Remembering Inspirational Grandfathers Everywhere

At the Fenwick All Souls’ Day Mass, a junior cross-country runner from Burr Ridge recalled how her late grandpa would utter ‘cheesy’ quotations and loosen hard-to-open pickle jars.

By Student Preacher Natalie Poleszak ’23 (Burr Ridge, IL)

Today, we celebrate All Souls’ Day. Every single year, Catholics gather on November 2nd, commemorating the dead. But why? For Catholics, this day gives us the opportunity to pray for all who have passed away. We pray for our departed brothers and sisters, our loved ones, and our friends. And we also pray for all those still in purgatory, that they may be cleansed of their sins to be finally carried into heaven to rest with God. Personally, I use this day to remember one of the people that I loved the most, my grandfather.

No matter how many people you are surrounded by, I think the most interesting thing is that we can still feel so alone. That’s why it’s so important to know that you will always have a community to fall back on. Even though we may not depend on them for our every need, just knowing that you have someone there to listen, help or even just silently pray for you is a big help. Your community can be your parents, your siblings, your friends, your classmates, even your Starbucks barista … anyone you trust really. But sometimes, all we need is that one person who will help us through the thick and thin. For me, that was my grandpa. Whenever any minor inconveniences would happen in my life, I would go to him. Whether I needed someone to open a jar of pickles, or someone to referee the fighting between my sister and me, grandpa was always there. While he did not always know how to fix the problem, he was always present there for me and willing to listen. I often wished he could fix all my problems as easily as he could open a jar of pickles. Instead, often he simply gave me advice through a cheesy inspirational quote. When I think about his impact today, all those cheesy quotes may have actually helped — that he not only gave me the solution, but made me work for the answer. Through looking back at his words, everything that has happened to me has been a lesson, even if I was blinded by that lesson in the moment. But, sometimes, learning from our experience isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we need to experience deep personal and spiritual reflection before we get the answers we are searching for.

My relationship with God has not always been perfect. To be quite honest, after my grandfather died, I did not have much faith in God. I was angry and sad, struggling to comprehend my own emotions. Not knowing who to turn to or what to do, I instinctively decided to just sit and pray. One day, I decided to bike to church, and then sat in front of the altar. I began to talk to God, telling him my thoughts on and on until about two hours passed. I wish that I could tell you that that specific moment turned me into a new, enlightened person, but it didn’t feel like that at all. I did feel somewhat relieved, but it didn’t change the ever-present fact that my grandpa was gone. The real impact was when I went to Sunday Mass the next day. At Mass, no one sat in the seat I had sat in the day before. Every seat around it was filled with people … and yet, that one singular seat was completely open. No, no one was saving a spot. It wasn’t due to social distancing. Nor was it even a seat for someone’s coat or purse. That seat was just completely empty, almost as if it was beckoning for me. 

At that moment, I realized that God heard my prayers. As weird as it looked, I truly believe that I received a message from God. I came to understand that God would leave that seat open for me whenever I wanted to come in and bask in his grace. God would always save me a spot as his table, like he saved a spot for my grandpa in the kingdom of heaven. 

Later it turned out that the seat was empty because a kid spilled applesauce on it before Mass, but a part of me still believes it was God’s own humorous way of showing his presence, love and care for me, just like my grandpa had.

The Commemoration of All Souls gives us a day to remember all those who have died. It also provides us an annual opportunity to reflect on how they have and still impact our lives. As much as we wish we could, we cannot bring our loved ones back to life, so instead we are gathered here today to do three things:  

Firstly, we are here today to honor them. We honor their words, their beliefs and, most especially, the love they gave us. 

Secondly, we pray for their eternal repose. We pray that through God’s great mercy, they might come to spend eternity with Him, in his kingdom.  

Lastly, in recalling the example of our departed loved ones, we are challenged to take the love we received from them and pass it on to others, through our own words and actions. May we recall those things that had a greatest impact upon us and do those same things for others.

As I take leave of you today, let me make it known:
If you ever need someone to support you or loosen the lid of a jar of pickles …
I am your girl!

The Giraffe Plan

When their nanny died young and tragically from breast cancer last fall, Fenwick students Wil ’21 and Leah Gurski ’23 knew they had to do something for her young son, Adam. But what?

By Wil Gurski ’21 (Oak Park, IL)

When God calls someone to be a mother, that virtue doesn’t only nurture her own child but cultivates all of those she influences.

Hi! My name is Wil Gurski, and I would like to tell you a story about a woman who fulfilled God’s call to compassion and left a lasting impression on my sister Leah [a Fenwick sophomore] and me.

Young Leah Gurski ’23 (left) and Viola after a manicure for Leah’s birthday.

Eighteen years ago, I was blessed with a second mother, Viola, when she started to take care of me at six months old. She taught me how to count to 10 in Polish, read me bedtime stories from her hometown of Krakow, and she would always take my sister and me to the zoo. Most summers we would go to Brookfield Zoo at least once a week. And every time we went, Viola would insist that we stop by the giraffe enclosure to take pictures. Without a doubt her favorite animal was the giraffe, and, in hindsight, a proud, compassionate and protective mother giraffe perfectly embodies her.

A few years later she had a son, named Adam; naturally, he became a brother to Leah and me. To this day, Adam still gets me in trouble. We play basketball together in the backyard, Minecraft until 1 a.m., watch the exact same TV shows, and one summer we spent the entire day
walking from park to park playing Pokémon Go.

Wil, Leah and Adam celebrating Adam’s first communion.

Then, in August 2020, Viola was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it had tragically spread throughout her body. She soon passed away on September 26th, devastating everyone who had been touched by her kindness.

My sister and I knew we had to do something to help little Adam and his Dad. A few weeks later, Leah came up with the brilliant idea to sell clothing to raise money for Adam’s college tuition. She figured that it would make a big difference for the family if Adam’s future was more secure. So, we decided to create The Giraffe Plan LLC, inspired by Viola’s favorite animal, to spread her love and confidence the same way she did for us.

Viola and a little, four-year-old Adam.

Leah and I know how much an average college charges in tuition, so we had to think big. A simple fundraiser could not cover the amount we needed to raise, but a business could. A business in which all of the profits go directly into Adam’s college savings plan.

Fellow Friar water polo player Pete Buinauskas ’21 (Western Springs, IL) poses in a Giraffe Plan sweatshirt with OPRF senior Isabel Evens.

With our mission in mind, we turned to the most gifted (and patient) graphic designer we knew, Fenwick junior Dylan Fu. He helped design our logos, sweatshirts, website, social media and so much more. Additionally, senior Maddie Miller drafted a six-page marketing plan and a seven-page sponsorship proposal. My Fenwick peers were vital help in securing an awesome sponsorship for our business. A sponsor paid for our entire stock of sweatshirts and financed our LLC, allowing us to donate all of the revenue we receive — without any overhead costs.

My sister and I are incredibly humbled by all of the support we have received in setting up this venture: from friends who have financially supported us, those who have donated their legal counsel, and all who have just believed in us and our mission. Most of all, we are truly grateful for people like you who take the time out of their day to listen to our story. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

Check out the website:

THE GIRAFFE PLAN

Adam and Viola sitting in front of the wall of Legos that Adam and Wil assembled. (There is a little giraffe above them.)
Leah and Wil’s Aunt Margie (holding baby Adam) with Viola and her husband, who is also named Adam.
Fenwick swimmers turned Giraffe Plan “models:” Michael Flynn ’22 (left, Brookfield, IL) and Pete Buinauskas ’21 (Western Springs, IL) posing in sweatshirts.

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. 
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