Reflection from a Class of 1996 Trailblazer

What was it like to be among the first young women at Fenwick?

By Terese McCarthy Best ’96 (commencement address)

Good morning, Father Davis, Mr. Quaid, Administrators, Board Members, Faculty, Parents, Friends, Honored Guests, and Classmates.

Friar Teresa McCarthy in 1996.

Four years ago, we walked through the doors behind us and sat in these seats. We came in alone, or in groups, but all of us were nervous [about] high school: the best years of our lives, or so we were told — our glory days.

But, even in the beginning, as we sat in the auditorium and perhaps even before that, we were different from any other freshmen class in Fenwick history. Before we even met, we already had an identity, a bond that would forever hold us together in the minds of others. In the minds of alumni, parents, administrators, teachers, and upperclassmen, we became significant the moment that we were admitted. All eyes were on us. Would we succeed? Would we fail? Or, despite the publicity, would we slip by, virtually unnoticed, into Fenwick history, never distinguishing ourselves beyond the title of the first coed class?

After a few months, the newspaper men and cameras disappeared, and we settled into Fenwick. We went through the motions in the beginning, nervous freshmen, obnoxious sophomores, over-worked juniors. More than once, I heard people, especially in our class and the class of 1995, speculate whether we would be capable of capturing the spirit every senior class before us had demonstrated. Would we finally come together, as a class, to forge our own identity?

Ask anyone who has been in the building during the last nine months, whether the class of 1996 has incredible school spirit and a strong sense of class identity, and they will answer yes. We have broken records, athletically and academically. The balance between academic and athletic success that we have demonstrated as a class will serve as a standard for the underclassmen to strive to meet.

The football team advanced to the state semi-finals, winning 12 consecutive games, the most in Fenwick history. Boys’ basketball, baseball, football, and hockey each came in first in the Catholic League. Girls’ basketball and softball came in first in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Boys and girls’ basketball and girls’ soccer were IHSA regional champions, and hockey won the Kennedy Cup. The girls’ and boys’ water polo teams both came in third in the state. There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we were an amazingly talented and devoted group of athletes. Our trophies, plaques, medals, and records speak for themselves.

However, in the tradition of Fenwick, we were never satisfied to succeed merely on the field. The colleges we are attending, the scholarships awarded, clearly demonstrate our academic success. However, there’s more to it than that. Involvement outside the classroom has been amazing, too. Our speech and debate team was first in the Catholic League, with individuals placing as high as second in the state and advancing to the nationals. The JETS Team was first in the district, second in the regional, and the only Catholic school to advance to the state finals for the fourth year in a row. The math team won the Archdiocese math contest, finished first in the regionals in state math, first in the district in Illinois Math League, and was the highest scoring private school in the state at the state finals.

And so, we will not be remembered merely as the first coed class, but as a class that reached a new level of pride and excellence while continuing the Fenwick tradition. We have shown the underclassmen what we spent three years observing. We have shown them what it means to truly be a Fenwick Friar.

However, none of these records would mean anything to any of us without the bond we share. Many things have helped to create this bond: classes, sports — watching or participating — but, perhaps most importantly, the Kairos retreat program. Whatever it was, we share something that I can’t find words to describe. It’s when people say “hi” to each other in the halls, when they stop just to find out how it’s going or if you won your most recent game. It’s saying good luck, or congratulations, or offering a hug and a shoulder to cry on when something goes wrong. It is supporting each other, challenging each other, comforting each other.

Touchstone poet Nick Scouffas ’96.

I was reading Touchstone, our literary magazine, and I was struck by a poem that our classmate Nick Scouffas wrote called “I Am.” The first line is “I am alone.” It is the last stanza, however, that hit me:

I understand that the paths will not always be paved
I say let us pave the paths
I dream our unity, though alone, will carry us to uncharted roads

I try to read a map but no matter which way I have it,
it is always upside down
I hope we follow these roads and find treasures
that only we can appreciate.
I am no longer alone.

We may have come in alone, and it may have taken us a while to discover who we are, individually and collectively. But, when we walk out that door today, for the last time, we walk out together. No matter which way our paths in life may take us, we leave Fenwick as Friars. We will walk out of the door today with a bond, as a class, that will last. We are no longer alone.

About the Author

Terese McCarthy Best is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Risk Officer of Caspian Capital, LP, a New York-based investment advisor. Prior to this role, she was the Director of Research and a research analyst at Caspian. Terese also serves as Vice Chairman of the boards of Marquette National Corporation and Marquette Bank.  Terese graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two daughters.

ALUMNI SERVICE IN ACTION: Helping People with Disabilities

By Claire Moroni Sayers ’98

Last month, I received a truly extraordinary Christmas gift. My eight-year-old daughter, Josie, came running into the kitchen to tell me that “The Bears are on the phone.” I almost fell over. Perhaps the seeds were sewn during my Fenwick days cheering for the Black and White, or when I legally became a “SAYERS” in 2010, but I am now, quite unbelievably, the most devoted Bears fan that I know. On Mondays during football season, you will find me driving around town in my Honda Odyssey full of little kids, listening to the game recap on 670 the SCORE. It’s only a matter of time until I become a regular caller.

Needless to say, having The Bears call me on the day before Christmas Eve was an unexpected thrill. But the message I received when I picked up the phone was nothing short of miraculous. The Bears had selected Devices 4 the Disabled, a local non-profit organization, as their 2020 Community All Pros Charity, an honor that comes with a transformative gift of $101,000.

The mission of Devices 4 the Disabled’s (D4D) is to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the medical equipment they need. Our model is simple. We refurbish used medical equipment and provide it for free to those who need it most: those without insurance, and those with limited financial resources. However, behind this simplicity is life-changing work. Without proper medical equipment, people are essentially imprisoned in their environment without the ability to live independent, healthy lives.

When it feels like no one can help, D4D steps in. Sadly, we often see people in the wake of tragedy: a gunshot, a sudden stroke, a devastating diagnosis has turned a family’s world upside down. D4D meets people in this space and creates a bridge to mobility, freedom and independence. Read on for the story of a remarkable woman who is taking back her life.

Meet Tania

In the summer of 2018, Tania was a bright, social 22-year-old woman who loved children. She dreamed of being a mother. In one horrible moment, Tania’s life was permanently changed. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time: hit by three bullets intended for someone else.

After multiple surgeries, Tania survived, but she is paralyzed from the neck down, breathing through a ventilator. She cannot walk, turn herself in bed, sit up or breathe on her own. Tania is dependent on all self-care, including feeding and dressing. Her life has been transformed.  

The impact of this violence devastated Tania’s family. Her mother, eight months pregnant, rushed to the hospital to find her oldest child in critical condition. How would she be able to care for Tania while also caring for a baby and two other children? To compound this tragedy, Tania’s family did not have health insurance or the financial resources to acquire the medical equipment necessary to bring her home safely. Without these critical tools, Tania’s life expectancy outside of this hospital could be one to two years.

After months of recovery, Tania was finally able to begin the therapy that would allow her to go home. To do this, she needed a complex, customized power wheelchair. Clearly, Tania’s family could not afford such a sophisticated piece of medical equipment. And without it, Tania’s therapy could not begin.

D4D steps in

D4D had a complex power wheelchair in its warehouse donated by the ALS Society. We made all of the necessary modifications and adjustments so that the wheelchair was appropriate for Tania. We couldn’t wait to surprise Tania with her new chair.

On the day the chair was delivered, Tania’s hospital room was filled with doctors, nurses and therapists awaiting the arrival of the surprise. Tania’s mother was there. We had been told that mom had never cried in front of Tania. She said she needed to be strong for her daughter. When we arrived with Tania’s new wheelchair, mom took one look and broke down crying. Her daughter would have a life. Her daughter could begin the long journey home.

Tania has now spent 14 months in the hospital. Due to COVID restrictions, she has not had the comfort of visitors (even her mother) since March. Tania desperately awaits the day that she can come home, to live with her family, to meet her 13-month-old sister. D4D continues to work hard to bring that day closer. 

D4D recognized that in order to be safely discharged, Tania would require several pieces of medical equipment besides the wheelchair. We got to work. We delivered an electrical hospital bed and a patient lift to help her mother transfer Tania from the hospital bed to her wheelchair. We also installed a porch lift that would enable Tania to get into her home from street level. Seeing this equipment in her home brought Tania’s mother to tears once more.  A miracle was happening. Her little girl could finally come home.

Fenwick alumna Claire Moroni Sayers (Class of 1998) is the Director of Development for Devices 4 the Disabled, a Chicago non-profit that provides medical equipment to those in need. Mrs. Sayers lives in Elmhurst with her husband, Nick, and three future Friars: Josephine (’30), Juliette (’32) and Genevieve (’35). She invites all of Friar Nation to join the Bears and become a D4D partner. Email her with questions at Claire.sayers1@gmail.com.

Turning Pain into Purpose

How Friar alumni are changing the face of cancer support with buddhi.

By alumna guest blogger Kathleen Brown ’00

Starting a new school without many friends is rough. Doing it while 14 years old and in cancer treatment out of state was less than ideal. For the first four months at Fenwick, I was back and forth between Chicago and Memphis — where St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is based — receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments for a rare form of bone cancer.

Meanwhile, I tried to fit in with my new classmates and keep my illness, wig and scars under wraps, somewhat unsuccessfully. It helped having an older brother (Kevin Brown ’98*) there to look out for me, but ultimately until I started to open up about what I was going through, it was challenging for me to make genuine connections and begin to heal. It was in the Fenwick cafeteria where I told new friends about my illness, and in the women’s bathroom adjacent where I exposed my wig and began to see that, although I was different in some ways, we were all going through something. 

As I looked forward to my final chemotherapy treatment in early December freshman year — ready to put cancer behind me — I was unprepared for the mental-health crisis compounded by the loss of my guardian angel, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, to a cancer recurrence two weeks before. 

I was fortunate enough to meet Cardinal Bernardin at the start of my cancer journey, and we became pen pals; he was one of the only people I felt comfortable opening up to about my real feelings. It felt like “my friend Joe” and I understood each other.

Several months into my treatment protocol, while at the local children’s hospital where we met, I developed a staph infection that eventually sent my body into septic shock. Without much hope of my survival, my parents asked him to perform the Anointing of the Sick. Miraculously, my vitals stabilized and they were able to transfer my care to St. Jude, where we stayed connected through letters and phone calls. (This was before the days of the Internet, cell phones and social media!) Although I didn’t have any friends my age in cancer treatment, it was comforting to know that he had been through it and, as a survivor, did so much to support others. 

When I learned of his passing on November 14th, the grief and loss I felt was suffocating. Until then, as a naive teenager, cancer had been an inconvenience; a temporary setback. I could not comprehend how the disease could take this incredible man’s life and spare my own. While my family and friends prepared to celebrate the end of my treatment and Christmas at home, I put on a brave face — and quietly plotted to end my life.

“I … quietly plotted to end my life.”

Kathleen Brown

Survivor’s guilt is one of the many mental-health side effects that cancer patients experience and are ill-equipped to manage on their own. If I expressed how I really felt — sad, scared sh!tless, angry, anxious — how would it make my loved ones feel? For so many of us, it feels like we’re the only one in pain, but suffering is part of the shared human experience. 

I credit my family, friends and teachers at Fenwick, and social activities I engaged in (Student Council, softball, basketball, Campus Ministry and Kairos) for getting me through my darkest days. Once I began to share, the world seemed to open up, and I got more comfortable being myself, scars and all. After I was declared “cancer-free,” I got involved in giving back to the community, through a variety of fundraising activities for St. Jude and as a mentor to many other patients. As a public speaker, volunteer, event organizer and board member, I found fulfillment in serving others, and living Fenwick values to lead, achieve and serve. Despite finding success in advertising sales for over a decade with Comcast and Disney/ESPN, I yearned to do more with St. Jude and accepted a fundraising leadership position to work for a fellow Friar (Jenny DiBenedetto-McKenna ’97) in 2014, where I spent five years in field event and corporate development — a true dream job.

During my time fundraising for St. Jude, I got to meet thousands of people impacted by cancer. With our shared experience; I learned how many were also putting on a brave face, quietly suffering in silence while their friends and family had no idea about their private struggles. On nights and weekends, I sketched ideas of a “pipe dream” business plan for a platform that would bridge the divide between patients and well-intentioned supporters; where patients in treatment and recovery could connect with each other in an online community with events and resources that felt more fun and upbeat — like a place you wanted to go back to. And users would be empowered to share how they were feeling with a social tool, complete with helpful prompts for family and friends to support them with love notes or wellness wallet funds that could be redeemed for things like a meditation app or a therapy session.

Photo taken of buddhi members by Enas Siddiqi, July 2019.

I was reminded about the gift of wellness in January 2019, when results from a secondary cancer biopsy came back clear of disease, and decided to leave my job at St. Jude and go all-in to make buddhi (“to be awake”) a reality, because when it comes to coping with cancer, we could all use a bud. After months of research and development, I raised capital (from a number of Friar alumni!) to build the platform and make strategic hires to launch in October 2020, with the first being our Community Director, who also happens to be my sister, Meagan Brown ’07

Alumni the Brown sisters.

While we are just getting started, with social and marketplace features coming in the first quarter of 2021, buddhi has already made a big impact in the lives of thousands of cancer thrivers and supporters. None of it would be possible if not for support from the Fenwick community and the values instilled in us to lead with service. I have audacious goals for what buddhi can accomplish, because the need is both great and urgent, given compounded isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one should have to go through cancer alone, and I am reminded daily of the power of community to heal.

If you’d like to join our community or be part of our mission, please visit hibuddhi.com or drop me a line: kathleen@hibuddhi.com.

READ MORE ABOUT THE FENWICK – ST. JUDE CONNECTION.

* Brian ’95, Kevin ’98, Kathleen ’00 and Meagan Brown ’07 are the children of Mary Kay and Fenwick alumnus/Hall of Famer Pete Brown ’71, whose father, Roger, was a proud member of the Friars’ Class of 1946.

Alumnae Spotlight Shines on Cortney Hall: Class of 1999

The local television anchor/host remembers a lot about her days at Fenwick, where she received a detention on her first day as a freshman student in 1995.

By Mark Vruno

Cortney Hall remembers feeling nervous – again. The Fenwick alumna (’99), now an Emmy-nominated TV journalist, was back among Friars, preparing to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2016. The problem: She was sitting near Andy Arellano, her old speech teacher. Twenty years earlier, Mr. Arellano had seemed “so scary,” not just to Ms. Hall but to generations of Fenwick sophomores. Contrary to her on-air vivaciousness on NBC-TV’s “Chicago Today” show (Channel 5), Hall insists she was a shy 15-year-old.

“We looked at speech class as a ‘gateway to graduation,’” she recalls, adding that she felt prepared four years ago. “That’s what Andy does. He prepares his students and makes them feel confident about getting up and talking in front of other people. Speech class was tough at the time, but he also made it entertaining. He taught skills that I have carried with me throughout my life and career.”

Hall’s 1999 yearbook photo from Fenwick.

Hall grew up in the south/western suburbs of Downers Grove and Oak Brook. Comparatively, “Fenwick was diverse – and I don’t mean just racially or ethnically,” she explains. “The school pulls people from all over the Chicago area, with different life experiences.”

But no matter where Fenwick’s student live, physically, their families all seem to have one thing in common: “They all care and have similar core values,” she believes. “Going in [to Fenwick], you know you’re among like-minded people whose parents want structure and discipline for them; who want their children to learn and have morals.”

It takes time and “some distance” to appreciate many aspects of what makes Fenwick such a special place, admits Hall. “Is it strict? Yeah. We weren’t allowed to hang out in the hallways like kids at other schools,” she continues. “As a teenager, you worry about things like wearing the Catholic-school uniform. However, as an adult, you look back and understand that there was a different purpose. We weren’t caught up in the brand of jeans our classmates were buying. We heard about bullying incidents at other schools, but I don’t remember stuff like that happening at Fenwick when I was there. We were a different group of kids.”

The stress of Mr. Arellano’s speech classes is not Hall’s only faculty memory of Fenwick. “Fr. Joe [Ekpo] was a character, with his chants of ‘Up, up, Jesus! Down, down, Satan!’” she remembers. Hall played tennis, and Mr. Bostock was her soccer coach. “I was mildly terrible,” she self-assesses. “And Dr. Lordan [retired in 2019] was a Fenwick staple, of course.” She remembers (fondly?) getting JUG on her very first day as a freshman student — for a skirt infraction. “There were two tricks for shortening our skirts: We’d either roll them at the top or staple them at the hem,” she laughs.

From the 1998-99 Yearbook: “Cortney Hall, the Fenwick Fashion Diva.”

Hall adds that she had fun as a Blackfriars yearbook staffer (she was student life editor) and wrote a “column” her senior year. “It was a parody on uniforms: shirt colors (blue!) and shoe options.” She also was active in Campus Ministry, NHS, SADD and The Wick.

Hall’s absolute favorite memory as a Friar? Hands down, it was “going downstate for boys’ basketball in 1998,” she exclaims of her junior-year experience in Peoria, IL. “I went with friends to cheer them on!”

Life after Fenwick

Ms. Hall’s lifelong love of basketball led her to moonlight as the official, in-arena host for the NBA’s Chicago Bulls at the United Center.

From Fenwick, Hall moved on to Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.), where she majored in marketing at the McDonough School of Business. “Georgetown was my first choice,” she notes. “I’ve always been a big basketball fan, and the Hoyas were really cool in the ’90s.”

Being from Chicago, she wanted a school in a big city and was accepted at Columbia and NYU in New York. “Applying to colleges was a great experience,” she shares. “I received a lot of great guidance. Fenwick put me in a good position to get into my ‘reach’ schools.” A visit to Georgetown’s campus sealed her fate.

As an under-grad at Georgetown, she says she really didn’t know what she wanted to do. After graduating, “I worked at the World Bank in D.C. for a while but decided that wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer all day long.”

Her game-changer turned out to be media coverage of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Like many Americans, “the powerful images coming out of New York captivated me,” she says. “I was in college when it happened, glued to my TV set and the news [reports].”

Continue reading “Alumnae Spotlight Shines on Cortney Hall: Class of 1999”

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.

Faculty Focus: August 2019

Getting to know Science Instructor and alumna Elizabeth Timmons ’04, who is entering her ninth year of teaching at Fenwick.

190724_Liz_Tommins_0019_sm

Ms. Timmons spends a big chunk of her summer down in the Friars’ pool, coordinating swimming lessons for the Oak Park community.

What is your educational background?

I have a B.S. in Environmental Science with minors in Spanish and Anthropology from Santa Clara University. I also have a MAT degree in Chemistry from Dominican University.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

I completed several outdoor education internships that included working at a National Wildlife Refuge in CA, an outdoor education center in Northern Michigan (through the winter!) and the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation in Dundee, IL. I also subbed in the elementary schools in Forest Park and River Forest while I was getting my Master’s and teaching credentials.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

Sadly, it has been a while since I have read anything other than parenting articles online, but my goal is to finish Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming this summer. We will see how that goes with a one-year-old running around!

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

I like to spend time with my family and be outside as much as possible. I love to go to the Morton Arboretum or the zoo, especially with my one-year-old. I love to swim and play water polo, even though I know I’m not very fast these days.

To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?

I was a member of the Varsity Swimming and Water Polo teams. I was also a member of NHS.

Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?

I am the moderator of the Environmental Club and I have been involved in the all of the Aquatics programs in various ways over the years.

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

The quality that most stands out to me in our Fenwick students is their resourcefulness. Our students here are very ambitious and constantly looking to successfully meet objectives and expectations. They will find extra resources when they need them and are willing to put in the hard work required to excel in the classroom.

Fenwick students also look out for each other. The Fenwick Community is a place that is always welcoming, regardless of how long ago you were a student. The Fenwick Community is strong, and I have always felt that we pull together to celebrate the triumphs and work through the trials. The statement, “Once a Friar, Always a Friar” is definitely true.

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: August 2019”

Collegiate Friars: July 2019

IMG_6594

OLIVIA EVANS

Fenwick Graduation: 2018
Hometown: La Grange, IL
Grade School: St. John’s Lutheran
Current School: The University of Wisconsin-Madison
Current Major: Animal Science (Pre-Vet)

Summer Internship: I do not have a formal internship through the university this summer, but I work as a groom for a few Argentine polo pros. I gain experience through working with the horses as well as by assisting the vet when the horses need treatment. I am also involved in a biomedical research lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This lab work will extend through my entire undergraduate schooling.

Career aspirations: I aspire to go to go to vet school.

Fenwick achievements/activities: I was a member of the National Honors Society, Tri-M Honors Society, Friar Mentors, was an Illinois State Scholar, a Eucharistic minister and was on the State Team for WYSE. I also ran track for three years and was in choir for four years.

Fenwick teacher who had the most influence on you: Mr. Kleinhans had the most influence on me. I learned a great deal in his physics class, but most of all I learned from his example as a role model, teacher, mentor and WYSE coach. Some of my favorite class memories are from his “feel good Fridays” where he connected life experience to prayer and the importance of being a genuine person while working hard and enjoying life.

Fenwick class that had the most influence on you: AP Biology with Mr. Wnek was one of my many favorite classes. Mr. Wnek is a fantastic teacher, and what I learned set me up for success in college biology and other lab work.

Fenwick experience you would like to live again: I would relive the whole experience. From classes, sports and clubs, to friends, I had a great experience at Fenwick. I am extremely grateful for the community and for the way it set me up for success in college and in the future. I am thankful for the relationships I formed with teachers and the way that impacted my growth as a student and as a person.

Continue reading “Collegiate Friars: July 2019”

What a Father Means to Me

In a post-Father’s Day reflection, a Fenwick senior remembers his late father – and thanks his big brother.

Fenwick soon-to-be senior Patrick Feldmeier wrote this essay for the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative. Patrick was honored, along with his older brother, Danny (Class of 2018), on June 6 at the Union League Club in Chicago.

By Patrick Feldmeier ’20

“One, two, three: Hi Daddy, we love you and we miss you.” (Mom always adds, ‘You’re in my heart, Sweetie.’)

Patrick (left) and Danny Feldmeier with their Dad, Bob, before his untimely death seven years ago.

These are the words my family says after grace every time we sit down for dinner. And simultaneously look at the open seat at the head of the table. Our hearts yearn for the man that God called up to Heaven seven years ago: Dad. It sends a shiver up my spine saying the word out loud, yet his presence still resonates in my family.

Every once in a while, his cologne can be smelled from his closet. His faded blue Ralph Lauren hat still hangs on the wall in my mom’s bedroom. His 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee may have finally been towed, but his K-Swiss “dad shoes” rest untouched in our mudroom. To say that Bob Feldmeier is a role model to me is an absolute understatement. Words will never express how much I miss him; how much I need him in my life; or how much I love him. Through my actions, I attempt to be like him every day.

Their father’s faded cap and “dad shoes” still can be found in the Feldmeier’s Western Springs home.

As a partner at Schiff Hardin, long hours seemed to swallow his work-week. Yet, somehow, someway, he always had time to play catch or take us to watch a White Sox game. After little-league games, my dad would take my brother and me out to “men’s dinners,” where he would teach us lessons such as, “It’s ok to admit it is cold, but it is not manly to complain about the cold.” He was also an avid Notre Dame alumnus and taught us the essence of hard work. The impression he left on me is what is most important. Through watching the way he treated my mom, my siblings and me, and kept God as a focal point in his life, I truly learned what it meant to be a father. His etiquette, manners and gentlemanliness are values I strive to model because I want my children to look up at me the way I look up to my Dad.

My father’s ultimate goal was for his family to live a life like his, which includes strong family bonds and an excellent, Catholic education. He continued to set an example of how to be a father and how to find strength through tragedy by protecting us until the very end.

Dad’s Gift of Peace

Robert Feldmeier
(1965-2012)

When he was first diagnosed with melanoma, he told my mother, “Do not tell the kids about my disease. I want to give them the gift of peace.” He truly was the perfect role model for a dad. It was more important to him to keep us happy and successful in life than for us to crumble under fear. His ultimate goal was for his family to live a life like his. Instead of succumbing to anger after his death, I honored his memory by achieving goals and setting the bar high for myself. I aspire to attend the University of Notre Dame, like him, and to provide for my family the same way that he did. His spirit lives on in my heart every day, and every day I thank God for one of the greatest gifts He has ever given me: my Dad. Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from my Dad was that a man is not solely defined by his career and accomplishments, but by his display of love to his family. Perhaps that was why he was able to stay strong during his last days, because he truly had reached his ultimate goal of success in life: to love and be loved by his family.

Continue reading “What a Father Means to Me”

A Mother’s Legacy of Caring

A Fenwick alumna’s post-Mother’s Day reflection on how being a good neighbor means loving your neighbor as yourself.

By Quiwana Reed Bell ’96

The author’s mother, Jacqueline Reed, founded the Westside Health Authority in 1990.

I was born the snowy winter of 1979 in Maywood, Illinois, to Jacqueline and Ronald Reed. My father, Ronnie, was born and raised a tough bi-racial kid from the west side of Chicago, near Pulaski and Roosevelt. My father never knew his mother.

My mother, Jackie, was born and raised in 1950 Natchez, Mississippi — a famous plantation town near the ports where slave-produced cotton and sugar cane was once exported. She is the oldest of seven children and grew up on family-owned land that also included homes for her grandparents (both paternal and maternal), aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors, who were like family. Her father, Oliver, was a handyman and janitor with a stuttering problem and a heart of gold; and her mother, Josephine, was a stern yet dignified seamstress who also worked for more than 20 years at the pecan factory. Her family of nine lived in a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house. They went to church on Sundays. They socialized and cared for each other. They didn’t have much but never felt poor. They were a community. And they were happy. 

Natchez, Mississippi, is about 850 miles south of Chicago.

My mother left Mississippi after high school, after having a child out of wedlock with a man who was unwilling to marry. She came to Chicago in the summer of 1969 to visit her Aunt Mavis, her dad’s older sister. She lived on 13th and Pulaski in a brick two-flat building on the west side of Chicago. Aunt Mavis had 10 children of her own with her entrepreneur husband Ed, who ran an auto mechanic shop. Although they owned the entire building, they lived in only one of the units which had two bedrooms, one bathroom and a back sun porch. Ten kids, two parents and now visiting cousin Jackie from Mississippi all in one unit. The block was lively. People sat on their stoops in the evenings for entertainment. The kids would play loudly up and down the streets.  Neighbors knew each other; supported each other; fought and gossiped about each other. It was a family. A community. And they were happy. 

During her summer-time visit, Jackie met Ronnie, who was a friend of her cousin Roger. They quickly fell in love and married only three months after meeting on February 14, 1970.  Jackie never returned to Mississippi to live. In Mississippi still was her infant son, Derek. He had stayed with her family while she traveled to Chicago. This was not a big deal. The family was seen as a unit. Jackie’s son Derek was not her property, but a member of a larger family unit where everyone contributes, supports and belongs.

Sharing brings happiness

This was a sentiment taught to my mother very early on in her childhood. She was born in segregated Mississippi where black people were still forced to live separately. This separation, however, was not all bad. Black communities had viable businesses — bakeries, dentist offices and insurance companies. It was a community where people looked out for one another. I would often hear stories of how if one person on the block killed a cow, then everyone on the block would have meat. Similarly, during my summers that I spent in Natchez, MS, I would often hear my grandmother say, “Go run this pot of greens that I picked and cooked over to Ms. ‘So and So’s house.” It was natural to share. It was natural to help others. It brought happiness. My mom never felt poor. She didn’t have a lot of fear and anxiety. Her family lived in peace. Even amid all the stuff going on in the world — they were shielded in “their community.”

A riverboat lights up the Mighty Mississippi near Vidalia, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi.

Black folks have always had to be communal with each other in America in order to survive: 

  • We had to help each other as we were packed like cargo at the bottom of slave ships.
  • We had to help each other as we sang songs together in the long days in the hot cotton fields in Mississippi.
  • We had to help each other as we navigated our way through lynching and rape and beatings.
  • We had to support each other in demonstrations and boycotts fighting for equal rights.
  • We had to support each other through redlining/housing and employment discrimination.

Today we still have to support each other through families being ripped apart as a result of mass incarceration, disinvestment of neighborhood schools and economic opportunity, and the resulting crime that plagues our communities.

Continue reading “A Mother’s Legacy of Caring”

Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Martin Lorenzi ’97

For the Martin sisters, Katie and Sarah, CAAEL and its kids-at-risk mission always have been a family affair.

By Mark Vruno

Showing some love to Leroy the service dog at Plainfield Academy after a CAAEL volleyball game. ❤️

Research indicates that extracurricular activities encourage peer interaction, promote cooperation, build student-adult relationships and help strengthen the student-school connection, points out Fenwick alumna Sarah Lorenzi ’97 (née Martin). “Students who participate in these activities achieve higher grade point averages, miss fewer days of school and are more likely to graduate,” she adds.

However, each year thousands of Illinois’ students — those excluded from the educational mainstream — are unable to participate in these types of experiences. “And that’s where CAAEL comes in,” explains Ms. Lorenzi.

Sarah Martin Lorenzi ’97

Lorenzi is president of the Chicago Area Alternative Education League (CAAEL), an organization that provides and governs interscholastic activities for at-risk and special-education students. Annually throughout the eight-county Chicago metropolitan area, CAAEL gives more than 5,000 students access to extracurricular activities they otherwise would not have. “We sponsor a variety of events year ’round: academic bowls, spelling bees, chess, bowling, basketball, flag football, volleyball, soccer, softball, art, badminton and high ropes courses — 1,000 events each year,” she notes.

“CAAEL is unique in that it does not run after-school programs. All activities are directly integrated into each school’s educational curriculum and schedule, with competitions taking place during the school day,” Lorenzi adds.

CAAEL’s participants often share one or more of the following 10 characteristics. For example, they may be:

  • aggressive
  • withdrawn
  • emotionally disturbed
  • learning disabled
  • behaviorally challenging
  • socially isolated
  • gang involved
  • drug dependent
  • depressed
  • truant

“That’s the magic of CAAEL,” she quickly adds. “Our students come in all different shapes and sizes — different races, different socio-economic backgrounds, different disabilities and abilities. Yet they come together each week and interact beautifully.”

The wide range of students CAAEL successfully serves truly defies the norm. As a result, CAAEL kids can learn to see beyond themselves. They develop empathy. They learn to embrace diversity. “As different as our kids are, they have this in common: They deserve to have fun,” insists their leader. “They must be seen and valued. CAAEL is the only organization providing this broad scope programming for Illinois’ growing number of high-risk youth.”

A mother of three children of her own, Lorenzi grew up playing softball in Forest Park, went to Fenwick and Northern Illinois University (B.A. and M.Ed.), then taught at Longfellow Elementary (Oak Park) before making the leap of faith in five years ago to help her father, CAAEL founder John Martin.

Humble, heartfelt beginnings

“My Dad started CAAEL in 1976,” Sarah recalls.  I grew up witnessing the amazing impact CAAEL had on an ever-expanding number of at-risk and special- education students.”

CAAEL founder John Martin lived in Forest Park.

It all began when he was teaching in an alternative school for kids with severe behavioral challenges, remembers Fenwick faculty and Dominican Laity member Dr. Jerry Lordan, O.P.

“Sarah’s father was a high school physical education teacher and coach [at the Stone Park Education Center]. From time to time he would have kids with disabilities transfer into and out from his classes. He could see their desire to participate in sports curtailed by their assignment to alternative-education schools without extracurricular activity programs,” Dr. Lordan explains.

“Rather than whine and moan, ‘Somebody ought to do something!’ he decided to be the change he wanted to see. John started the CAAEL,” Lordan continues. “At first it was just sports like basketball and baseball, which are played indoors. Then they added baseball, softball and track. Then they added poetry slams, spelling bees, art shows, musical performances, dances, etc.” Lordan notes that the Kiwanis Club of Forest Park is a financial sponsor to the CAAEL Coed Softball Tournament held in June in Forest Park.

Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Martin Lorenzi ’97”