The Powerful Pillar of Prayer

Kairos retreats — a senior rite at Fenwick for the past 34 years — are life-altering for many students, each of whom has ‘a story.’

By Mark Vruno

Most faithful Friars can recite the four pillars of Dominican life: 1) prayer, 2) study, 3) community and 4) preaching. Fenwick’s Kairos retreats blend together three of these pillars (community, preaching and praying), but it truly personifies prayer most of all. The nationally recognized Roman Catholic program is a two-and-a-half day, off-campus experience designed for high school students.

The word Kairos (from the Greek καιρός) “means ‘God’s time,’ ” translates former Theology Teacher Lucy White, who oversaw the senior retreat program at Fenwick for seven years before retiring in spring 2018.

The Bellarmine Retreat House is situated on 80 acres in northwest suburban Barrington, Illinois.

“It is an opportunity for seniors to go apart and experience God, others and themselves in a new way. Fenwick is unique in that, in keeping with the Dominican tradition of preaching, the students, with adult supervision, are the leaders of the retreat,” Mrs. White continues. “We train the student leaders to give talks, lead small groups and guide the retreat. It is an opportunity for the students to be honest, open and supportive of each other in a safe, prayerful environment. Students open up and are supported by their peers in their struggles, pressures and fears as well as their successes. The senior class bonds as a whole, making life-long friendships. Many seniors say that it is their best experience of Fenwick.”

Young alumnus Kyle Gruszka ’17, from Chicago and now a third-class (year) cadet at the United States Air Force Academy, recounts: “Kairos really opened my eyes and helped me connect to my classmates in ways I couldn’t even imagine.” A graduate of St. Giles School in Oak Park, Gruszka is studying astronautical engineering in Colorado Springs.

Over more than three decades, nearly 10,000 Friar students have embarked on the student-run retreats. “I was on the very first Fenwick Kairos in December of 1985,” recalls former Campus Minister Fr. Dennis Woerter, O.P., D.Min. ’86, adding that fellow alumnus John Quinn ’76 was a faculty team member present at that inaugural retreat. Mr. Quinn remembers Kairos’ roots at Fenwick. “Father Peter Heidenrich, O.P., now deceased, was the driving force/founder of the program [here] ,” reports the long-time history/social studies teacher and former basketball coach.

Spanish Teacher and alumnus Jim Reardon ’86 served as a captain of that first Kairos, which was held at the Dominican House of Studies (Priory) in River Forest. A decade later, ’96 classmates turned Spanish and science teachers, respectively, Samantha Carraher and Brigid Esposito, were among the first female retreatants at Fenwick. Social Studies Teacher Gary Richied ’95 was the rector for that first co-ed Kairos in Fenwick history.

Class of 2020 team-building and bonding at October Kairos.

Fr. Heidenrich sought a spiritual component beyond classroom instruction. “He wanted to create a cutting-edge retreat program,” Mr. Quinn elaborates, wherein students could serve as living examples for each other. He traveled around the United States to different Catholic high schools and conferences, “probing and mining,” according to Quinn. “The vision was to seek out young people of great leadership and faith potential to be ministers of their own.”

With the school being comprised solely of boys during Kairos’ inception, the wise priest thought it was critical to obtain buy-in from coaches at the time, including Jim Nudera (football and wrestling) and Mike Latz ’81 (wrestling) in addition to theology teachers such as Br. Carlos Griego. “Young men were being asked to take on very different roles as faith leaders,” explains Quinn, then the Friars’ head varsity basketball coach. “Bringing in coaches as part of the Kairos leadership team was an integral part of Heidenrich’s strategy.” Strong support from the top down came from then-President Fr. William Bernacki, O.P., notes Quinn, followed later by Fr. Robert Botthof, O.P. and Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50.

Adds Athletic Director/alumnus Scott Thies ’99, “Kairos is a great tool for breaking down the barriers that often exist among different groups of teenagers.”

Fr. Woerter continues: “We all have an inherent desire to be and feel loved. Despite what may be going on in a student’s life, Kairos is an opportunity for him or her to simply experience love. Love of God and love of neighbor are two elements of the Great Commandment,” notes Woerter, who left Fenwick this past spring to become associate pastor with the St. Paul Catholic Center (Newman Center) at Indiana University. “Kairos allows the student to feel loved by both God and neighbor. I have witnessed the life-changing effect of Kairos, not only for individuals, but for entire classes.”

Embracing emotions

In mid-October, 51 members of the Class of 2020 — 25 boys and 26 girls — bused to the Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington, IL, some 50 miles northwest of Oak Park and Chicago. Fenwick facilitates six such retreats each school year, explains Math Teacher Maria Nowicki, who is in her second year of directing Kairos, which falls under the Campus Ministry umbrella. Two similar groups had their Kairos this past June and September, and three more will occur in December and next January and March.

“Our hope is that these young people grow stronger in their faith, get closer to God and actually feel His love during their time at Kairos,” Mrs. Nowicki says, emphasizing that the program is run by the students. A core team of 10 seniors, “who have made their own Kairos,” lead each retreat, she points out, while two others serve as rectors. “These students put on the retreats for their peers,” Nowicki notes, “and are assisted by a team of six adults.”

Kairos days and nights are rich in personal, heart-felt reflections and intimate sharing. More often than not, hearing their peers open up emotionally forges bonds and strengthens connections between classmates. What does it mean to Fenwick students chosen to be retreat leaders?

Joe Zawacki ’20, one member of the current senior leadership team, shares: “The opportunity to be a Kairos leader has to be the blessing for which I am most grateful in my life right now. The chance you have to preach God’s love and then witness it in action among the retreatants as they learn to embrace Kairos is indescribable,” says Zawacki, a musician and soccer player who hails from Oak Park and is a member of the Fenwick Math Team. “I don’t see anything better in life than this retreat and its power to bring our grade together, from one retreat to the next.”

Classmate Kennedy Berschel ’20 adds, “As a Kairos leader, I have never grown more respect or appreciation for the people I surround myself with every day at Fenwick. The overwhelming sense of trust, vulnerability and love displayed on every retreat is something that can only be described as God’s presence.” Berschel plans to study and play women’s soccer (she is a midfielder) at the University of Illinois next year.

Fellow senior and soccer defender Joe Sedlacek asserts, “The Kairos retreat has by far been the highlight of my four years here at Fenwick as I have actively been part of a life-changing program that unites an entire class into one, loving family. It taught me that no matter how different we may seem from each other, we are similar in a multitude of ways and can build lasting relationships.” Sedlacek, who grew up in La Grange Park and attended Park Junior High School, adds, “I am eternally grateful for the Kairos experience and hope every student feels the same.”

October Kairos participants were comprised of 25 boys and 26 girls.

What recent alumni are saying

Young alumna Meredith Kisla ’15, who graduated from high school four and a half years ago, relates, “Leading and rectoring Kairos was my greatest experience at Fenwick. I had the opportunity to deepen my relationships with my classmates, myself and my faith over the course of three days, and truly believe it has shaped the way I carry out my life.”

Kisla, who hails from Western Springs (St. Francis Xavier) and graduated from Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame, IN) added, “Kairos is such a wonderful experience, and I am forever grateful for the many lessons, friends and memories I gained from each retreat.” This past spring, she began a career in public accounting in London, U.K.

Peter Salvino ’15 graduated this past May from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Her 2015 classmate Pete Salvino, a former Friar football player and recent neuroscience/electrical engineering graduate of Johns Hopkins, “was lucky enough to take part in Kairos twice; the second time as a leader. It really was unlike any other experience I had at Fenwick and gave me new appreciation for the type of people my classmates are.” Salvino grew up in River Forest and went to Roosevelt Middle School.

Other recent Fenwick graduates echo Salvino’s praise for the retreats. Daniela Echiveste ’16 credits Kairos as the one Fenwick experience that changed her the most. “The experience made me realize how blessed I am and to always keep in mind what other people are going through in life,” says the native Chicagoan (John Spry Community School) who is majoring in advertising management at Michigan State.

“Kairos really helped each person become closer to those around them and helped us realize that everyone has a story, and we don’t know what others have been through,” adds Elmhurst native and fellow alumna Margaret McLean ’16, now a senior nursing student at Saint Louis University. “Showing kindness to someone who is secretly going through a rough time can make a world of difference to them. I am going to carry this with me through my nursing career and offer love and kindness in all that I do.”

Jakarie Gates ’16 is a senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jakarie Gates, their 2016 classmate and a senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, notes, “Kairos taught me not to take the important things in life for granted: love and appreciation. Kairos made me appreciate time more.” Gates, who aspires to work in public relations/social media after graduation, also grew up in Chicago and attended St. Malachy Catholic School. He has been active in the North Lawndale Reads project through the Steans Family Foundation.

Anastasia Velliotis, another ’16 classmate, notes, “I absolutely loved Kairos because I feel that is when our class really connected the most. Being able to hear everyone’s story was incredibly inspirational and something that I will truly cherish and remember forever.” Velliotis, originally from Western Springs (La Grange Highlands Middle School), now is a senior in the University of Illinois’ Gies College of Business.

Adds Lina, Anastasia’s mother, “I do believe the Fenwick Mission that inspires excellence and educates each student to lead, achieve and serve resonates with Friars long after they graduate. Fenwick should be proud!”

“The Fenwick Mission — that inspires excellence and educates
each student to lead, achieve and serve — resonates
with Friars long after they graduate.”

— past parent

So what goes on at Kairos?

There is an air of mystery surrounding Kairos. Seniors sort of know what it is, but they are not truly certain of what happens at the big retreat. There are wake-up and clean-up logistics, of course. “Kairos is simply something which needs to be experienced,” stresses Brother Joseph Trout, O.P., Chair of Fenwick’s Theology Department. “Knowing the sequence of events does not tell you what Kairos is any more than outlining a married couple’s daily schedule really tells you what it is like to be married.”

Alumnus Charlie Myers ’17 reflected on his own retreat experience three years ago. “Kairos was hands down the Fenwick experience that changed me most,” concludes Myers, a junior marketing major at Bradley University in Peoria, IL, who was raised in Chicago (Catalyst Circle Rock Elementary School). “But I won’t say too much — to not spoil it for the younger Friars.”

Classmate Lauren Lombard ’17, of Western Springs (St. John of the Cross), perhaps says it best. “Kairos at the beginning of my senior year showed me the love that surrounded me at Fenwick and allowed our grade to unite around each other for the remainder of our time together.” Now a college junior, Lombard is a chemical engineering major at the University of Notre Dame.

The environment of Kairos is extraordinarily supportive, explains Isabelle Bucolo ’20, a senior retreat co-leader for the 2019-20 school year. “Because of this, most people have found it to be a comfortable outlet for them to open up to others and to themselves. I am typically an open book,” admits Bucolo, an Elmhurst resident and accomplished alto singer (All-District) in the Fenwick Choir, “but Kairos has given me even more of an opportunity, and a great platform, for me to tell my story in order to help others. Kairos shows us that we have our own built-in support system. I think Kairos is incredible for this reason: not only are you helping yourself, but you are helping others.”

Amen.

More praise for Kairos

Kairos alumna Erin Kulik ’16 now is a senior at the University of Illinois.

“I would love to relive Kairos,” admits alumna Eryn Kulik ’16, a senior advertising major at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. “Kairos is a retreat that will bring classmates together to form life-long friendships. It is also a way for students to get to know God and themselves. Through Kairos I have learned to love and appreciate everything and everyone around me in a more positive way!” says Kulik, a double Friar (St. Vincent Ferrer) from Elmwood Park.

“My Kairos experiences shaped who I am today,” reveals Katie Vulich ’15, a former college swimmer at Bellarmine University in Louisville. “I learned something different as a retreatant, leader and rector. The retreat that stands out the most was my final Kairos and helping Fr. Dennis navigate the process. I owe that retreat for making me believe in my leadership skills,” recalls Vulich, a La Grange Park native (Cossitt Elementary and Park Junior High); she now is a Wellness and Recreation Graduate Assistant at St. Ambrose University in Iowa.

“The Fenwick experience that changed me was Kairos,” says Lorenzano Blakeney ’18, who plays football with his twin brother, Lorente, at Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL, where he is majoring in health science. “Before attending the trip, I had my doubts on whether I would even enjoy myself. I ended up reconnecting with a lot of people I used to talk to and meeting people who I’d never had a conversation with before.” The Blakeney brothers grew up in Chicago and attended Washington Irving Elementary School.

Rachel McCarthy ’17 is a junior at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington/Normal.

Rachel McCarthy ’17, an English literature/psychology double major at Illinois Wesleyan University, adds: “To me, Kairos was a powerful experience of acceptance and healing.” Ms. McCarthy grew up in Riverside and attended St. Mary School there.

Continuous Learning for Fenwick Faculty and Staff

In-house Professional Development, which began in earnest during the 2016-17 school year, helps our teachers sharpen their skill sets.

By Mark Vruno

Starting in the fall of 2016, Fenwick’s administration implemented its own Professional Development (PD) program for faculty and staff. The ongoing teacher education program is spearheaded by Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton and Digital Learning Specialist Bryan Boehm.

Ms. Laura Pendleton, Assistant Principal

“At Fenwick, through the Dominican pillar of study, we do an excellent job of instilling the value of life-long learning in our students,” says Ms. Pendleton, who also is the Orchestra Director at school. “The in-house professional development program was created out of the need to provide opportunities for our faculty to spend time in community learning new skills and sharing expertise with each other. It has grown a great deal in its first three years and, in the future, will serve to be a space for our faculty to continue to work together to model life-long learning and exhibit their own love of learning to our students.”

Mr. Bryan Boehm, Digital Learning Specialist

Mr. Boehm adds, “Fenwick students are always being challenged to learn new ways of gathering information and data. Our faculty need to have the same experiences to be our leading force in their fields and subjects. Peer-led courses have been great for teachers to learn from one another and collaborate,” he continues. “Offering new perspectives, new experiences and alternative ways to teach the material that they have so much success with over their career will only benefit the students.”

Math Teacher and sophomore football assistant coach Matt Barabasz is one of four PD faculty leaders. Last year he conducted a session about how teachers can “flip” their classrooms. This technique “allows the students to watch and learn at home, while we then use instructional time to engage in meaningful conversations and applications. This session went into detail on how I use this process within my mathematics course, when applicable,” explains Mr. Barabasz, who came to Fenwick two years ago from St. Patrick High School in Chicago.

Contemplation: Golden Apple-winning Theology Teacher and Fenwick blogger John Paulett (center) inquires about a tech topic at a March 8 break-out PD session.

This school year one of his sessions is how to use Google Forms to facilitate parent communication. “Families are incredibly important within a student’s learning process,” Barabasz acknowledges. “Without the support of families, we as educators cannot fully unlock a student’s potential. This series went into how I communicate regularly with parents using Google Forms and how I keep the parents in the loop, on a weekly basis, on their students’ progress.”

Kudos from faculty participants

Now in its third year of customized PD, the faculty/staff sessions at Fenwick are wide ranging and run all year long on most Tuesdays and Thursdays, either at 7:30 a.m. or during lunch periods. Required to attend at least three sessions per academic year, most teachers seem to be buying into the idea. “I feel that the PD sessions are a great opportunity for a teacher to learn new ideas and strategies on how to become more effective,” says Spanish Instructor and alumnus Jim Reardon ’86. “Fenwick teachers are willing to share their time, knowledge and expertise with other faculty members. The sessions are not very long [about 25 minutes each] but allow you the opportunity to learn and develop new ideas.”

Spanish Teacher and Fenwick alumnus Jim Reardon.

Mr. Reardon add that he has taken PD sessions on Schoology, the learning-management system employed by Fenwick, as well as on EdPuzzle, which is a way to employ video technology in the classroom. “The PD sessions allow a teacher to better understand a topic, and then it is up to him or her to further develop their understanding and usage of the particular topic,” he notes.

English Department co-worker and alumna Theresa Steinmeyer ’12 attended Pendleton’s series on William Bender’s Strategies for Increasing Student Engagement as well as some sessions on ways to further incorporate technology into instruction. “As a new faculty member at Fenwick [2018], I have enjoyed these opportunities to continue growing as an educator while getting to know colleagues from other departments,” Ms. Steinmeyer says.

More than 20 PD sessions have been conducted this school year on topics such as:

  1. Schoology Refreshers – Bryan Boehm
  2. Schoology Gradebook Refreshers – Mickey Collins ’03
  3. Magnus Health System – Donna Pape (School Nurse)
  4. Apple Classroom – Tim Menich
  5. Classroom Management with Technology #1 – Alex Holmberg ’05
  6. Fall Book Club – Laura Pendleton
  7. Individual Educations Plans (IEPs) Level 1 – Grace Lilek David ’08
  8. CleverTouch Interactive Displays – Fr. Mike Winkels
  9. Tips & Tricks in Schoology #1 – Holmberg
  10. Dealing with Difficult Conversations – Pendleton
  11. Google Forms for Parent Communication – Matt Barabasz
  12. Learning Differences – Kyle Kmiecik ’00
  13. iPad Basic Maintenance / Troubleshooting – Boehm
  14. Assessment Strategies Through Schoology #1 – Holmberg
  15. IEP Level 2 – David
  16. Writing Across the Curriculum – John Schoeph ’95
  17. Pythonista for iPad & iPhone – Dave Kleinhans
  18. Tips & Tricks in Schoology #2 – Holmberg
  19. Science PD Series
  20. EdPuzzle – Brian Jerger
  21. Classroom Management with Technology #2 – Holmberg
  22. Assessment Strategies Through Schoology #2 – Holmberg
  23. iPad Basic Maintenance / Troubleshooting Level 2 – Boehm

In early April, Barabasz led a session on using “Google Forms for Class Data Collection” while Math Dept. colleague Kevin Roche ’05 is coordinating the Spring Book Club. Pendleton and Boehm then wrap up this school year with “Differentiated Instruction” and “Apple Classroom Level 2,” respectively.

PD Leader Mr. Alex Holmberg (at right, Fenwick Class of 2005) helps to “train” social studies colleague Brian Jerger.

“I try to run sessions with practical take-aways for teachers to immediately use in their classrooms, regardless of subject area or grade level,” explains fellow PD leader and Social Studies Dept. Chair Alex Holmberg ’05, who also is Fenwick’s Director of Clubs and Activities. “I’ve also tried to tailor specific PD sessions to address needs brought up from our end-of-year iPad Survey last school year. One of the positive aspects of the model of PD that we use is that it allows teachers to present on topics that they see as learning opportunities in their classrooms throughout the school year.”

“It has changed the way I manage my classroom.” – Brian Jerger

Participant and fellow Social Studies Teacher Brian Jerger adds: “The Apple Classroom presentation by Tim Menich has afforded me an easy, hands-off deterrent that has helped curb iPad abuse/distractions in class. It has changed the way I manage my classroom.”

Mr. Brian Jerger teaches U.S. History and Western Civilization at Fenwick.

Mr. Jerger, who joined Fenwick in 2017, also enjoyed Laura Pendleton’s Book Club presentation. “It provided a setting for teachers to come together and discuss the interesting methods, techniques and philosophies we all utilize in our classrooms,” he says. “In that same vein, I think the greatest benefit of the Professional Development series is it exposes the faculty to all the interesting work we are doing in the classroom that we do not normally get to see from each other. Due to all the ways in which teachers are pulled and stressed for time (and our humble natures), it is incredibly easy for us to get trapped in our own individual silos leaving us unaware of the great work our colleagues are doing. The Professional Development series pulls back that curtain, to some degree, and allows us to share some of this great work with one another.”

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Thomist School Curriculum

Fenwick considers our minds, our bodies and our faith to be gifts from God. It is our moral obligation to grow in all three of these areas.

By Gerald F. Lordan, O.P., Ph.D., Social Studies Teacher and Faculty Mentor

St. Thomas Aquinas

As some of us may know, Fenwick is the only high school sponsored by Dominican Friars in America. As such we are a national lighthouse for the Thomist educational philosophy.

 

Thomism evolved from the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., an Italian Dominican (1225-1274).  Aquinas was educated at the University of Paris by a German Dominican, St. Albert the Great, O.P. (1200-1280). It is the greatest joy of every teacher to be surpassed by his student. Thomas brought joy to the heart of Albert. St Dominic de Guzman, O.P. (1170-1221), a Spanish Dominican and the founder of the Order of Preachers, believed in an educated clergy. To that end he sent the Friars to study the Liberal Arts at the great universities of Medieval Europe. The liberal arts influence the Fenwick curriculum today.

A curriculum is the set of planned activities designed to change the observable behavior of a student. There is a curriculum continuum. One end of that continuum has a Roman influence. The word curriculum comes from the bales of straw that delineated the chariot race course in the Colosseum. The goal of this curriculum is to cover all the prescribed material and nothing but the prescribed material in the shortest possible amount of time. The other end of this continuum has a Chinese influence.  It is the dao, the vast treeless grassy plain of western China. There is not a set course of travel. Everything looks the same in all directions all the way out to the horizon. One may, therefore, go wherever one wishes, when one wishes, at the speed one wishes.

The 1959 movie classic “Ben-Hur” was remade in 2016. But what does chariot racing have to do with curriculum?

Continue reading “Thomist School Curriculum”