Why Do Teachers Stay at Fenwick?

At the Faculty Retreat in early March, an alumnus and English Chairperson (who also teaches French and Italian and directs the fall play) shared with colleagues two reasons why he hasn’t left the Friars.

By John Schoeph ’95

One of the things for which I’m most grateful is that I work in an environment that fosters scholarship. I can recall from Dr. Lordan’s class the importance of scholasticism as a facet of Thomism, as an important component to Dominicans’ approach to education. That approach continued when I attended a Dominican university. I feel blessed to work in, of all Catholic environments, a Dominican one that prizes scholarship.

We don’t try to keep up with teaching trends. We aim to be innovative within fields our teachers know well and continue to advance in. English teachers here don’t ‘kind of’ know English; they know it. Continued learning in our fields is important to us. So a personnel of scholars has tended to abound here, and I love being in that company and in a place that embraces that.

As department chair, how blessed am I to observe other teachers and get to witness the high level of preparation through conscientious and attentive research in varied aspects of English:

Shana Wang
  • Shana Wang’s research on the reportage of Isabel Allende and its effect on her fictionalization of the televised death of Omaira Sanchez.
  • Theresa Steinmeyer’s [Class of 2012 alumna] research on revolutions throughout Central and South America as reflected through Magical Realism.
  • Kyle Perry’s [Class of 2001 alumnus] research on Said’s Orientalism, its reactions, and observations of both in art and literature.
Kyle Perry ’01

This is an environment I want to be in.​

At Fenwick, I can teach up! At Fenwick, I have to be on my A-game; I wouldn’t want to be at a place where I can get away with winging it, where students wouldn’t be sharp enough or smart enough to call me out on a misspeak or a gap in knowledge. My primary goal here is not to motivate students because, by and large, they come to class excited and willing to learn.

I can recall a group of students who used to spend their lunch period in my class so that they could take notes on my lessons when I wasn’t their teacher that year; I can recall discussing a picture book on words that have no translation in other languages, or at least no direct translation to English, and three students stopping after class to ask me for the title and author of the book so that they could buy their own; one of my talking points at Open House is the time the football team called me over to their lunch table to weigh in on whether or not I thought Willie Loman was a tragic hero in Death of a Salesman because they were duking it out — at lunch!

I can recall when Mr. Finnell assigned me A Midsummer Night’s Dream for my directorial debut [in 2009] after eight years paying my dues as his assistant director. After working with the students on Shakespearean language, delivery and pacing, sitting through the first off-book rehearsal, which was all of Shakespeare’s ACT I — unabridged — I was smiling from ear to ear because no one called for a line — not even once. They had worked that hard on it. 

Best students in the land

And let’s face it, whether they’re the brightest scholar or lover of academics or not, they’re the best students in the land. I have many friends who are teachers at many schools, and when I’m out with them, it’s inevitable that I will run into my students. Every time I do, my friends are flabbergasted by my students’ comportment and interaction with me. Every time, my students run over to me and greet me, excited to see me.

One time, I walked into Chipotle where about 12 Fenwick students, juniors at the time, had formed one long table. I had taught only one of them as a freshman and didn’t know the others. I got my food and was heading to the counter when they waved me over to join them. I didn’t want to intrude, but they all immediately made room for me, welcomed me, and brought me over to eat — again, I had taught only one of them.

Another time, I was with my friends at the Oak Brook Mall when a group of students ran up to me. My friends were blown away that my students didn’t see me and walk the other way. Instead, they respectfully greeted my friends, chatted with me, and then suddenly darted away —because across the mall, they spotted Mrs. Megall and wanted to go say hi to her! And I know the same goes for so many of you. We could take this for granted — the academic caliber of our gifted and talented students, and the welcoming and warmth of our kind-hearted students — but knowing what other teachers experience helps me realize this gift. And I haven’t even talked about how great our students’ families are!

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How High School Defines Us

At the Faculty & Staff Retreat earlier this month, a senior “mathlete” from Elmhurst shared a heartfelt reflection of his time at Fenwick.

By Nathan Crowell ’20

The four years of high school are some of the most influential years of our lives. Our lives change so much — from the things we learn about, to the friends we have, to our identities that we discover. High school molds us into the people we will be for the rest of our lives.

Good morning, everyone! For those of you who do not know me, my name is Nate Crowell. My story is all about finding my true identity and the role that I play in the Fenwick Community. I’m on the Math Team and the Scholastic Bowl Team. I play volleyball, I do TEAMS, WYSE, Friar Mentors and the Write Place. All the while being active in my church’s youth group. As you can probably tell, I’m what some would call “a nerd.” Now, I don’t think it is an insult at all because I love the activities that I do, and so what if I like math? It’s a part of my identity that I found here at Fenwick.

Who I am all begins with my family. I have two loving parents and two brothers: an older one named Ian and a younger one named Nolan. My family has had a big influence on the person I have become. Up until about my sophomore year of high school, I looked up to my brother for everything. From baseball to school, I always tried to do what he did. He batted lefty, so I had to bat lefty; he played the percussion, so I played percussion. He went to Fenwick, so I had to go to Fenwick. His influence on me has impacted my life more than I realize. I entered Fenwick trying to live up to the reputation he set before me. I tried my hardest to be as similar to Ian as I could. 

Other than my brother’s influence, my mom has also impacted my life a lot. From when I was young and still today, my mom and I love to do jigsaw puzzles. We would sit in the family room for hours doing these 550-piece jigsaw puzzles. It was doing these puzzles that molded the way I think, and they developed my love for problem solving. 

Family and Faith

Now, my parents have been bringing me to church for my entire life. But I never made my faith my own until middle school. It was the youth group that got me engaged in my faith, and to this day I’m very involved in my church. As my faith journey progressed and as I became more and more engaged at church, I grew to love the people in my youth group. As 7th grade began, I met one of my best friends and mentor. He was one of my small-group leaders then and, to this day, he is still my mentor, small-group leader and best friend. He has been there to guide me along my faith journey, helping me through my biggest times of doubt. 

My mentor is one of the most influential people in my life, and having someone there for you, no matter when or where, is crucial for every high schooler. The best part is, you all get that opportunity here at Fenwick. Many of the students here are going through some very stressful situations, and if you are able to be there for them, it makes a world of difference. So I encourage you to always be there for the students, because you never know what they may be going through or how great of an impact you can have on their life.

Faculty members listened intently to young Nate’s story in the library on March 6, 2020.

When 8th grade rolled around, I had to decide what high school I was going to go to. I was choosing between here and York, and the thing that sealed the deal for Fenwick was the community. The students, and especially the teachers, are all so welcoming. When I shadowed here, I felt like a part of the family already. I could tell that the Fenwick Community is there for each other no matter what. The biggest thing that I noticed was how nice everyone in the faculty was. You all are the reason Fenwick is the way it is. Without you, our community would not be as tightly knit and our students would not see Fenwick almost as a second home. You all foster a warm feeling that reminds the students of home, no matter how much we may hate doing school work.

Starting freshman year was scary. I didn’t know what to expect, especially only knowing two other kids going into Fenwick. I didn’t know what the other people would think of me. 

Now, I spent most of freshman year trying to find my place within the new school and getting to know all the new people. The only important things I remember from freshman year are being “invited” to join the Math Team (like I had a choice) and trying out for volleyball. However, the most impactful thing to happen to me freshman year was meeting THE Joe Zawacki. We met in Spanish class, where on the first day he got sniped with his phone out by Ms. Carraher. Later that day, we ended up sitting at the same lunch table. And, well, the rest is history.

Identity Crisis

When sophomore year rolled around, I found out that I had every class except two with Joe. We did everything together, and after all the time I spent with him, I thought I had to be like Joe. I “stole” Joe’s identity. I took it as my own and tried to be the person he is, not the person God made me to be. Besides adopting his identity as my own, I compared myself to him a lot, and I started to feel like I wasn’t special and that I didn’t have a place here in the Fenwick community. An emptiness started to grow inside of me. It quickly started to eat away at me. The emptiness got so bad that I almost transferred to York. I was strongly considering leaving this amazing community. I thought I didn’t have anything special that I could add to Fenwick.

But, preparing for junior year soon consumed my thoughts because I had a lot of decisions to make. What classes would I take? What activities would I do? How can I make myself look the best for colleges? 

“Our culture today puts so much value in doing.

Nate Crowell

As the school year began to pick up pace, I was bombarded with assignment after assignment. My day consisted of waking up, going to school, going to any after-school activity I had that day, going home, barely finishing my homework, then straight to sleep. My daily routine was jam-packed, and God slowly transitioned from being a part of my life to an afterthought, then to the point where I would go entire weeks without even thinking about Him. Our culture today puts so much value in doing. I especially felt that this year, as I wrote college apps. I had to do every after-school activity, be a part of every club I could; I never had time to slow down and connect with God. One thing I have learned is that we all need a break. We can do this by just spending time alone, without distractions.  It can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as two hours. 

On an annual trip my youth group would take, we would go to Arkansas and spend a week on houseboats, living on the lake. One thing that we did every year was, on the third morning, we would start the day in total silence. We woke up silently; we made breakfast silently; then we spent about another hour and a half in silence. We were supposed to just sit there and look out over the lake. Now, as a freshman and sophomore that task was DAUNTING. Being silent for two hours? I could barely stay quiet for a meal. Now, as a young freshman and sophomore, the challenge wasn’t being quiet for an hour and a half, it was staying awake for that hour and a half. I ended up asleep both times, but as successful as I was at being quiet, I totally missed the point of the activity. 

Being vs. Doing

The whole point wasn’t to torture us but to refect on life, and take a MUCH needed break from the busy-ness of today’s society. When I went before junior year, instead of taking a nap, I was actually able to stay awake the whole time! I just sat on the back of the boat, looking out across the lake. It was after that hour and a half that I realized I feel most at peace in nature. I was able to forget about all of the stresses of everyday life and just breathe. Now, whenever I need a break from the world, I’ll go out into nature and just take a walk. I now know about the importance of just being. There is so much doing in our world, that we forget to just BE. We all just need to take a break from the constant hustle and bustle of our lives.

First semester of senior year was full of constantly filling out this application, writing that essay, and just stressing about my future. But a quote I read last year said to: “Never let fear decide your fate.” I had to put my trust in God and His plan for me and my future. God is always here with us, whether we feel His presence or not. As the great Mr. Mulcahy said, “Our oneness with God is realized not created.”

Throughout my journey at Fenwick, I have wanted to make a huge impact here. I thought that when the time came, I could do some great action. When I reflected on how foolish that thought was, I was reminded of a quote from Mother Teresa that my mom keeps on her desk at home. It says: “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” 

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God Loves All of Us

On the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Fenwick junior from Berwyn reflected about the Blessed Mother’s special connection with the oppressed, the impoverished and the powerless.

By Chelsea Quiroga ’21

Today, we gather to celebrate and honor the virgin of Guadalupe; the mother of Jesus, known to most of us as Mary. Just shy of 500 years ago the virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, who was an Aztec peasant who had recently converted to Catholicism, on the hill of tepeyac just outside of present day Mexico City.

She appeared with a green cloak covered in gold stars as well as having the same olive complexion of that of the native Juan Diego. She told him to build a church in honor of her, and he humbly accepted. Juan Diego went back down the mountain into town to see the bishop and informed him of his recent encounter.

Juan Diego told the bishop of Mary’s request, and the bishop was doubtful and asked for Juan Diego to bring him proof of her existence before he approved any construction. Mary appeared to Juan Diego for a second time, and she responded to his request for proof by telling him to gather the wild plants around the hill, which was very dry and desert like. She told him to put them into his tilma, which was like toga, and not to open it until he saw the bishop.

Juan Diego listened and carried the dried plants down the hill, and when he came to the bishop he let down his tilma. In the place of the dried, wild plants out fell dozens of red roses, and the image of Mary was imprinted onto his tilma. Soon after, a church in her honor was constructed. Ten years prior to her visitation to Juan Diego, Mexico had been conquered by the Spanish and Catholic conversion was pushed onto the natives.

La virgen of Guadalupe’s appearance to a native peasant caused many similar to Juan Diego to feel a sense of belonging in Catholic faith and caused Catholicism to spread like wildfire. Mary’s visitation to a poor native peasant demonstrates God’s love for all backgrounds and the special connection had with those oppressed, impoverished and powerless. Her visitation was a triumph and allowed for Mexicans and Latin Americans alike to have a personal tie to their faith and gain a strong feeling of home with God.

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Putting Our Faith into Action

Fenwick’s newest Dominican brother explains how student members of the Class of 2019 have ‘met Jesus’ through their junior year Christian Service Project.

By Br. John Steilberg O.P.

The Gospels reveal to us a very basic story line just after Jesus’ resurrection on the first Easter Sunday. Soon after discovering the empty tomb, the disciples meet Jesus repeatedly. They kept meeting Jesus personally at various places and moments. After encountering Jesus in person, they were motivated and inspired to go and tell others. Our junior class knows all about this basic cycle of encountering Jesus personally, then going out and telling others about their encounter.

Homelessness plagues Chicago’s suburbs, as one Fenwick junior has seen firsthand.

Just like those early disciples right after the resurrection, our juniors are meeting Jesus. Our juniors have been encountering personally in the face of the poor, the lonely, the forgotten, the unloved. At Fenwick, as part of the Christian Service Project where Gospel virtues, Catholic morality and Catholic social teaching are combined with our theology curriculum, our faith is put into action. Our juniors are currently completing a service project where they have been out in the community performing the corporal works of mercy and meeting Jesus face to face in those they serve.

Let’s listen to our juniors describe how they encountered Jesus.

“You know, you see the homeless on the streets downtown and such. But by working at this shelter, I have gotten to know many of the people from this area who come there needing help,” the student says. “I am shocked at how much need is in my own neighborhood.”

This past March, Fenwick students collected items for the 4th annual HOLA (Hispanic Outreach & Latino Awareness) Food Drive. The humanitarian effort stocks the pantry for three months at St. Pius Parish, which provides more than 45,000 meals annually to people on Chicago’s Lower West Side.

Another junior has been working at a food pantry. Serving there and meeting many of the neighbors in need has had an effect on her and how she views what is happening in her community. She even mentions the effects it has had on her own family and their approach to material things. She explains, “Every night after serving at the food pantry I sit down and talk to my mom about what happened. Just the other night we were talking about how many people come to the food pantry in need of food. Mom and I talked about how well off we are. We discussed how maybe we really don’t need so many things. We talked about how maybe we do not really need to buy that second loaf of bread.”

Friends of Fenwick, pay close attention to what these two juniors have shared. This is God speaking. This is the Holy Spirit at work in Friar Nation. This is what it means to be a friar. Listen carefully to their words and you will listen in to their personal conversation with Jesus.

To help provide weekend meals for impoverished children, Fenwick senior Chris Sedlacek co-founded Feed Our Future, a non-profit corporation in La Grange. (www.feedourfuturenfp.com)

We are very blessed here at Fenwick. We have been given so much by God, and we have so much to be thankful for. One thing I am thankful for is the incredible and inspirational service of our juniors this past year in the Christian Service Project. They are inspiring. Let us all take a moment to thank them personally for their service and give thanks to our Heavenly Father for sending us young people willing to serve others through the corporal works of mercy.

About the Author

Brother John Steilberg joined Fenwick’s Theology Department last summer, at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. He teaches freshman theology and organizes the Christian Service Project, whose mission is to put faith into action. “It is an opportunity to meet Christ in the poor and marginalized of our community and an opportunity to serve others as taught by the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he explains. “All Fenwick Friars participate in the Christian Service Project as we bring the corporal works of mercy to those in need.”