The Friars’ championship football run in November brought great joy to a loyal alumnus and American hero on his final days.
Friar alumnus Vernon Breen ’44 passed away on December 14, 2021. A year ago in the Fenwick Alumni News (FAN e-newsletter), we wrote about then 95-year-old Mr. Breen, who had been recognized by the Chicago Bears as part of the NFL’s “Salute to Service” in 2020. Sgt. Breen served in the U.S. Army during World War II, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped to liberate the Dachau concentration camp — receiving a Bronze Star for his heroics.
LISTEN TO THE LATE SGT. BREEN DESCRIBE SOME OF THE ATROCITIES OF WAR IN THIS ORAL HISTORY ACCOUNT FROM THE NATIONAL WWII MUSUEM.
Vern Breen’s 1943-44 yearbook photo.
On December 13, 2021, one of Mr. Breen’s grandsons wrote via email to Head Football Coach Matt Battaglia:
Dear Coach Battaglia,
Congratulations on a very successful season and winning the state championship. Our grandfather, Vernon Cecil Breen is an alum of Fenwick high school, he graduated in 1944 and is still a die hard Friar fan. After graduation, Vernon was drafted to serve in WWII. After his service he returned home and worked at Central Ink Corporation and moved to Glen Ellyn.
Your team’s football season brought much joy to him this year. He keeps us up to date on the Friar’s athletics, though his main love is the football team. The last couple of months his health has declined, but was still able to watch the Friars win the state title game. My father in law said after the game was over, our grandfather was humming the fight song.
We wanted to share how much he still cares about the school and football team. Thank you for bringing him some much needed enjoyment. Best of luck in the future and again congratulations on a tremendous year. Go Friars!
P.S. – Vernon has the flag proudly hanging in his bedroom! (See below.)
The coach’s response that same day:
Thank you for sharing! This is such a great story and really humbling for me as a coach to realize something as simple as a football game can bring so much joy to those around us.
I hope Vernon is continuing to feel better! Could you please share with me a mailing address? I would love to send him a note signed by the team.
Then, on December 15, Vern’s daughter, Maureen, followed up with this note:
Dear Coach Battaglia,
I would like to add my congratulations to you and the Friars as well.
The state championship did bring a lot of joy to my dad. Sadly, he passed away yesterday. But we are so happy for him that one of the last things that he was able to enjoy was the state championship. You mentioned in your email that something as “simple as football” could bring so much joy. Sports is always about so much more than a simple game, something I learned in 1960, when at 5 years old, my dad began bringing me to Fenwick football games.
We attended several games a year, and those were treasured moments that I will never forget. I remember the first game I attended, taking in the stadium, and the excitement of the crowd. I had never seen a football game before and I had a million questions. I can still see that sunny fall afternoon in my head and the very moment when he explained to me what a first and ten was. From that day on, football, the Friars and sports in general was something that I loved sharing with my dad. I think that my family is not alone with that concept. Football and sports creates bonds, not just among teammates, but among the fans as well.
Again, congratulations. My dad was always proud to be a Friar.
Maureen Breen Barunas
Before Fenwick, Mr. Breen attended Horace Mann School and was a St. Giles parishioner. For four years, he was an avid participant intramural athletics while he was a Friar student.