Forty-Niners Reminisce about the Dominicans of Fenwick

With extra time on their hands during the COVID-19 health crisis,
10 members from Fenwick’s Class of ’49 trade memories via e-mail.

“I keep looking for something more or less productive to do,” writes Fenwick alumnus Tom Morsch ’49. “While watching a Zoom presentation on Thomas Aquinas, I noticed that his treatise on the Gospel of John was translated from Latin to English by someone named Fabian Larcher, O.P. I said to myself, I know that guy; he taught me algebra. To be sure, I went online to check ‘Order of Preachers, Province of St. Albert the Great.’ There I found that this was, in fact, our Fr. Larcher (and lots of other interesting stuff).”

Classmate Bob Lee responded, “I had Fr. Larcher for algebra also. He was a clean-desk guy. Remember? The only book on your desk was the algebra book, all others below your desk. And he walked around the class every day and enforced the law. He was one of my best teachers at Fenwick. You always had to be prepared for his quick tests. I had the feeling he was interested that I got it.” Fr. Larcher went on to teach at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, MN, from 1949-53. He passed away in 1981 at age 77 (see list below).

Tom Morsch in 1948-49.

“I agree with you, Bob. I loved the guy!” replied Morsch, who also reminisced about Father James Dempsey. “My first day in Fr. Dempsey’s English class, he asked: ‘Are there any of you who did not go to a Catholic school? If so, raise your hand’” recalls Mr. Morsch. “I did so, along with two or three others. My hand was about as high as the top of my ear.

“Dempsey said: ‘Morsch, stand up and recite the Our Father,’” he continues. “I stood up. I was terribly embarrassed, and mumbled something like, ‘Mumble, mumble, Our Father, mumble, ugh, er, mumble.’ I knew the Our Father but was too scared to say it. With disgust Dempsey said, ‘Sit down, Morsch.’ That was that. But I loved the guy!”

Classmate Jack Spatafora notes: “Fr. Dempsey let me be a columnist for The Wick. All went well until I got writer’s block. I decided to ‘borrow’ some ideas from the Chicago Public Library stacks … [and] found a clever piece on golf and adapted it. Later, I discovered that my source was a well-known New York author who was all too familiar to Dempsey — as he later advised me with a contemptuous scowl! Still, I think I’d prefer THOSE innocent days to THESE!”

Tom McCormick ’49 adds: “Freshman year we … had Fr. Larcher for Algebra, Dempsey (a good friend of Red Sox catcher and manager Birdie Tebbets) for English, Lawton for General Science, maybe Donlan or Morganthaler for Religion, Shortie Connolly for Speech, aka ‘Show and Tell,’ I don’t remember who for Latin, but I do remember fun-loving Br. Schoffman being overseer of JUG …

“An anecdote, perhaps you recall, involving Fr. Dempsey: Bill Finnegan knew I had the book Barefoot Boy with Cheek and asked to borrow it. I said okay, gave it to him before English class, and admonished him not to read it during class. Naturally, he couldn’t resist a peek, started giggling, and prompted Fr. Dempsey to ask ‘What do you have there?’ The first words out of Finnegan’s mouth were, ‘It’s McCormick’s.’ So Dempsey confiscates the book. Three weeks later he gives it back to me with a lecture on why I shouldn’t be reading things like that. I’m sure it made the rounds at the Priory during the three weeks. As a result, I wouldn’t let Finnegan read my father’s copy of Forever Amber.”

Fr. Dempsey and Fr. Lawton left Fenwick to join the Dominican mission in Nigeria. Fr. Lawton was invested as Bishop of Sokto in 1964. He died of a heart attack in 1966 while riding in an automobile and is buried in Nigeria. Fr. Dempsey succeeded him as Bishop of Sokoto in 1967 and eventually returned to the United States, where he died in 1996.

’49 TRIVIA

Father Malone
  1. What were the nicknames of Fr. Conley and Fr. Malone?
  2. Nickname of Fr. Scannell?
  3. What bet was made by astronaut Joe Kerwin in September 1945?
  4. How many freshman boys hailed from northwest suburban Park Ridge, IL?
  5. Who won the Scholar-Athlete Award at the 1949 graduation?
  6. What model car did Tony Nashaar drive to school?
  7. What was the rather remarkable thing that Jack McMahon did after graduating?
  8. Who was the fourth member of the one-mile relay team that won the Daily News Relays title beside Jack Kelly, Jack Regan and Bill Carmody?
Nashaar’s mystery car.

Answers

  1. Little Caesar & Butch
  2. Skipper because he was moderator of sea scouts.
  3. Chicago Cubs to whip Detroit Tigers in World Series, and he gave odds!
  4. Nine (A. Jenks, Sorquist, O’Brien, Frainey, Jolie, Normandt, Barczykowski, Gleason, Georgen)
  5. Jim Strojny
  6. Nash
  7. Robbed a bank and went to jail.
  8. George Remus

Order of Preachers – Province of St. Albert the Great – Necrology (Date of Death)

Teachers

John Murtaugh – 1947
James Quinn – 1961
Edward Lawton – 1966
John Simones – 1967
Michael McNicholas – 1968
Chester Myers – 1968
Andrew Henry – 1971
George Conway – 1972
Anselm Townsend – 1972
Joseph Reardon – 1977
Fabian Larcher – 1981
Cyril Fisher – 1982
George Conway – 1984
Victor Feltrop – 1984
Walter van Rooy – 1985
John Malone – 1993
James Dempsey – 1996
James Regan – 1996
Gordon Walter – 1996
Louis Nugent – 1998
Raymond Ashenbrenner – 2003
Walter Soleta – 2003
John Morgenthaler – 2004
Thomas Donlon
Albert Niesser

Teachers not O.P.

Fr. Leonard Puisis – 2013
Tony Lawless – 1976
Dan O’Brien ’34 – 2003
Br. Schaufman               

Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values

A Forty-Niner alumnus and former Fenwick teacher reflects on the heels of his 70th class reunion.

By Jack Spatafora, PhD. ’49

In addition to reforming curricula, Fenwick alumnus Jack Spatafora, PhD. was a White House speech writer.

Everyone agrees that a good education is good for the nation. It gets thornier when it comes to defining a ‘good education.’ For 90 years, Fenwick High School has been addressing this issue the best way it knows how: by graduating hundreds of students each year equipped with both the academic and moral gifts needed to become the kind of citizens our complex times’ need.

From Aristotle to Aquinas to Jefferson, the ideal citizen is one who knows not only what to think but also how to think: clearly, logically, passionately. I experienced this at Fenwick, first as a student and then as a teacher. The day General MacArthur was accepting the surrender of Japan in September 1945, I was entering the old Scoville Avenue entrance as a freshman. Seven years later, I returned to teach U.S. History. That is experiencing Fenwick from both ends of the classroom!

Jack Spatafora as a Fenwick junior in 1948.

Fenwick was much smaller and less equipped during the 1950s, and yet it was already sending some of the best and brightest into post-World War II America. Young men equipped and motivated with three of the academic tools most required for good citizenship: 1) facts, 2) ideas and 3) values:

  1. As a faculty, we had this funny notion that there were facts, not alternative facts, be it science, math or history. Facts are stubborn, objective things that the student needs to confront, process and use in reaching conclusions. 
  2. When properly assessed and connected, facts become the essence of ideas. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
  3. There is a third feature to good citizenship: values. If facts and ideas are essential as a foundation, values are the super-structure to the edifice — including respect for truth, honor, country and God. The ideal citizen embraces each, both profoundly and efficaciously. For as Alexander Hamilton put it: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Mr. Spatafora’s Fenwick Faculty photo from 1957.

Gazing back over these last 70 years, this is some of what I proudly remember. Both as a member of the Fenwick student body and later the Fenwick faculty. You might say I was twice blessed. Frankly, I say it all the time.

Continue reading “Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values”

Forever Friars: Remembering William Martin, Class of 1954

The young Assistant State’s Attorney stood at the center of “The Trial of the Century” in the mid-1960s — as the chief prosecutor of mass-murderer Richard Speck.

By Mark Vruno

As the Fenwick Bar Association celebrates its the 20th Annual Accipter Award Luncheon on May 18th, we remember 2006 recipient William Martin, who passed away last July at the age of 80, following a long battle with cancer.

Bill Martin (’54 FHS Yearbook).

During a legal career that spanned more than 50 years, Bill Martin lawyered — later as a defense attorney — and taught the law. After serving as editor of The Wick student newspaper and graduating from Fenwick in 1954, Martin attended Loyola University Chicago and its law school, where he was voted the outstanding student. He founded and was editor of the Loyola Law Times, a Journal of Opinion.

Martin at the Speck Trial 13 years later.

Until his death last year, the native Oak Parker (St. Giles) was a private practitioner specializing in attorney ethics and criminal law. He is, however, known best for putting a monster behind bars. The murderer’s name was Richard Speck, who went on a killing spree on Chicago’s southeast side the hot night of July 14, 1966.

An Assistant State’s Attorney at the time, the then 29-year-old Billy Martin had been selected from a pool of more than 30 criminal court prosecutors, many much older and with far more felony trial experience, according to an article in the spring 2018 edition of the Journal of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Despite his relative youth, Martin had earned the respect of Cook County State’s Attorney Dan Ward and his chief assistants, including John Stamos.

Twenty-five years later, Martin told the Chicago Sun-Times, “In a way, it was the end of innocence. In this case, eight women asleep in a middle-class, crime-free, virtually suburban neighborhood were subject to random violence from a killer who basically came out of the night.” Reflecting in a 2016 interview with the Wednesday Journal, he added, “By committing the first random mass murder in 20th-century America, Richard Speck opened the floodgates to a tragic phenomenon that haunts us today.”

The eight young women murdered at the hands of Richard Speck.

Martin believed that Speck was evil incarnate. The 24-year-old ex-convict from Texas stabbed or strangled (and, in one case, raped) the female nursing students. While in hiding two days after the grisly murders, Speck tried to kill himself by cutting his wrists with a broken wine bottle. But once he was locked up in Statesville Correctional Center, Illinois’ maximum-security prison near Joliet, the human monster never showed any remorse for the bloody, heinous acts he committed.

Scene of the crimes: The townhouses at 2319 E. 100th Street, Chicago.

There was one person who survived that horrible night: 85-pound student nurse Corazon Amurao. Originally from the Philippines, Ms. Amurao hid, terrified, under a bunk bed during the five-hour killing rampage. One by one, her nursing school classmates were ruthlessly slain by the madman. At dawn, in shock, she crawled through the carnage to the townhouse balcony. For 20 minutes she screamed, “Oh my God, they are all dead!”

WTTW Interview with Bill Martin (2016).

Continue reading “Forever Friars: Remembering William Martin, Class of 1954”