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:

  • Chicago (191)
  • Oak Park (108)
  • Elmhurst (106)
  • Western Springs (83)
  • River Forest (76)
  • Berwyn (75)
  • Hinsdale (63)
  • Elmwood Park (58)
  • Riverside (54)
  • La Grange (32)
  • Forest Park (27)
  • Melrose Park (26)
  • Cicero (23)
  • Clarendon Hills (19)
  • Westchester (15)
  • Burr Ridge (13)
  • River Grove (13)
  • La Grange Park (12)
  • Lombard (12)
  • Brookfield (11)

Helping to revitalizing Madison Street

“Fenwick is also a key partner in the development of the Madison Corridor,” the Mayor concluded. Plans for a Centennial campus expansion 10 years from now include a quad-like green space to our south, featuring a manicured lawn and tree-lined parkway.

As our 91st academic year commences, Latin still is taught at Fenwick. Therefore, it is in this timeless spirit that we say to you, our fellow Oak Parkers: Gratias vobis agimus. (Translation: “We give thanks to you.”) Thank you, all!

About the Author

Rev. Richard Peddicord, O.P. is entering his eighth year as the President of Fenwick High School. He taught French at the school between 1986 and 1990 and was Chair of the Theology Department. A native of Howell, Michigan, Fr. Peddicord entered the Dominican Order in 1981 and was ordained in 1986.

Dominican Formation Among Fenwick’s Faculty and Staff

While students sleep in, instructors and school administrators reflect on the spiritual side of their teaching ministry.

By Brother John Steilberg, O.P.

During the course of the school year, the faculty and staff at Fenwick participate in Dominican Formation Days. These late-start dates for students are an opportunity for the faculty and staff to reflect on who we are as a Catholic and Dominican school. Dominican formation stems from our need for ongoing education and formation in Catholic values vital to the mission of our school. We would like to share some thoughts shared by our faculty and staff after attending our most recent Dominican formation day in February.

One faculty member commented, “Dominican formation helps us better understand the Dominican tradition central to our school identity and helps us strengthen community with one another.” Another faculty relayed these sentiments: “It is important for us to participate in Dominican formation so that we can continue to grow spiritually as a community and to continue to remind us of our mission.” Another stressed the need to extend our mission to how we live, teach and preach here at Fenwick every day. “I would see the purpose as continuing to reflect on how we can best understand and live out our Catholic Dominican identity in specific ways.”

Dominican formation centers on the Four Pillars of Dominican Life:

  1. Prayer
  2. Study
  3. Community
  4. Preaching

The Four Pillars are a descriptive way of explaining the essence of and daily practice of Dominican life. The Dominican friars here at Fenwick live out the pillars in a very intentional way and oftentimes in a very external way. But all of our faculty and staff, in a wide diversity of actions, live out the pillars as part of their particular Christian vocation.

“Our job at Fenwick is to do more than teach and support academically, but to show through our actions the meaning of Christ’s love.”

One teacher described this shared mission of both the Dominican friars and the staff in this way, “As teachers, we must be able to model the Dominican Catholic values of the school.” Another teacher asserted, “Also, to remind us that our job at Fenwick is to do more than teach and support academically, but to show through our actions the meaning of Christ’s love.”

The Fenwick Community

Campus Ministry Director and proud alumnus Fr. Dennis Woerter, O.P. ’86 (with his back to us) co-led the Dominican Formation Day with Br. Steilberg, O.P.

Each year, our Dominican formation programs focus on one of the four pillars in particular. This year we reflected on “community,” how we are called by God to live together as Christian people. As a community, we discussed questions such as:

  • What is the most important thing we do that brings us together as a community?
  • What issues divide us at times?
  • What items do we need to work on?

We also examined where are the margins of our community are and how we can bring the gospel message to those margins. Our conversation was heartfelt and lively around these difficult questions.

What Makes Fenwick Different?

In later meetings we discussed our identity as a Catholic school. What makes us different, being Catholic and Dominican, from other schools in the area? One teacher explained it this way: “Every school prepares its students to lead, achieve and serve. Not every school’s mission is predicated upon a deep theological commitment to the dignity of the human person.” One faculty member explained, “to be Catholic is to be counter-cultural. Our identity and our values need to be true to who we are — even though that may not be popular or generally accepted.”

“Not every school’s mission is predicated upon a deep theological commitment to the dignity of the human person.”

Brother John
Brother John

We then discussed how to avoid going too far in emphasizing what makes us different, so that we can preach Jesus’ universal message of the gospel that is meant for all of mankind. This can be a challenging balance: to be true to our Catholic identity yet open to diversity, welcoming to all people, and proclaiming God’s mercy available to every person.

Finally, we discussed where God is in this picture here at Fenwick. Faculty members expressed this idea: “God is [present] in relationships with other people, with our students and our colleagues.”

As we strive to build a faith community, what does that say about what we believe about God? What is God asking of us, as a faith community, as a high school? These are challenging questions. These are questions that may take a lifetime to answer. But that is what we are about here at Fenwick. We seek the Truth.

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