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.
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.’
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.”
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.
‘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
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.
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.
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.
What is ‘social capital,’ and how do we measure it?
By Gerald F. Lordan, O.P., Ph.D., Social Studies Teacher and Faculty Mentor
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, was a novelist and Free French Army aviator lost missing in action in 1944 during World War II. He is paraphrased to have said, “The most important things in life are invisible and impossible to measure.”
For many years this statement applied to the benefits of Catholic education. A recent book, Lost Classroom, Lost Community by Margaret Brining and Nicole Stelle Garnett, helps to quantify the value of Catholic education to the community. The authors, both of whom are Notre Dame University Law School professors, studied demographic, educational and criminal statistics in Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. They found a close connection between the presence of a Catholic school and community social capital. This connection can have a positive impact not only on the life of the community as a whole but also on the lives of the individuals within that community.
Social capital can be defined as the social networks and norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness shared by members of a community with one another. Brining and Garnett found high levels of social capital among the administrators, teachers, parents and students of Catholic schools. Social capital can be considered a factor of production similar to physical, financial and human capital. According to Brining and Garnett, social capital can be viewed as something that helps to produce a better society, less crime, less disorder and more trust. When Catholic schools are closed in a community, the community suffers. Many people who support Catholic education sense these findings intuitively. Saint-Exupery to the contrary, notwithstanding, Brining and Garnett help to quantify those intuitions. Continue reading “Found Classroom, Found Community”
Being a kid today is not easy. But then again, it never was, which is why Catholic schools such as Fenwick teach both ‘résumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’
By John Paulett
One of our graduates, currently a student at a university in Indiana, sent me a copy of an article she wrote for the college publication. Her essay told about a college student being transported to the hospital for excessive consumption of alcohol.
“’Four guys carried this kid downstairs limb by limb and they sat him down, and he could barely sit in the chair, and we tried to wake him up, but he was unconscious,’ (a witness) said.”
The article, written on October 10th, stated that, “21 students were hospitalized for alcohol consumption in the fall semester of last year, 20 students have already been hospitalized in the first half of the fall semester this year.”
I am a parent as well as a teacher, and I know these are frightening stories to read. They remind us that young people often face situations that are new and uncertain. Young people can make bad decisions, sometimes because pressures take the place of good judgment.
When I think about young people confronted by difficult choices, it brings to mind a dramatic incident from 2009. On January 15th of that year, minutes after takeoff, US Airways flight 1549 struck a flock of geese. The collision happened at 3:27:11. The plane’s pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Sully, they called him,) radioed a Mayday call at 3:27:33. At 3:31 p.m., less than five minutes later, the pilot landed the plane in the Hudson River. His recognition of the problem, creation of a plan, and execution of the action happened in minutes. Like most people, I found the Captain’s ability to solve the problem and land the plane in such a short time almost unbelievable. (Actor Tom Hanks portrays him in the 2016 motion picture, “Sully.”)
I read an interview with Sullenberger in which he was questioned about his ability to act so well so fast. He said, “I had to very quickly come up with a paradigm of how to solve even this problem.”
Guided by Jesus, our brother, and St. Thomas Aquinas, our students’ minds want to know and their wills want to love.
By Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P., President Emeritus of Fenwick High School
Hardly a day goes by when some institution, business, or government isn’t asked to share its “vision.” Fenwick is no different. It is important that our school be called upon to offer its vision to the public. The only difference is that we have a theological vision. And what exactly is it?
First of all, the Gospel tells us that Jesus has come to bring life and to bring it more abundantly. Because Fenwick has as its mission to continue the ministry of Jesus, it is our responsibility to bring not only “life,” but abundant life to our students. How do we as an educational institution do that? In other words, how do we become life-giving?
Well, St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that human life consists in an intellect and a free will and in the exercise of these faculties. It is in the development and use of the mind to know and a will to love that we experience our human life. God’s grace, building and supporting these powers, is able to bring it abundantly. And so the vision we have of Fenwick is its ability to actualize to the fullest every student’s ability to know and love, always supported by an underlying Christian Faith.
Do we fully succeed at every moment to realize this vision in each student? Perhaps there may be times when we fall short, but the vision is always there and will always remain.
Partly because Friars look at the world through ‘faith-colored’ glasses.
By Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P., President Emeritus
Why do parents send their children to a religious-sponsored school such as Fenwick? There may be more than one reason why they do so. For example, our school has the reputation of preparing a child well for college.
Or, it is felt that a Fenwick diploma guarantees a student getting into a good college or university? Perhaps it is the knowledge of well-qualified teachers present on our faculty. Possibly a first visit has impressed the visitor with Fenwick’s welcoming, friendly atmosphere. They see how much Fenwick appreciates diversity and the sense of family, and that these qualities are continued in the lives of our alumni.
Into this mix of motives, I hope boys and girls are seated here for the main reason why Dominican Friars founded the school: that is, to encounter and learn all about the faith and beliefs of the Catholic Christian community.
Like any other educational institution, Fenwick forms the students in their knowledge of the world through instruction in the arts and sciences, but it adds another dimension to the student’s awareness of that world. This is done through the study of theology, which looks at everything in its relation to God. Theology presents what we believe and how that belief throws light on whatever else we may know about the universe. There is another resource of learning, and that is our Christian faith. Contrary to what some people think, God’s gift of faith does not constrain or restrict human knowledge, nor does it diminish all other true knowledge but adds to our understanding of all things.
Again, it’s like looking at the world through faith-colored glasses. This faith-view sees God as present and working in the world, and that we have a relationship with God as Creator and Parent. And, so, what Fenwick attempts to do through its Theology classes is to enlighten the student, answering for him/her the ultimate meaning of life.
Whatever reasons move parents to send their children to Fenwick, I hope a deep understanding of the faith may be one of them.
Father LaPata is a 1950 graduate of Fenwick High School.
By Gerald F. Lordan, O.P., Ph.D., Social Studies Teacher and Faculty Mentor
There are five principal educational philosophies in America:
the Idealism of Plato
the Realism of Aristotle
the Experimentalism of Dewey
the Existentialism of Sartre
the Thomism of Aquinas
Philosophy is the love of wisdom. A philosopher seeks to ask the right question — and not to give the right answer. Philosophy has three principal questions: a) What is real? (metaphysics), b) What is true? (epistemology), and c) What is good? (axiology)
The axiological question is so broad that it often is divided into two subsections: What is right? (ethics) and What is beautiful? (aesthetics)
Approximately 90% of American children attend public schools. They are usually taught under more than one of the first four philosophies. Approximately 10% of American children attend private schools. Of that amount, about nine of ten are in parochial schools, and some 90% of them are in Roman Catholic schools. These children are usually taught under Thomism.
The private-sector students who do not attend a parochial school usually attend an independent school. These schools usually have a focus on either Idealism or Existentialism. I believe those schools which focus on one philosophy better serve their children. Furthermore, it is my opinion that those schools which focus on Thomism best serve their children.
In the Chicago metropolitan area, we have schools which are examples of all five educational philosophies. The curriculum model of an Idealist-philosophy school is Scholar Academic. The Scholar Academic School trains the next generation of academic discipline scholars – that is chemists, poets, mathematicians, etc. Students are valuable for what they know.
The curriculum model of a Realist-philosophy school is Social Efficiency. The Social Efficiency School trains the next generation of workers – that is engineers, accountants, architects, actuaries, librarians, etc. Students are valuable for what they do.
The curriculum model of an Experimentalist-philosophy school is Social Reconstruction. The Social Reconstruction School trains the next generation of change agents dedicated to the advancement of a democratic, capitalist, political-economic order. Students are valuable for what they believe.
The curriculum model of an Existentialist-philosophy school is Human Development. The Human Development School prepares the next generation of self-actualized individuals. Students are valuable for the people they may become.
The curriculum model at Fenwick is Thomism. Fenwick prepares the next generation of virtuous servant leaders of society. Students are valuable as human beings with the potential to be full of God’s grace. There are neither superiors nor inferiors in a Thomist-philosophy school, but rather superodinates and subordinates. They are trained to be members of the Hero Generation.
The Hero is the poor boy or girl made good; the person on horseback who rides into a polis, a city, in the midst of anarchy, a situation in which there is bad government by the many with mob rule and wildness in the streets – a scenario in which nobody’s life, liberty and property are safe. The Hero says, “I know what to do. I have a plan. Follow me.” The Hero inspires the people and leads society to serenity.
About the Author
Dr. Lordan is entering his 27th year of teaching at Fenwick. Originally from Massachusetts, Lordan completed his under-graduate studies at Northeastern University and received a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Maryland. He earned his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Boston College.
Parochial teachers serve as parental supplements, not substitutes — and therein lies the difference between the Fenwick community and its public-school counterparts.
By Gerald F. Lordan, O.P., Ph.D., Social Studies Teacher
Parents of parochial school students almost universally value their decision to choose religious-based programs over public education for the formation of their children. However, beyond intuition, parents sometimes find it difficult to articulate why they value that decision. An examination of the philosophical foundations of parochial education may enable us to understand on a rational level what we already value on an intuitive level.
Parochial schools have greater social capital than their public school counterparts. Social capital is the agreement among families concerning the core values which identify their behavior. Parochial school communities often have great diversity among their families by ethnicity, geography, income, and language, but these schools are successful in achieving the goals of their ministries because there is a congruence of core values among families. Good families gravitate toward good schools with good community values. With their obligation to service all families within their geographic attendance area, public schools often have less value congruence and less social capital.