The Friars of Fenwick should cheer for her breath of fresh air as this year’s Oscar winners unfold on Sunday!

By John Paulett

“Lady Bird” won the Golden Globe for Best Film (Musical or Comedy) and is nominated as Best Film at Sunday’s 90th Academy Awards (the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ annual “Oscar” event). The intimate and sweet film tells the story of Christine McPherson, a senior at Immaculate Heart High School in 2002 Sacramento, CA. Christine goes by what she calls her “given name:” Lady Bird. She explains to anyone who asks that it is her given name because she gave the name Lady Bird to herself. We feel in her self-naming that Lady Bird is someone special, a young woman who just hasn’t found a good way to fit in.

The film is unusual because it does not make fun of Catholic schools or demonize religious teachers. “Lady Bird” feels more like a love letter to a Catholic High School. Director Greta Gerwig, who attended a Catholic high school, seems to have understood the real character of Catholic education. Most films, songs and books about Catholic education focus on the oddities (“Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?”). Nuns often seem quaint characters or fierce tyrants. Catholic students are either beaten down or rebellious (Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young”). There is none of this in “Lady Bird.”

The priests might be a little eccentric, but they are passionate and caring. The director of the high school musical is a Jesuit who has an emotional breakdown when audiences just do not get his interpretation of “Merrily We Roll Along.” His distress is funny when considered in light of the original production’s New York audiences, who were bewildered by Hal Prince’s first staging of the play. After he falls apart, he is replaced as drama director for Shakespeare’s “Tempest” by a priest who is also the JV football coach. The good father is better at designing offensive football plays than he is at directing a play, so the staging is planned in diagrams of X’s and O’s. Still, the coach-priest brings the same commitment and excitement to iambic pentameter as he does to Friday-night lights.

The counselor (Sister Sarah-Joan, played to perfection by veteran actress Lois Smith) is warm, funny and understanding. She compliments Lady Bird on her drawings of Sacramento, saying that her art demonstrates a lot of love for the city. Lady Bird cannot accept the kind words and shrugs them off by saying she simply pays attention. The nun responds, “Don’t you think that might be the same thing? Love and attention?”

Grace = Love and Acceptance

Here is where the theology surfaces. Love and attention are the same thing in Catholic belief. Catholics believe that God is not impersonal. The world was not created by a Divine Watchmaker and set spinning. God is deeply and lovingly concerned with every person, every creature. God pays attention. It is what our theology refers to as “grace.”

Actress Saoirse Ronan (left) portays Lady Bird, and Laurie Metcalf plays her mother.

Ultimately, “Lady Bird” is a film of grace and a film about grace. Lady Bird laments to her mother, “What if this is the best version [of myself]?” This is the question that teachers in Catholic schools attempt to help their students answer every day. Because of our deep commitment to the idea of creation imago dei (we are created in the image of God), we nurture in our students a deep faith that they are the people God created them to be.

Continue reading “‘Lady Bird’ Is Director Greta Gerwig’s Theological Ode to the Value of Catholic Education”

Representing the Shield through Good Sportsmanship and Building Relationships

‘Coaching soccer at Fenwick is integral to my ministry as a Dominican Friar’ — especially in the heat of battle! 

By Father Dennis Woerter, O.P. ’86

Brazilian fútbol super-nova, Pelé, performing his now-famous “bicycle kick” in 1968.

Pelé, whom I consider to be the greatest soccer player of all time, said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, studying, sacrifice and most of all love of what you are doing or learning to do.”  Certainly, he had much success, helping Brazil win three World Cups and currently holding the fifth spot in the list of top World Cup goal scorers, with 12.  At Fenwick, we want our students to be successful, and we never shy away from the fact that success requires hard work, perseverance, studying, sacrifice and love.  Pelé’s words apply to us all!

I have coached both boys’ and girls’ soccer at Fenwick for six years, beginning with the fall season in 2012.  Soccer strategy is the same for both: Coaches adapt formations to the personnel and make adjustments throughout the season.  The skills are the same for all who play soccer, but there is a lot more to the game than winning and losing.

Coach Woerter on the sideline (in white) this past fall.

I tell my players before the first game to “remember the shield.”  When on the field, they represent Fenwick; and referees, opponents, opposing coaches and spectators notice the ways in which a team respects all aspects of the game.  It is telling that the Fenwick boys’ soccer program has won the Chicago Catholic League Sportsmanship award a few times!  This award is given to the entire program.

It is important, though, to reflect on how coaching soccer at Fenwick is integral to my ministry as a Dominican Friar.  I played soccer at Fenwick and Loras College.  Fenwick had started soccer in 1981, so my freshman year of 1982 was the second year of varsity soccer. Both our boys’ and girls’ programs are now consistent winners.  My first year at Loras (1986) was their first year as an NCAA program.  They are now a Division III powerhouse!

Pele’s words resonate for us as coaches.  We work our players hard.  We encourage them to keep going when they may want to give up.  We have classroom sessions where we design plays and explain strategy.  When faced with obstacles, coaches figure out new ways of integrating team personnel.  The demands of a season result in coaches and players spending a lot time away from home.  Most important of all, though, we share the love of the sport with those we are charged to coach.  This love is not only for the sport, but for the players we coach.

Fr. Dennis was the tallest Friar (center) on the 1985 Fenwick soccer team.

The foundation of ministry is forming relationships.  Coaching is a lot like ministry.  In order to be a successful coach, relationships must be formed with players.  In order to influence players, they must see the coach as someone who is competent and compassionate!  The coach also must have the player’s best interest in mind.

This can be exemplified by an experience I had during a game last spring.  We were winning a particular game, but one of the referees was one we had trouble with before.  During the course of the game, he showed some amazing disrespect to me by some things he said.  I reacted by saying some things only the girls on the bench could hear.  One of them, a captain, led me aside and said, “FD (my nickname), don’t lower yourself to his level. We all know you are right.”

Notice, she didn’t say, “I know you are right.”  She said, “We know.”

About the Author

A Class of 1986 alumnus, Fr. Woerter teaches Theology at Fenwick and is the Director of Campus Ministry. Father Dennis (FD) also coaches as an assistant on the sophomore boys’ and junior-varsity girls’ soccer teams. He received a B.A. in speech communication (journalism) from Loras College, a Master of Divinity from the Aquinas Institute of Theology, a M.A. in Theology (Catholic Social Teaching) from the Aquinas Institute and a Doctor of Ministry degree (Preaching in the Practice of Ministry) from the Iliff School of Theology.