Fenwick Partners with St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy School in 5-year Pact

Neighboring Catholic institutions on Washington Blvd. in Oak Park
share a vision of more diversity, equity and inclusion for future students.

St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy Principal Leamy (left) and Fenwick President Fr. Peddicord, O.P. at the April 19 signing ceremony.

Over the past 91 years, Fenwick High School has admitted hundreds of students from the former Catholic parish schools St. Catherine of Siena School and St. Lucy Schools, the predecessor schools to the now combined St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy School (SCSL), which serves approximately 200 children from preschool through eighth grade. Situated in Oak Park, IL, a few blocks east of Fenwick, SCSL borders the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s west side.

SCSL has raised in excess of $200,000 for the renovation of the gymnasium in Maguire Hall, thanks in part to two major donors — the Malnati and the Barnett families. Mr. and Mrs. Tom Nelson have generously donated towards the new boiler system. Fenwick’s Institutional Advancement Department has agreed to market a gift challenge to match the $200,000 already committed by soliciting from the two schools’ joint alumni base: $100,000 will be dedicated to establishing a scholarship fund supporting SCSL graduates who wish to attend Fenwick and $100,000 to develop the Fenwick Center for Educational Excellence at St. Catherine – St. Lucy School. 

Former Fenwick student Sarai Zamora ’19 helping a St. Catherine St. Lucy grade schooler with a math word problem in 2018.

How the funds will be used:

  • Once raised, $100,000 will go toward constructing and equipping the new “Fenwick Center for Educational Excellence” at SCSL, in conjunction with Fenwick’s existing tutoring program for grade-school students along with other academic initiatives.
  • The other half ($100,000) will go toward establishing the St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy and Fenwick Partners Scholarship Fund at Fenwick to benefit incoming students from SCSL.

“All of us at Fenwick are eager to enter into this partnership with St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy School,” said Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P., Fenwick’s president. “ In a very meaningful way, it will help us to live up to our commitment to celebrate diversity, insist upon equity and create a more inclusive community.”

Fenwick DEI Director and alumnus Raymond Moland ’96 (center) is excited about the new initiative.

Raymond Moland, the high school’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and a 1996 graduate of Fenwick, added: “This is an outstanding opportunity for both Fenwick and St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy School. It marks the beginning of Fenwick’s new outreach efforts in the community and those in the surrounding area.” (More information on Fenwick’s DEI initiatives.)

Mrs. Sharon Leamy, Principal of SCSL, also shared her thoughts on the partnership agreement: “Fenwick High School’s culture of service and strong sense of family mirrors that of St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy School. We believe we are all children of God. We believe there is more to learning than just books. And we believe education is a civil right. We have incredible families and very talented students who make us proud each and every day. We are thrilled a revered institution such as Fenwick recognizes the unique gifts St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy School has to offer and is willing to commit to further strengthening this partnership. Coming together through academics, athletics, and service the lives of all the bright, highly motivated, and faith driven students in the halls of both schools will be enriched. And we are so grateful!”

Future Friars

Fenwick High School is interested in realizing all St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy students who demonstrate cognitive intelligence, intellectual curiosity, humility, a desire to excel and who embrace the pillars of the Dominican order. Fenwick will base acceptance of SCSL students on its entrance exam while consulting with the administration of St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy School to identify students who can thrive in its demanding environment. DEI Director Mr. Moland will work directly with the SCSL Principal Leamy to identify three to five students per year who meet the academic qualifications to be considered as successful prospective applicants to Fenwick High School. This process can begin in the spring of the student’s seventh-grade year. (More than five qualified candidates can be discussed and considered in any given year.) 

Then, working with third-party scholarship organizations (for example, Big Shoulders, Daniel Murphy, Highsight, Link Unlimited, etc.), the Illinois Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and Fenwick’s normal financial-aid process, Fenwick will assure that all qualified/admitted students from SCSL are provided a nearly tuition-free education if the student remains at Fenwick for four years.

SCSL teacher and alumna Vanessa Underwood

Vanessa Underwood (left), St. Catherine – St. Lucy class of 1999 alumna and present fifth-grade teacher, shared: “The partnership between SCSL and Fenwick is a wonderful thing! If the scholarship piece was in place while I was a student here at SCSL, Fenwick would have been my top choice. Unfortunately, the cost was too prohibitive. Today, as a teacher here at SCSL, I am thrilled that my students will have the opportunity that I did not have to attend Fenwick. We have such intelligent, talented students, and I know they will be a tremendous asset to Fenwick for years to come.”

Athletics and Activities

As part of the new agreement, for a five-year term beginning in the upcoming 2021-22 school year, Fenwick will be able to use the renovated gymnasium at SCSL as follows:

● Two days a week, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. during the winter season, November 1st to March 15th.

● Three days per week, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. or 6 to 8 p.m. during the winter season, November 1st to March 15th (days negotiable).

For the same five-year term, Fenwick and SCSL will partner with the following:

● Once per season Fenwick/St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy will co-host a middle-school basketball tournament using Fenwick’s and SCSL’s gyms. Both schools will be listed on the tournament title. (Dates to be determined.)

● Free basketball clinics for girls/boys at SCSL at two points throughout the winter.

● SCSL students will receive one weekend practice time in Fenwick’s main gym during each season (fall, winter and spring).

● St. Catherine Siena – St. Lucy students will receive one free family pass to any paid Fenwick event.

Other possible ways for Fenwick and St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy students to interact in the future include joint Christian Service Projects and having Fenwick campus ministry leaders assist with retreats at SCSL.

Principal Leamy (right) concluded: “Ten years ago, the seeds of a wonderful partnership were planted through the development of a tutoring program. St. Catherine of Siena – St. Lucy School welcomed Fenwick High School students on campus to work with the boys and girls in our after-school program. Over the years, we have seen this initiative develop into an incredibly well-structured program benefitting all involved. With the addition of sports clinics and service projects, the eight blocks separating our two schools have developed into a wonderful bridge of opportunity.”

Fenwick Is Celebrating 92 Years: Fenwick High School, founded in 1929, is a Dominican college preparatory secondary institution with a co-educational enrollment of approximately 1,100 students. Guided by its Dominican Catholic values, its mission is to inspire excellence and educate each student to lead, achieve and serve. Today, Fenwick has a Golden Apple teacher on its faculty and an alumni list that includes a Skylab astronaut, Rhodes Scholars, Pulitzer Prize winners, a Heisman Trophy recipient and other leaders making a positive impact locally and internationally. Fenwick is celebrating its 92nd academic year in 2020-21. www.fenwickfriars.com

St. Catherine Siena St. Lucy School 135 Years Strong: With roots planted in 1885, St. Catherine Siena – St. Lucy School has served generations of Oak Park and Austin neighborhood families. We are grounded in faith, proud of where we have been, and exuberant in who we are becoming as a preschool through eighth grade grammar school. An awarded Personalized Learning school, we meet individual learners where they are in their journey and help them map their personal route to success. Educating the whole child, we offer after-school enrichment and encourage participation in our robust athletic program. Modeling our co-founder St. Catherine of Siena, we encourage our students to: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” www.catherinelucy.org 

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.

Follow Your Passion and Maintain Grit through Adversity

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: Female youth football player and Fenwick alumna drew on real-life inspiration to write a best-selling children’s book.

By Laura Enriquez ’08

I learned this lesson at the young age of 11, when I became the first female to play football for St. Mary’s of Riverside. Initially, I wanted to play because I love the sport … and really, who wouldn’t want to take out their pent-up aggression in a channeled way? But what I didn’t understand was, as the first female in the league, playing football became something much bigger.

The first sign of obstacles appeared during sign-ups when the head coach pointed in the direction of the cheerleading table. What he didn’t realize, and what Fenwick would learn during my freshman year, is I would be the worst cheerleader. Just ask anyone present at my poms try-out, when I kicked up too high and fell backwards. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to day two. 

Ms. Enriquez as a Riverside youth football trailblazer 20 years ago.

I soon learned the pressure of being “the first” at something. While there were many who supported me, there were also others who had more traditional views. These naysayers became vocal in their opposition. There was even an instance when a father approached my mom on the train and criticized her for allowing me to play. 

As a female in a male-dominated sport, there were other challenges. Naturally, boys and girls are built differently, but this difference was exacerbated during my experience. For example, it was difficult to find and create appropriate protective equipment. The biggest introspective challenge I faced was how I began to perceive my body. I wanted to be a running back, so I could feel the ball and know the glory of scoring a touchdown.  But, I became a lineman who are generally known as the “bigger guys” and equivalent to playing right field in T-ball, or so I thought. And then there were challenges that every athlete faces: balancing friends and sports, getting homework done, and caring for your physical being.

While playing, I worked harder than I’d ever worked before. There were many times I thought about giving up, but I knew I could not. When you are the only female surrounded by males, there’s added pressure to not just do well, but be the best. I accepted this as a challenge and spent the season proving my worth so that my experience could open up doors for other females in the future. 

Two-way “iron woman”

During our 2001 season, I played both offensive and defensive line, as well as contributed to special teams. As a captain of the team, I helped lead the Demons to the Chicago Catholic League Championship. And because of my relentlessness and hard work, I ended the season with the most tackles in the league. But the most rewarding accomplishment was what I learned about myself.

When it was time to choose a high school, my mom knew Fenwick was for me. She chose mine and my siblings’ schools based on our personalities, and we’ve attended almost every Catholic school from St. Ignatius to Trinity. Naturally, she thought Fenwick would be a good fit for my competitive nature — and, let’s be honest, all Friars are competitive!

On the first day, we sat in the auditorium and Borsch gave his “look to the left, look to the right” spiel. Seeing as I was sitting next to two very intelligent people, I became worried about what to expect. And in the next four years, I would find that Fenwick had its adversities as well. 

The academic rigor was something new for me. Prior to Fenwick, school came easy. It wasn’t until Denise Megall’s Spanish class did I realize how hard I was going to have to work to earn good grades. Also, … most of my classmates were perfectly petite — a mold I didn’t fit. At times, I felt lost and didn’t know how or where I “fit in.”

Thankfully, Fenwick’s educators are heavily invested in their students, which allowed me to create strong relationships with my teachers. In fact, the thing I admire most about Fenwick is its ability to develop not just well-educated, but well-rounded humans. 

As a Friar student-athlete, Laura was a member of Fenwick’s softball and debate teams (2007-08 yearbook photo).

Fenwick taught me how to interact with people. In Andy Arellano’s speech class, I learned irreplaceable communication skills, like the importance of “hitting the corners” and when to use the KISS method. If you haven’t taken this class yet, my advice is: don’t make tiramisu for your “how to” speech when your Italian classmate is performing the same speech and has samples.

As a Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum debater, John Paulett and Mary Beth Logas taught me the artistic way to weaponize words. And as a senior, Paulett facilitated my desire to build a larger community outreach program when he helped me found the New Orleans Humanitarian Trip. I am honored to learn that it is still ongoing. 

I attribute my passion for literature to Kim Darkes (Kotty), whom I had the pleasure of being one of her first students. She often took time to lend me books and engage in literary conversation outside of class. I even once asked her to grab coffee so we could chat more about literature. In hindsight, I see why my sisters thought (well, think) that was so weird. By the way, I’m still waiting for that cup of “Joe.” 

And so, while there were many times I wanted a more familiar path, Fenwick showed me how hard work coupled with support can produce the unthinkable. The passions I developed became the foundation for the journey I embarked on as an adult. 

I returned to Fenwick after graduating from Sacred Heart University because Peter Groom was kind enough to allow me to student-teach under Kate Whitman while attending graduate school. I felt compelled to give back to Fenwick (in any way I could) and, thanks to Mike Marresee, I became the head JV softball coach along with Peter Gallo.

Writing a book

Demons, published in December 2020, is fiction inspired by the author’s reality.

In the recent zeitgeist, there has been more encouragement and female involvement in male-dominated sports. I knew my story needed to be told to a larger audience because young women deserve to “see themselves” in every walk of life. After spending several years in the classroom, trying to instill the same values in my students as my teachers instilled in me, I decided to leave teaching to pursue authorship, a big risk.  Luckily, Therese Hawkins and Debbie Tracy (Nazareth Academy Principal and President) are fierce supporters and advocates, and gave me their
blessings to do so. 

Writing a novel itself is not an easy feat. There’s brainstorming, writing, editing, rewriting … we all know the writing process we tried so hard to short cut in high school. There were many times I wanted to give up. Each time these thoughts crossed my mind, I reflected on why I was doing this to begin with. Inevitably, the thought of quitting was the antithesis of not just my message, but also the values that have been ingrained in me. And so, it is through passion and grit that my novel, Demons, was published in December 2020. It soon became a best-seller on Amazon and has been featured by several sports organizations, including AAU Sports.

Overall, it’s important to examine what skills we have and how we can use them to uplift others, no matter how difficult the journey may be. Afterall, great leaders want more great leaders, and because that’s what Fenwick does: produces go-getters who strive to make the world better.

About the Author

Fenwick alumna Laura Enriquez taught English and was an assistant girls’ softball coach at Nazareth Academy (La Grange Park, IL) from 2017-20. Since publishing her first novel this past December, she has been working on related marketing and speaking engagements. Demons is the No. 1 new release for Children’s Football Books on Amazon and is featured by AAU Sports, SGIS and The Landmark.

READ THE ARTICLE ABOUT DEMONS IN THE RIVERSIDE/BROOKFIELD LANDMARK.

Fenwick ‘Mathletes’ Claim Chicago Archdiocese Crown

The school’s Math Competition Club is moderated by alumnus Roger Finnell from the Class of ’59, who has been teaching in the building this academic year.

Fenwick High School defeated 12 other Chicago-area, Catholic high schools earlier this month to win the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Math Contest. The competition has been held annually since 1967 — four years after Roger Finnell began teaching math at Fenwick in the fall of 1963. Mr. Finnell (pictured above, in his classroom, where he still uses chalk!) grew up in Cicero and Forest View, IL, attending grade school at Queen of Heaven, then St. Leonard’s in Berwyn. He has been in charge of running the archdiocese’s contest for the past 52 years.

“Fenwick has been fortunate to win first place 15 of the last 22 years with some extremely talented and dedicated math competitors,” reports Finnell, who is the Friars’ proud math club moderator and longtime chair of Fenwick’s Mathematics Department. To win this year’s Archdiocesan championship, his team tallied the highest score among both divisions of Catholic schools, which include (in alphabetical order): De La Salle Institute, DePaul Prep, Marist, Marian Catholic (Chicago Heights), Marmion Academy (Aurora), Montini (Lombard), Mount Carmel, St. Francis (Wheaton), St. Ignatius, St. Rita of Cascia, St. Viator (Arlington Heights) and Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart (Lake Forest). Like much of this school year, the 2021 math contest was conducted “virtually” online.

Mr. Finnell in 1968 (yearbook image).

Alongside many Archdiocesan high schools, Fenwick has successfully operated a hybrid education model since last August. Approximately half of its 1,100 students are in the building on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other half comes in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (Note: Some families have opted for fully remote, eLearning.) However, COVID-19 adjustments have not deterred Finnell, a 1959 alumnus of Fenwick who has been teaching at his alma mater for 58 years. The former Friar student returned to Oak Park shortly after graduating from Loyola University (Chicago), where he also completed his master’s degree in mathematics. Amazingly, five decades later, he can be seen in the building this school year. “The past year has been challenging to say the least!” Finnell admits. “Like others [teachers], I have had to adjust teaching to a camera while still engaging the in-person learners,” he explains, “but I miss the one-to-oneness in class during normal times.

“I have tried to do all the usual math competition activity [this year],” Finnell continues. “Three math leagues [17 contests total] have been online — with fewer participants than usual. Our junior-high math contest was online and drew twice as many contestants as usual! For state math contest practices, all early ones were conducted online. Now, for three team events, we have asked students to attend in-person practices, which have gone fairly normally. I miss going to a local college for state math regionals, and the team misses going to Champaign for the state finals. This year, the state contest is totally virtual, one day only, with less events than usual. But our team is still looking forward to it.

Continue reading “Fenwick ‘Mathletes’ Claim Chicago Archdiocese Crown”

FOREVER FRIARS: Remembering Fr. Roderick Malachy Dooley, O.P. (1919-2002)

By Will Potter, Chicago Tribune staff reporter (originally published on June 18, 2002)

Rev. R. Malachy Dooley, 82, was at nearly every wedding, funeral, baptism and party involving alumni of Fenwick High School. His giving spirit – from remembering the anniversaries of couples he married to taking friends on tours of Ireland – made him a cornerstone of the Fenwick community.

“Everyone thinks of him as their best friend,” said Bill Stein, a former student [Class of ’53, now deceased] and longtime friend. “And he thought of everyone as his best friend. Asking for nothing and giving everything, that was him.”

The late Professor Peter Bagnolo, a former student, painted this watercolor, which hangs in Fenwick’s 4th-floor (priory) Dooley Conference Room.

Father Dooley, a Dominican friar for 60 years and a teacher and fundraiser for Fenwick High School in Oak Park, died Saturday, June 15, of cancer in his home in the Dominican Priory of River Forest.

Father Dooley was born in Minneapolis. He started at Fenwick in 1950 as a theology teacher. When administrators asked him in the early 1950s to head fundraising projects for the school, he threw himself into the new task.

In the 1950s Father Dooley raised more than $1million for Fenwick’s first capital campaign that resulted in construction of the west wing, including an auditorium and classrooms. In the 1980s he raised more than $3 million for science laboratories and an endowment fund, and in the 1990s he raised $10 million for an athletics field house and pool.

Although quite a successful raiser of funds, the bespectacled Fr. Dooley did not like asking for money.

From 1963 to 1973, Father Dooley was assigned to St. Pius V parish in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, St. Anthony Parish in New Orleans and Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas. He then returned to his work at Fenwick.

Father Dooley did not like asking for money and, in fact, he rarely did, said Leo Latz [Fenwick Class of ’76], a former assistant and longtime friend. He didn’t have to.

“People give to things they feel connected to,” Latz said. “Dooley got legions of people to be connected or reconnected to the school. He had a gift of creating community and connecting people to their alma mater and reminding them of why they should be grateful. He has been the common denominator in Fenwick’s success in the last 50 years.”

He was awarded the [inaugural) Lumen Tranquillum, or Quiet Light, award by the school in November.

HIS STORY: Tackling Race at Fenwick

A former class president and Oak Parker writes about trading his orange-and-blue colors of the Youth Huskies football program for the Friars’ black and white in 2011 – and never looking back. But what about that other “black-and-white” issue?

By Aaron Garland ’15

Growing up, I hated Fenwick as a kid. I believe it was because I always imagined myself in an orange and blue uniform at OPRF High School. Playing under the lights on Lake Street was a dream of mine.

I remember in grade school, I went to watch OPRF play Fenwick in a basketball game. The energy was crazy! It was standing room only at the field house. Iman Shumpert [now with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets] was the star at the time, and I felt like he embodied what OPRF was about. Another reason I was attached to OPRF was because I played for the Oak Park Youth Huskies and looked forward to continuing the sport together. A few guys who were a part of that team were Lloyd Yates [OPRF & NU, see below], Christopher Hawthorne [Fenwick ’15] and Antonio Cannon [OPRF & Augustana College].

Huskies and Friars: Offensive lineman Adam Lemke-Bell (from left) and QB Lloyd Yates both went on to Northwestern, while CB Garland headed to UConn and DT Hawthorne to Illinois Wesleyan.

My journey to Fenwick began with my Mom. Around sixth grade, she would always say, “You’re going to Fenwick.” I didn’t think she was serious until she made me take the Fenwick entrance exam. I didn’t want to do it but, in my heart, I knew it was the best thing for me. The academic expectation at Fenwick scared me. Growing up, when Fenwick High School came up in conversation, the academic prestige was mentioned. I knew Fenwick would challenge me academically. A piece of me wanted to take the easy way out and leave the exam blank on test day. That wasn’t my style, though. I liked challenges!

When it came to test day, I remember it was early on a Saturday morning. I had a basketball practice shortly after, so my plan was to take the exam as quickly as possible so I could go hoop! As I took the test, I hoped that Fenwick would not accept me.

While waiting on my results, I continued my regular routine playing sports and hanging out with friends. Growing up in the Oak Park-River Forest area was special. For the bulk of my childhood, I hung out with mostly white guys and girls with a sprinkling of blacks and Latinos.

Garland was a three-year starter on the Friars’ varsity, which won IHSA playoff games all three seasons and advanced to the 7A quarter-finals in 2014. As a senior, the cornerback had four interceptions and two pick-sixes. ESPN ranked him a top-75 CB prospect nationally.

I finally got my test results, and I was in! Two of my close friends received letters of acceptance as well. So the three of us were headed to Fenwick. During our first assembly, Mr. Borsch told us to look to our left and right. He went on to say that the person next to us would not be here in four years. I was shocked that he said that and wondered why people didn’t finish. Was it the tough academics? The dress code? Or the rules? As I looked around at the freshman class, I was hoping that I would be one of the few to remain. Sadly, after one and a half years, both my friends were gone. I won’t go into detail on why they didn’t remain; let’s just say Fenwick was not the right fit for them.

I had a couple close calls at Fenwick myself that could have gotten me kicked out. I am grateful for the mercy that was shown by Wallace Pendleton [Fenwick Class of 2005], our Dean of Students at the time. Wallace was a former Division 1 athlete [Akron football] and he is African American. I believe being black in that situation actually helped me and he saw something in me. Thank you, Wallace. At this point, I was tested to expand my friendships beyond the friends I came in with. That same year, my sister transferred to Fenwick from Trinity, so that was a plus. [BONUS BLOG: Read how alumni Maya Garland ’14, Aaron’s sister, defied the odds.]

AG (5’11” and 193 lbs. in college) eventually did become a Husky again — at UConn.

I played basketball, football and baseball my first year at Fenwick. I later switched to only playing football. I always believed I was a great baseball player, but I knew football was going to be the sport that sent me to college for free. I later switched to only playing football. The summer before my junior year, I received a full-ride scholarship to play at the University of Connecticut.

Playing sports at Fenwick made it easy to be accepted by others. I had some good teammates like Keshaun Smith [Class of 2014], Robert Spillane [’14], Chris Hawthorne ’15 and Richard Schoen ’14, but the list goes on and on. Along with good teammates, I had some great coaches: Gene Nudo (football), Mark Laudadio ’84 (basketball) and Titcus Pettigrew (football). However, I felt bad for the minorities who were not connected with others through sports.

I would be lying if I said racism did not exist at Fenwick. I also wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said everyone there was racist. There was definitely a disconnect between minorities and whites.

‘East Kids’ and ‘West Kids’

I mentioned earlier that I grew up with mostly white guys and girls and a sprinkle of blacks and Latinos. So attending Fenwick, a majority white school, was not new to me. No matter what school I attended growing up, minorities always stuck together.

Naturally, we all feel more comfort when we are around the same race. However, I never wanted to put limits on friendships based on race, so I made an effort to be friends will all races. Personally, I can’t remember anytime that someone called me the ‘N word’ or was openly racist towards me while at Fenwick. I was the class president my junior year, so I guess I had won the hearts of my classmates the first two years. I would have been class president two years in row if I had decided to run my senior year, but I wanted to give someone else the opportunity to add the position to their high school resume. I enjoyed being class president, it gave me a sense of purpose outside of sports. It also helped me get rid of the stereotype that blacks attended Fenwick only for sports. I am not sure if I was the first black class president at Fenwick, but I’m sure I was one of the few.

Racism has been talked about for centuries. Here is my take on it: I believe it starts at home. Kids do outside what they are taught at home. In Fenwick’s situation, a lot of kids come from the western suburbs, such as Burr Ridge, Western Springs and Hinsdale. We called these people “west kids.”

AG returned to the Priory in 2018 to coach Fenwick defensive backs at the freshman level. Those players are now juniors.

Those neighborhoods lack diversity. So, due to the lack of diversity in those neighborhoods, it leads to kids being awkward around minorities. I remember going to parties in the west suburbs and feeling like I was being “watched” by the parents a little more closely than others. I am not saying everyone from the west suburbs is racist. I believe the interaction is just different with them. It’s not their fault that they grew up in a neighborhood that lacks diversity.

At Fenwick, you had two types of white kids — those who fit in with the minorities and those who didn’t. The kids who fit in seemed to have grown up in the Oak Park, Elmwood Park and Chicago area. Also known as the “east kids,” these students seemed to be more familiar with minorities due to their environment. So, it was not a problem of race but rather with environment.

I am grateful for the experiences I had at Fenwick. My classmates and teachers all made it a unique experience. Of course, academically we learned a lot and were challenged. Fenwick prepared me for college courses at UConn. Honestly, I felt like Fenwick was harder than college academically. I believe this is the reason I was able to graduate from college in three years and serve on the leadership board of the college of liberal arts and sciences.

Aside from the books, it was the people I appreciated learning from, especially Gene Nudo and Rena [Ciancio ’00] McMahon. Coach Nudo told me to be the kind of guy that colleges want to put on the front page of their advertisements. Nudo was my favorite coach throughout my sports career. He loved his players. Ms. McMahon was my counselor. She always believe in me and knew how to listen when I needed someone to talk to. If I wasn’t in class or practicing, I was talking to Rena or Nudo in their offices.

I learned how to be a young man at Fenwick, how to speak, how to treat people and, most importantly, how to keep God in your life. One of the statements we heard at Fenwick was “Everything in moderation,” which has stuck with me until this day!

Graduation Day at UConn: Aaron and his Fenwick alumna sister, Maya Garland ’14. READ HER BLOG.

My first job when I came back from college was with state senator Don Harmon, who is now the president of the Illinois Senate. This job came from the help of Fenwick alumnus Sean Harmon [Class of 2004], Don’s cousin. While working with Senator Harmon, I started coaching freshman football at Fenwick. I am currently working at the Cook County Board of Review as an appeals analyst. I say this to show that Fenwick opened up doors for me when it was time to join the “real world.” I am confident that the prestige of Fenwick will continue to do that. Moving forward, I am going to be a helping hand in bringing diversity, equity and inclusion to Fenwick so that more minorities will have the opportunity to attend one of the best schools in the state.

I encourage students to love one another and find things in common with people who don’t look like you. Whether it be academics, hobbies or sports, we all can relate somehow. Also, make time to have conversations with the adults in the building. There are many great minds in that building, whether it is the lunch ladies or those working in administration, from whom you can learn something.

I want to give thanks to the following people who were not mentioned above. Mrs. Nowicki (math teacher); Mr. Arellano (retired speech teacher); Tony McCormick [’78] and Becky (athletic trainers); Mr. Ruffino (friend, former coach and facilities director); Mr. Ori (admissions director, ’03) and Mrs. (Morris) Ori (English teacher, ’06); Mr. Schoeph (English teacher, ’95); the ladies in Student Services, Ms. Rowe and Ms. Shanahan; Kita (lunch lady); Mark Vruno (football coach); Mrs. Carraher (Spanish teacher, ’96); Mrs. Megall (retired Spanish teacher); and Coach Heldmann (RIP). Lastly, thank you to my Mom and Dad for sending me to Fenwick. I am sure a left a few out … thank you all!

IN ADDITION TO INTERCEPTIONS, HARD-HITTING TACKLES AND ACROBATIC PASS BREAK-UPS, AG’S SENIOR HIGHLIGHTS FROM FENWICK FOOTBALL FEATURE SOME ELECRIFYING KICK RETURNS, TOO!

BONUS BLOG by Maya Garland ’14 (Aaron’s sister):

Read why “west kid” Jack Henrichs ’22 thinks his commute from La Grange, IL, to Fenwick was worth the adjustment his freshman year.

MORE FRIAR BLACK HISTORY
Also read about:

The Fenwick Journey of Alumnus Michael Black ’09

Fenwick’s First Black Student in 1955

Why Marlon Hall Left Fenwick in the Early 1970s

HER STORY: Defying the Odds

At the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), this young black woman promised herself to stop being naïve and continued proving her critics wrong — on and off the basketball court.

By Maya Garland ’14

High school is an undervalued moment in our lives that is pivotal in shaping and defining who we are to become. Fenwick High School has played such a foundational role in my life. There are many lessons I have learned during my time at Fenwick that will resonate with me forever. Some of these lessons are straightforward, one being “everything in moderation.” But some of the other lessons Fenwick has taught me are somewhat more difficult and perceived as not appropriate to bring up.

Maya Garland is a R&D
engineer/project manager for Amazon in Chicago.

I did not realize or understand most of these more challenging teachings as a naïve, sheltered high-schooler. It wasn’t until after graduating from Fenwick that I now can fully understand them. I won’t share the details of them all! But one that stands out to me the most is that not everyone in the halls I walked in saw me as an equal, whether classmates or faculty members who did not perceive me as the other students. To some, my appearance marked me as inadequate or trouble. I can’t count how many times I walked into an advanced class on the first day of school, and other students would ask if I had the right course because they didn’t believe I had the knowledge to be in an honors class.

I am not here to complain or badger this community. More so, I am here to thank you all. My time at Fenwick was the reason that I made one of most significant lifelong promises to myself – that I would never be that naïve again! I cannot neglect the stereotypes that I must defy due to the representation of my skin color. It is a fundamental reason why I walk with my head held high, and I defy all odds of what some might believe a “colored person” should be in everything I do.

For example, I heard that less than 2% of minority women major in engineering in college and less than 1% go on to receive their master’s in engineering. From the first day I stepped on UAB’s college campus, I made sure to let my academic advisor know that I wanted to major in biomedical engineering. Five years later, I not only graduated with my master’s in biomedical engineering, but I was the first student of any race to do so in the shortest amount of time.

Much More than Basketball

STEM Star: In addition to her D1 athletic prowess, Ms. Garland graduated cum laude from UAB, where she earned a master’s degree in materials engineering.

I thank some families at Fenwick because they insinuated that basketball will be my only glorified moment in my life and that I would not amount to anything else outside a basketball court. These comments motivated me even more after I had my third major surgery in college and knew there wouldn’t be any more opportunities to play basketball professionally. Instead of being devastated, I didn’t want to give them any possible claim to their remarks. So, I made sure to always keep a smile on my face and let anyone who approaches me about my misfortunate injuries know that my life is bigger than the game of basketball. Shortly after ending my basketball career, I accepted an offer from Amazon as an engineer in their research and development department.

My time at Fenwick was immaculate – it was the first time I thought I was in love (and the second). It instilled confidence in me that I could do anything. It provides more moments to share with my brother, to witness his transformation from the boy who refused to go to Fenwick to the man he is today. [BONUS BLOG: Read alumnus Aaron Garland ’15‘s journey at Fenwick.] Lastly, it introduced the Bible into my life. I owe so much to this school; however, I have only been back twice to visit Fenwick, and both times were to use the gym amenities to train for the upcoming basketball season.

I am reluctant to go back now because I am somewhat disappointed in myself for not disproving the status quo of how a minority teen should act and be. Although I am proud of my accomplishments after Fenwick, I understand that I proved my critics right on multiple occasions during my time at Fenwick. After school, I lived in JUG. I was part of the group of students who almost didn’t graduate due to the number of tardies I accumulated throughout my senior year. Lastly (most disappointing one of them all), my high school grades did not reflect someone who would graduate cum laude in college.

White-and-Black Lenses

Maya as a Friar
in 2014.

For a very long time, I thought that my upbringing from being raised in River Forest (a predominantly white neighborhood) and attending Trinity High School as a freshman — then transferred to another predominately white school (Fenwick) — affected my connection to other black kids. Most of them didn’t give me the validity of being a young black girl trying to make it because of where I grew up. However, it also negatively instilled an ignorance in me to believe that racism didn’t exist in my life. I honestly thought that the questionable choices I made during high school were seen as youth growing pains by others, and that’s why no one spoke up about my actions. But, now I understand that no one encouraged me to do better because they expected trouble from someone who looked like me. But I also know that some students like me didn’t have the output as myself or my brother.

So, I am writing to several groups today. I am speaking to the minority students at Fenwick to encourage them not to let the stereotypes define them in this world. Use those labels that you are marked with from birth to drive you to do anything you want. I know the struggles many of you face and how you have to fight the assumptions the world labels you with because of your skin color. But you also have to fight the doubt that lies in your head for the simple reason you are a young human being, and we all experience self-criticism or doubt! I know how you fight to concentrate on your school work when there’s too much noise at home; how you keep it together when your family’s having a hard time making ends meet.

But most importantly, I know the strength that is in each one of you. The small incidents that my brother and I both share with you all infuriated us both. We recalled them because they were unfamiliar. These incidents are what the white community doesn’t understand about being a person of color in this nation, that there are daily repulses we face no matter what age we are; wherever it may be, in schools or in workplaces, some people talk over us while others don’t even see us. I encourage you all to never dim your light out of courtesy to anyone. You embody all of the courage and love, all of the hunger and hope that have always defined our reasoning for pushing forward.

I am also speaking to the majority in the Fenwick community. Fenwick is in a unique position to not allow this to continue in its school environment. The potential leaders that can be molded from the influence Fenwick provides haven’t even begun to scratch its surface. Therefore, I am challenging all of you in this community to continue to grow and evolve. There has never been a more epic state of time, with the controversies we face in this country, to revolutionize the future minds to come!

READ THE GUEST BHM BLOG BY MAYA’S BROTHER,
AARON GARLAND ’14:

MORE FRIAR BLACK HISTORY
Also read about:

The Fenwick Journey of Alumnus Michael Black ’09

Fenwick’s First Black Student in 1955

Why Marlon Hall Left Fenwick in the Early 1970s

BLACK HISTORY MONTH 2021: My Fenwick Journey

By Mike Black ’09

My journey to Fenwick was different from my fellow classmates. Unlike most of them, I didn’t have any family members who were Fenwick alumni. I remember vividly, on the first day of school, one of my classmates telling me how his aunt, uncle, parents and even cousins all attended Fenwick. Weird, right? Well, to me it was. My mantra is live your own life and not follow in the footsteps of others, even if they are your family members. It’s okay to create your own path and paint your own canvas.

Classmate and teammate Xavier Humphrey ’09 encouraged Mike to consider Fenwick.

It all started in eighth grade when I was invited to try out for Nothing But Net, one of the top AAU programs in the state. I managed to have a great tryout and impressed all the players as well as the coaches, which eventually led to a permanent spot on the team. One player who I particularly seemed to develop a rapport with was Xavier Humphrey [also Class of 2009], who was ranked as one of the top players in the state. To this day, he is still one of my best friends.

After practice, Xavier and his father asked what high school I planned to attend. At the time, I was lightly getting recruited by Von Steuben and Lane Tech, but the Humphreys insisted I should take the exam at Fenwick because the school is known for academics and athletics. At first, I was resistant since I valued an urban and diverse experience, which I already had in public school. However, my mother, who was a special-education teacher, and father, who was a private investigator, encouraged me to explore Fenwick. They always believed that exposure leads to expansion. After shadowing at Fenwick, I realized it could be a solid option. I took the exam along with Xavier; we both passed, and it was a done deal: We were officially Friars.

Black, a West Side kid, making good as a senior at Fenwick (2008-09 season). He returned in the summer of 2020 as a Friars’ varsity assistant coach!

I didn’t play varsity basketball as a freshman but played on the sophomore team. Coach Thies, now Athletic Director at Fenwick [and a Class of ’99 alumnus], was one of the first coaches at the school who believed in my basketball abilities. We finished the year with an impressive record of 27-1. After my freshman year, Coach Quinn decided that I was ready for the challenge and bumped me up to the varsity team. My playing time fluctuated my sophomore year, but my junior senior years are where I started to develop my brand. Throughout my final two years, we won many games and cracked the Top 15 state rankings at one point during both seasons. Coach Q, who pushed and challenged me every, single day in practice (and even kicked me out a few times), was really instrumental in helping me achieve my childhood dream by receiving a full, athletic Division 1 scholarship to the University of Albany.

Hurtful words

As an African-American male, I had many challenging and eye-opening experiences at Fenwick. Some were good and some were not so good. Mr. Groom, now Principal of Fenwick, to this day still reminds me that I shouldn’t have stopped playing baseball. He was totally right, but he didn’t know the real reason why I stopped playing. Unfortunately, there was an incident where I was called a derogatory word during practice. It left a sour taste in my mouth, not only because this was the first time I experienced racism, but it came from someone I considered to be a friend.

In his senior season at Albany, the 6-foot guard averaged 20 points per game, shooting nearly 38% from three-point range.

The social issues we continue to face today have, sadly, always been around and are deeply ingrained for many. It was unfortunate that my experience happened but, hopefully, it can be a lesson for current students to treat each other with respect and dignity — independent of race, socioeconomic background or other factors that make us diverse. I know the person involved in the incident contradicts what Fenwick stands for. However, to mitigate these types of experiences, students should focus on having strong, honest and constructive communication about injustice at home, within their community and at Fenwick.

Fenwick has taught me many valuable life lessons, and I will forever be indebted to the school. Punctuality, discipline, work ethic, knowing your self-worth, social skills, integrity, humility, empathy and earning respect are some of the qualities that I learned throughout my four years. Education was paramount in my household, as my mother was a teacher and sister attended Stanford University and then received her MBA from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. I knew in order to be challenged academically, Fenwick’s rigorous curriculum was what I needed.

In 2017, Mike made a (brief) appearance on TV’s “Bachelorette” show.

Not only was education a key component in my decision to attend Fenwick. I knew that graduating would open doors and create so many job opportunities for me in the future. Fenwick has a robust network and an incredible amount of resources that will support anyone in attaining their personal and career goals. After being laid off due to COVID-19 last March, Coach Quinn connected me with Peter Durkin, Director of Alumni Relations [and Class of ’03], who then connected me with other Friars to help find a new opportunity. Within days, Peter introduced me to Mike Healy (Class of ’03), who had recently opened up a new social club called Guild Row and was looking for a salesman. We spoke over the phone a couple of times and, within a week, he offered me a job. The saying “Once a Friar, always a Friar” didn’t resonate with me until I noticed the support from all alumni who went above and beyond to help me secure a job. Therefore, I will always be indebted to the school and appreciative of what the Fenwick community has done for me thus far.

I want to thank Coach Thies, Coach Quinn, Mr. Groom, Coach Laudadio, Mrs. Carraher and Father Joe for making my experience at Fenwick worthwhile and memorable. Friar Up!

MORE FENWICK BLACK HISTORY
Also read about:

Fenwick’s First Black Student in 1955

Why Marlon Hall Left Fenwick in the Early 1970s

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.