George Wendt, PhD.: October 3, 1947 – September 11, 2021

Fenwick community mourns the loss of Hall-of-Fame alumnus swimmer and former English teacher from Class of ’65.

With great sadness, Fenwick announces the sudden passing of fellow Friar George Wendt ’65, who died this past Saturday doing what he loved: swimming. Mr. Wendt, 73, who held a PhD., was inducted into the Fenwick Hall of Fame in 2013. He also had taught English at Fenwick and was Department Chair before leaving to run his family’s metals business.

Read his obituary.

Wendt (right) diving into the old pool at Fenwick High School.

Several articles about George have been published over the past several days:

Oak Park Wednesday Journal:

Chicago Sun-Times

Swimming World Magazine

Friars Remember 9/11: Twenty Years Later

From Fenwick High School’s morning announcements on September 10, 2021:

Twenty years ago, 19 people hijacked four planes with box cutters with the intention of using each plane as a smart missile. Three of the four planes hit their intended targets: the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The World Trade Center was a symbol of our thriving economy and the Pentagon a symbol of our military. The fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania because those on the plane understood their fate and decided that no other American would be the victim of terrorism.

As a result of this attack, the United States invaded Afghanistan to hold those that committed these heinous acts accountable.  

Throughout both today and this weekend, please keep in your prayers all of those who died in the 9/11 attacks. Keep in mind the families of those that continue to suffer from their loss. Pray for all of the first responders that continue to suffer from the effects of these attacks today … their suffering is both physical and emotional.

Finally, keep all of our soldiers, public servants and their families in mind who served, and in some cases died, in Afghanistan defending our country against these acts of aggression.

In our monthly Fenwick Alumni News (FAN) e-newsletter earlier this week, we asked members of the Fenwick Community: Where were you when the United States was attacked on September 11th, 2001? Here are some memories of that fateful day 20 years ago:

Angela (Mostardi) Wold ’02

I was in Mrs. Zach’s calculus class my senior year at Fenwick. After we heard the news we turned on the TV just as the second tower was hit. No one knew the ramifications that moment would have on the rest of our lives!

Also, I was a leader of the Kairos retreat set to leave that afternoon. The retreat went on as planned, and it was a strange time to be without communication to the outside world — but in a way that made the retreat even more special and brought us together.

Jeanette (Stamm) Fair ’03

I will always remember sitting in Fr. Tom’s 01 period when another student, Dom Volini, was late that fateful day. He walked in and informed the class that “something was happening” and that there had been some sort of plane crash. At that point, no one knew what was occurring. By the time I made it to 02 with Ms. Zach amidst a buzz of chatter in the hallway, we soon realized that something much bigger was afoot. I remember wanting so badly to watch the news but administration deemed it healthier to go about the day as the breaking news would only be a terrifying distraction since so much was still unknown at that point. I raced home after school to see what was happening and will never forget the image of my older brother standing at the kitchen counter TV with his head dropped and tears falling from his eyes and realized in that instant that this was a national emergency we will not soon recover from. 

The terror that ensued in the following days was palpable. The constant questions in the halls of Fenwick, “was Chicago next?”, the worries of students, “my dad is a fireman, he may go to New York,” the misinformation, “I heard there was a car bomb found on Madison,” had all completely replaced the day to day gossip and banter that us high schoolers were accustomed to. 

Fenwick will always hold a dear place in my heart for my time spent there but I know once a year I will reflect on that time in a different light. As it was there that our country changed forever.

Lisa Danno ’05

I was arriving in Mr. Groom’s 2nd-period world history class as a freshman, seated second seat, second row. I remember the two guys sitting next to me, Matt Abu-taleb and Ben Bakos, asking if we heard what happened. Mr. Groom touched on what happened and why things like that happen, then eventually moved on to our lesson for the day. I remember it being hit or miss whether or not your teacher wanted to play the news on the sad little TVs mounted in their classrooms. I remember student-athletes trying to figure out if their practices were still on that day. Our volleyball practice was not cancelled. And I remember a friend and classmate,Caitlin Ferrera, hearing from her mom, who worked in the Sears Tower, hearing they had to evacuate as a precaution. I remember doing my Alegebra and Spanish homework that night with my family and the news on as we watched rescue crews and Bush’s address.

Dan Logas ’05

Memories can be fuzzy and unreliable, but I remember where I was and how I felt very clearly.

9/11 will be forever tied in my mind with Fenwick. I was a freshman, just starting out on my Fenwick journey. I had known only a few peers prior to coming to Fenwick and was still gathering my footing. I started the day with Mr. Draski’s biology class and then proceeded to recess from the West wing to my Health class with Coach Perry.

As I walked into the classroom, I sat down at my desk and it became clear that this was not any normal day. Coach Perry had turned on the TV and was watching the news coverage. I remember a feeling of confusion. Why was the TV on? More importantly, what’s this on the news? What was going on with the smoking building from New York? Was there a fire? There were so many questions, but no clear answers. As I remember, Coach Perry didn’t really address the class; he may have said something brief, not that I think he would have known what to say. We all simply joined together and watched due to a lack of better answers.

Then, we saw the second plane hit the twin towers. My heart sank. This was something awful, but I still wasn’t sure what was going on. We prayed. We all began to understand that little would be the same moving forward. This was a defining moment in our time.

The rest of the day was met with our various teachers leading prayers and making sure that we were all doing okay. I can’t recall, if not the same day, but probably the next day, we resumed learning.

When I reflect on 9/11, I remember the sadness and horror of that day. But almost more distinctly, I also remember the compassion and empathy that filled the halls of Fenwick. The prayers offered up in every class. The opportunity to talk with our teachers about how we felt. But as we felt able, we began to return to our pursuit of knowledge. In such a time of uncertainty and as a Freshman in a new environment, it felt reassuring to resume learning as we all learned to cope with the challenges presented in the post-9/11 world. It felt fortunate to be so supported by the faculty and the Fenwick community as we all learned to deal with the new world that had been wrought by that day.

John Nerger ’74 was working at the Pentagon:

It was a stunningly perfect day in Washington, not a cloud to be seen in the clear, vibrant blue September sky. The weather gave no clue at all to what was about to happen in the early morning hours in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. As I was commuting to my job in the Pentagon, I remember being disappointed I wouldn’t be able to take a customary lunchtime run over the Potomac River to the Washington Monument on such a glorious day since I had an important all-day meeting to attend. The day before, we had scrambled to find a larger conference room since a greater number than expected were planning to attend. Not long after our meeting started, word reached us quickly after the American Airlines jet struck the west side of the Pentagon, and we exited to see billowing black smoke and hear fighter jets streaking overhead. At first, we thought it was a bomb, but eyewitnesses told us otherwise. Since we weren’t allowed back into the building most started their journeys back home amid the heavy traffic and the chaos. Cell circuits were jammed, making phone calls virtually impossible. A couple of us wandered into a nearby hotel lobby and joined airline flight crews staring in horror, disbelief, and silence at the TV screen. Several Army colleagues and I began the standard military operating procedure of accounting for all co-workers.

The plane crash left a gaping wound in the Pentagon building. Heading left from the point of impact, Mr. Nerger’s office was on the first floor just around the next corner and next side of the building – on the exterior, not quite facing the small parking lot seen in the photo. The section of his office that was destroyed was on the very left edge of the blackened impact point (third floor).

Our Pentagon offices were split into two locations separated by a short 1-minute walk, but one smaller section was situated adjacent to the point of impact. We soon discovered one colleague working in that area, an Army major, had been evacuated to the Washington Hospital Burn Center in critical condition and two others, both civilians, were missing. We feared they perished though we kept calling area hospitals hoping they’d turn up. They didn’t; the two had no chance at survival since this part of the Pentagon bore the impact’s full force. The original conference room we reserved for our meeting was nearby and had been destroyed as well. I cringed to think how close many more of us had come to being there and felt guilty about surviving when others were not as fortunate.

I finally left for home late afternoon when there was nothing more for me to do and traffic had lessened. I returned to many hugs at home and saw that my middle-school son had chewed his fingers to their nubs. His teacher apparently thought it a good idea to keep the TV on in the classroom as my son watched the replays while wondering about the whereabouts of his father.

The automobile license plate that John used for years to honor those who lost their lives on that day.

The next day, virtually everyone returned to work, even though firefighters were still battling the flames. The hallways were filled with smoke but there was work to be done. My office was intact but flooded with several inches of water due to the firefighting efforts. Those of us who couldn’t get back to our offices just found somewhere else to work. For weeks afterwards, I remember weeping privately at home before beginning my pre-dawn commute so I could stoically make it through the day. Soon, Pentagon corridors were covered with quilts, pictures, and notes of encouragement from school children, churches, and civic groups across the country. It was hard to look at them with a dry eye. The next several months were filled with opportunities to mourn our lost colleagues, comfort their families, and console each other.

Cleanup at the Pentagon began immediately and not long after, a lengthy reconstruction. Thankfully, the Army major survived multiple surgeries during the first few weeks of his recovery though there were many more to come. When I first visited him, he was in pain and wrapped like a mummy, yet his spirit was strong. “Mr. Nerger, there must be a reason I’m still here,” he said with certainty. But then, so it is with me, and so it is also with you, regardless of your proximity in space or time to the tragic events of that day.

Chris Ritten, VP of Institutional Advancement and Fenwick Past Parent:

Working on a Morgan Stanley fixed income sales floor in Chicago with direct “squawk” boxes to all trading desks in New York, my first inkling that anything was amiss on that otherwise typically busy Tuesday morning was when the Head of our US Treasury trading desk came over the squawk — before anyone knew anything — and said, “Don’t quote any Treasury prices.  Something is going on with the broker feeds. They’re not right.”  

Minutes later the TV sets on the sales floor — always tuned to CNBC at the time — cut to a live view of the World Trade Center. As we stared in disbelief, when the second plane hit the south tower one of the salespeople leapt to his feet and declared, “This is war!”

I immediately thought that my five young children will grow up in a world very different than the one I did — heavily armed security forces at all events and transportation hubs, pat downs and metal detectors a part of everyday life. There was a distinct loss of innocence that moment.

When it became known that other planes had been hijacked and rumors swirled about possible targets, downtown Chicago buildings emptied out, especially the skyscrapers. I immediately drove to my kids’ schools — to see them in the flesh through eyes blurred with tears of relief and anguish. I then went to our church, St. Giles, next door, to pray.

Only later did I learn that the world’s largest U.S. Treasury bond broker, Cantor Fitzgerald, was headquartered at the top of the north tower.

David Dunlap ’85 was working for Cantor Fitzgerald in Texas:

I had moved to New York City at the end of 2000 to help build an energy desk in Houston for Cantor Fitzgerald. On that morning, we had been watching CNBC as usual and, as the rest of the world, saw the first plane hit the North Tower, where my fellow coworkers were working (floor 102). We had our squawk boxes set up between Houston and New York as we had to be in constant contact throughout the trading day. Their initial reactions were, “It looks like a small plane has hit,” to “It’s starting to get smoky in here and we’re being told to move to the conference rooms.”

As we lost communication, we all watched in horror as the second plane hit. We knew this wasn’t an accident anymore. My coworker, whose brother-in-law worked with us in New York, tried to keep upbeat knowing how tough Rob was and how “he will figure out a way to get out of there.” Shortly after, as the first tower fell, we realized they were all gone.

The next two weeks were spent in New York helping with the families and the few people left from our company. Since we essentially had no more HR [human resources] department, I helped with talking to my friend’s parents about insurance and other odds and ends.

On our drive over the bridge to NYC, it was our first look at the new skyline. The smell of Ground Zero was like nothing I’ve ever smelled in my life. Twenty years later, it still makes me angry and also very sad for the friends I lost that day and the years they have all missed. I think about it often and always hope that we all never forget what happened that day.

Math Teacher Roger Finnell ’59:

I walked into my classroom that morning at about 8:45 and turned on the classroom TV so that the whole class could watch live history being made. I could see one tower next to a large cloud of dust.

It took a few seconds for me to realize that the dust had been caused by the first tower collapsing. We watched intently and, in another ten minutes or so, saw the second tower collapse. My first remark to the class I remember as, “I think everybody was expecting a terrorist attack, but no one expected one this bad.”

Everyone walked around in a state of shock the rest of the day, but teachers remembered to remind their classes not to blame one whole group of people for the actions of a few terrorists.

Jeff Oakey ’88

I was an active-duty Navy officer assigned to a ship based in San Diego. I was also less than 24 hours into my honeymoon in Las Vegas. Our ceremony and honeymoon had already been delayed, so our 10-month old son was with us.

We woke up late that morning and I noticed that the airport seemed pretty quiet. I put it out of my mind as we dressed and went down to eat. I stayed with our son while my wife went to the buffet. As our waitress poured coffee, she told me about a plane hitting one of the WTC towers. When my wife returned with her breakfast, she relayed about another plane hitting the Pentagon. We agreed to finish our breakfast and check the TV news when we got back to the room. I remember the disbelief curdling into horror as the first tower fell five minutes after we turned on the TV. Stunned, we immediately started calling our friends who worked in either New York or the Pentagon. Then we checked out and drove back to San Diego — five hours across the desert with unending bad news on the radio and American flags already sprouting up in every town, truck stop and overpass.

My wife dropped me off at the naval base’s main gate (no vehicles could enter) and I walked the mile to my ship, which was preparing to sail. After a week or so off the California coast watching only fighters in U.S. airspace and verifying the flight path of every aircraft taking off from nearby Tijuana, the ship returned to port. As I walked in the door of our apartment, my son stood up with a huge grin and I saw him walk for the first time.

Weeks later we celebrated his first birthday together and then my wife and son went to her Dad’s house because our scheduled February deployment had been moved up to November. By January 2002, we were sending Marines into and over Afghanistan. Our group of ships and Marines hunted Al Qaeda leaders from Afghanistan to Northern Africa before finally heading home in July.

The combination of powerfully good and bad feelings has long left me conflicted about 9/11. My honeymoon, my son’s first steps, the death of thousands of innocents, and the opportunity to help my military family do something to protect our nation from further attacks. Twenty years later, the conflicted feelings remain, more muted now, but occasionally gathering enough strength to toss me out of sleep. I’ll spend a groggy hour remembering how quickly I went from honeymoon to combat patrol off the U.S. coast, then how we took the combat overseas and away from those loved ones we missed so much.

Theology Teacher Pat Mulcahy:

I was teaching in Room 46 (the Bell Tower) on September 11, 2001.  We had TVs in the corner of each classroom at the time, and I remember the TV looping through the second plane crashing into the Tower. Several years before, A Dominican with great vision began a required course for seniors on the study of World Religions. That Dominican’s name was Fr. Bob Kelly. He dragged me into teaching the course with him, which I had absolutely no desire to do at the time. To this day, we are the only Catholic high school that I am aware of which requires a course like this for seniors.   

In November of 2001, I became aware of a talk being presented at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park entitled, “Getting to Know Your Muslim Neighbor.”  I attended with a number of my seniors.  I was never more proud to be an American. The place was absolutely packed with people who didn’t want to jump to conclusions about an entire group of people based on the actions of a few. At this event, members of the Muslim community spoke about their religion and what it meant to them. To me, this was America at its best. 

As I’ve watched several programs recently (Frontline and Netflix) as we approached the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it saddens me deeply to see how unable we are to listen to one another any more on a variety of issues. 

Mickey Collins ’03, Fenwick Director of Scheduling & Student Data

I was sitting outside the library finishing my pre-cal homework for Ms. Caponigri. Went to 1st-period pre-cal class [with] no idea what was unfolding. Headed to 2nd-period class — Fr. Saucier US History in Room 03. Kids started asking if we knew what had happened. By end of that period, I was pulled out of school by my mom only to walk into our house to see replays of the planes crashing and the towers falling. Went back to school for XC practice — we were bused to practice (first and only time ever), and while running our workout, we all noticed the complete lack of planes in the sky. It’s the most eerie feeling I’ve ever had.

U.S. Army Major Timothy Fitzpatrick ’71, MAJ (Ret.)/Dept of Army Civ (Ret.) and Distinguished Member of the PSYOP Regiment; Bronze Star Medal/Master Parachutist/Army Distinguished Civilian Service Medal; College of Naval Warfare (2009)

On 11 September 2001, I was at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, the headquarters of United States Special Operations Command. I was working as an Army Civilian for U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s Battle Lab, working on future concepts and experiments, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Representatives from all components of SOCOM were there to talk about future operating concepts and what that would mean in terms of doctrine, organization, training, education, materiel/equipment, leader development, personnel policy, facilities, policy, and authorities. We were on Day 2 of our working group when someone came in and said a plane just hit a building in New York. At first everyone thought some small airplane crashed but then someone said come on in where a large, flat-screen TV was as this was big.  We gathered round just in time to see the second airliner hit. There wasn’t a sound or a movement in the room and I think everyone instantly recognized that we were being attacked.  

We went back to our work area to try to get something done, but it became evident that the whole headquarters was buzzing as general officers and staffs were assembling. Then news of the Pentagon hit came in and the other missing airplane. This extensive and well planned assault clearly meant we were at war.  It was decided to break up for the day and get with our commands for instructions but if possible we would assemble the next day to complete our work.  We went back to the hotel and were glued to the TV news.  As all air traffic became grounded it was clear we weren’t flying back to Fayetteville, NC.  The plan became to drive into MacDill the next morning and see what we could get done and continue the rest of the week. 

On the morning of 12 September, we attempted to drive our rental car into MacDill, but traffic was backed up for miles given the tight security measures taking place. We made it to the McDonalds on Dale Mabry about a mile from the gate.  The folks at McDonalds had made hasty trays with straps around their necks and were going car to car with pre- packed breakfast and coffees as no one could get into their drive through, selling at a discounted flat rate to avoid change.  We were monitoring the news on the radio when we got a call to forget the workshop and get home.

I called home to talk with Karen and let her know we were driving home when she turned the phone over to Caitlin, my 13-year-old daughter. She asked me, “Dad, does this mean we are at war?”  I told her yes, that this was the Pearl Harbor of her time and, yes, we were indeed at war. She was silent for a bit and said that is what she felt the day before.     

We attempted to get a flight out but everything was grounded. We called the Rental Car company and told them we were going to take the rental car to Fayetteville, but they insisted we return it. We again told them we would return to their Fayetteville NC location at our airport and hung up before they could object. We then headed North.  

I called both sons at Appalachian State University. Our twins, Danny and Timmy, were freshmen there. After talking to Tim I called Danny. Danny had joined the North Carolina National Guard in 2000 and had just completed Infantry Advanced Individual Training as an 11B infantryman in a Bradley fighting vehicle mechanized unit, the 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team.  He had been alerted by his unit to make sure all his stuff was ready but no word on any mobilization. He clearly understood the implications.  

Upon arrival at back at Bragg, security measures also affected getting on and off post but I returned to work. Our primary effort shifted from future concepts to how we would meet any shortfall needed to deploy units and then sustain them. A big effort was in identifying funding and other requirements to ramp up training and producing Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Soldiers to fill units. Also, the mobilization and certification of National Guard Special Forces and Army Reserve Civil Affairs and  PSYOP units to deploy with any Special Operations or Conventional forces (barracks, training areas, training support, ammunition, radios — everything).

My son Danny did not deploy immediately, but they did undergo two combat training center rotations at Fort Polk LA, and at Fort Erwin California (the desert training center personally picked out by GEN Patton in WWII for realistic and punishing Desert training. In the fall of 2003. Danny got a text message while in class, and he got up and stuffed his books in his pack and started to walk out when the prof asked him where he thought he was going. He answered, “Iraq.” Forty other students from his brigade also got up and departed campus at the same time; 400 in a month, which was quite a shock to the App State. Danny deployed to  Iraq in early 2004, spending almost a year fighting insurgents in the desert areas near Balad Ruz, and Tuz Khurmatu. His unit fought some significant actions. Before his unit departed they did several weeks of training on Fort Bragg and I was able to put his company through some weapons simulators I had acquired for Special Ops where retired SF instructors worked with them as well as on how to call in air strikes and artillery, getting more soldiers in his unit proficient on that than normal, and it showed in later training and combat. MAJ Danny has since deployed again to Iraq as a Scout – Sniper platoon leader, and then to Afghanistan as a company XO. His wife, MAJ Shawna Sneller Fitzpatrick, has also deployed twice to Iraq including a year of flying UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters in combat.   

This 20th anniversary of those attacks is deeply marred by the events of the last few weeks and the incomprehensible capitulation to an existential enemy. The suicide attack at Kabul airport on 26 August 2021 resulted in the death of SSG Ryan Knauss, one of the last PSYOP Soldiers to complete training as I retired from my civilian job as the Deputy PSYOP proponent at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.  He leaves his young widow Alena.

Please pray for all those who were killed that day and those recovering from their wounds from that same attack and the hundreds of Afghan dead.  In my mind and the minds of most veterans I talk to it appears that we have reset, re-equipped, funded, and facilitated our worst enemies back to where they were on 10 September 2001. We are absolutely gutted over this. This war is not over and continues as the suffering at a massive scale in Afghanistan mounts, is destabilizing the entire region, and emboldening our enemies globally.

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

Senior Earns Full Scholarship to Duke University

Fenwick student Vaughn-Regan Bledsoe ’21, a resident of Maywood, IL, has been named a LINK Unlimited Class of 2021 QuestBridge Match Scholar. Ms. Bledsoe, a Friars’ Cheerleading Team captain and Black Student Union president, will attend Duke University on a full scholarship!

QuestBridge, a national nonprofit based in Palo Alto, CA, connects some of the nation’s most exceptional youth with leading institutions of higher education and further life opportunities. Last year, QuestBridge received more than 18,500 applications. After a two-step application process, Bledsoe was chosen as one of only 1,464 QuestBridge Match Scholarship Recipients (an 8% acceptance rate). As a QuestBridge Scholar, her financial-aid package provided by Duke University covers tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and travel expenses for all four years.

 “I’m incredibly excited for Vaughn and not at all surprised that she was chosen as a QuestBridge Match Scholar,” says Timeica E. Bethel-Macaire, the director of post-secondary success and support at LINK Unlimited Scholars and Bledsoe’s nominator. “She spent countless hours working on her application and researching universities. I’ve been an educator and mentor for the last 10 years, and I’ve met very few students as conscientious and determined as Vaughn!”

Ms. Bethel-Macaire adds that Bledsoe fully embodies the LINK core values: integrity, resilience, accountability, drive, selflessness and intellectual curiosity. “Vaughn is a leader among her peers [who] received the LINK All Around Outstanding Scholar Award last year. She is so intelligent, deserving, reflective and mature beyond her years. I’m thrilled that Vaughn will be able to attend her top choice university on a full-ride scholarship, especially as a first-generation college student.” Duke is one of 42 colleges and universities partnering with QuestBridge. Brown and USC also were on Bledsoe’s short list.

Steve Napolitano, her LINK mentor, adds: “Upon meeting Vaughn for the first time, I was entirely convinced that she would not only excel academically but that she would embrace the full Fenwick experience,” says Mr. Napolitano, who is the past-parent of a Friar (son, Vince ’13) and a coporate partner in the Chicago office of law firm Kirkland & Ellis. “She has exceeded every possible expectation with both her intellect and passionate and infectious personality. She will be an immeasurable asset to Fenwick going forward. My wife, Karen, and I are tremendously proud of her. I hope we were able to contribute in small measure to her success, but most of it rests with Vaughn herself and with her mother, Annette. Vaughn is simply unique!”

Envisioning College

Bledsoe’s mother, Annette Ford, learned about LINK Unlimited Scholars when her daughter was an 8th-grader at Ascension Catholic School in Oak Park. At the time, Ms. Ford was inquiring about scholarships (to Fenwick), and fellow parents encouraged her to investigate the opportunities available through LINK in Chicago. Vaughn had strong grades when she began the initial interview process four years ago and was among the approximately 50 children (of the 200 or so who applied) to receive partial tuition scholarships at private and charter secondary schools in the Chicago area. At Fenwick, she is the recipient of the Pat and Linda O’Brien Scholarship. “What exciting news! Linda and I feel honored to be part of Vaughn’s success, and we are confident her Fenwick education will serve her well at Duke,” says Mr. O’Brien ’59, who is the retired VP of finance at Utilities, Inc.

Once at Fenwick, the then 14-year-old began “preparing for college in my freshman year,” reports Bledsoe, who has taken a challenging course load with honors and advanced-placement (AP) classes. She attended LINK career/college panels and, before COVID-19, its ACT and SAT prep events. The organization’s “Saturday Academy” is two hours packed with seminars and speakers, she explains. Last February, Bledsoe applied for QuestBridge’s program and was accepted in May 2020. Then, the waiting began.

“This scholarship is highly competitive: about 18,000 kids apply nationally,” says Bledsoe, who notes that she was not overly confident about her chances. QuestBridge whittled it down to 6,000, then 1,000 students. Early last December, Vaughn text-chatted with other students whom she had met through the applicant pool. With nervous anticipation, she opened a letter on the QuestBridge online portal informing her that she had won a scholarship. “I literally screamed [from excitement],” recalls the driven 17-year-old.

Her mom was not so surprised. “I knew in my heart that Vaughn would go to a good college,” Ms. Ford shares. “But when I heard her scream like that, at first I thought something was wrong. Then we huddled together in a joyful hug. She has worked so hard and did it all on her own.” Their daughter-mother bond remains tight-knit. “At first, I didn’t like the idea of Vaughn having a mentor,” mom admits. “I was afraid that someone would come into her life and ‘replace’ me.” After opening up her mind, however, she realizes it was the best course of action for her child’s future: “Now, I love LINK.”

Fenwick College Counselor Ms. Igho Oraka ’03 adds: “Vaughn has been a pleasure, and the Fenwick community is a better place with her presence and commitment. Her sense of self and leadership will be missed, but I know she is needed at Duke, and we are excited to see what is next for her!”

Last year, the Class of 2020’s Craig Butler (of Bellwood, IL) won a similar scholarship from the Posse Foundation to the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Fenwick Students of Italian Pray for Italy

COVID-19 global outreach project employs video app technology called Flipgrid.

Earlier this month, students in Level I Italian completed an Italy Outreach Project through the video app Flipgrid. “They recorded themselves praying for Italy in Italian and reading a letter they wrote to Italy in Italian,” explains Fenwick Italian Teacher and alumnus Mr. John Schoeph ’95. “Each student submitted a prayer and a letter as a video recording.”

Mr. Schoeph then compiled them into what Flipgrid calls a mixtape. “This mixtape plays them all as a video and also presents each video individually in a grid. Italy was struck so severely and early [by the Coronavirus pandemic] that it was important for our students to reach out,” he notes.

LISTEN TO THE FENWICK STUDENTS PRAY IN ITALIAN

“In the meantime, one student drafted a letter in Italian ‘to Italy,’” Mr. Schoeph continues, “while every student was required to find the e-mail address of one high school and one church in their assigned town or city in Italy.” Freshmen Angelina Squeo ’23 (Elmwood Park, IL) and Cate Krema ’23 (Western Springs, IL) compiled the e-mail lists of churches and high schools that every student was required to look up and submit.

Mr. John Schoeph ’95

With the e-mail lists ready to go and the letter drafted, their teacher inserted the mixtape link and sent off the e-mails. “We wanted to let Italy know that a group of beginner Italian students is praying for them and sending them our best,” Mr. Schoeph concludes.

To Italy, with love

The letter was drafted in Italian by fellow freshman Angelina Woods ’23 (Elmwood Park, IL):

I nostri carissimi in Italia, 

Noi siamo una classe d’italiano al livello il più base a Fenwick High School. Fenwick è un liceo negli Stati Uniti. Le priorità di Fenwick sono le preghiere, la studia, il ministero/il volontariato, e la comunità. Mandiamo le nostre preghiere a voi virtualmente e spiritualmente. Anche, mandiamo qualche lettere che offrono la nostra speranza e positività. Se potete, per favore condividete queste lettere e preghiere con la facoltà e gli studenti del liceo o con i parrocchiani della chiesa. Da una piccola scuola di Chicago viene molto amore per Italia.

(La freccia blu e bianca della mano destra dello schermo mette in funzione il video.)

Da una piccola scuola di Chicago a un’altra in Italia. 

Auguri!​

Translation:

Continue reading “Fenwick Students of Italian Pray for Italy”

Lessons for a Lifetime

An alumnus reflects on the Friars’ improbable basketball championship 54 seasons ago.

By Mike Shields ’67

I’ve traveled many ‘roads’ after leaving Fenwick, but I have never forgotten the lessons I learned as a member of the basketball team and particularly the 1966 team that won the Chicago Catholic League title that year – against significant odds.

We won the title in March of ’66; one of many championships won by Fenwick teams throughout its long history. But my own sense as a student of that history is that few of these teams had as amazing and improbable road to a title as we had, and it is that story that I’d like to share and use to reinforce the idea that, although the title was great, it was the ‘lessons learned’ along the way that were more lasting and more important.

As we began the 1965-66-basketball season, we knew we had a well-regarded coach in Bill Shay, but it had been almost 15 years since Fenwick had won a Catholic League Senior (over 5’ 9” players) basketball championship. In fact, the previous season, Fenwick’s Senior team finished at .500 in league play, out of the playoffs, and were maddeningly inconsistent – beating a contender one night and getting blown out another. To be honest, there was cautious optimism at best as we opened the season led by 6’6” senior center Dennis Bresnahan (St. Bernadine – Oak Park), the lone starter from the previous year and who would be joined by three talented underclassmen, including junior forward Joe Grill (Divine Infant – Westchester), junior guard/forward Steve Flanagan (Ascension – Oak Park), and junior guard John Sanderlin (St. Luke – River Forest), who had led their Frosh-Soph team coached by Jerry Hughes to a 20-0 record the year before. Coach Shay knew he might have something special in this young, untested team, but it was mostly a hope.

Two-sport athletes: Flanagan, shown scoring in game action, also played football at Fenwick.

With Grill and Flanagan, both starting football players, not joining the basketball team until late November, things started out surprisingly rough, losing seven of our first 10 league games, albeit four by three points or less. As ‘ninth man’ on a team that usually played just seven players, my role was to scrimmage against the starters in practice and help prepare them for the games. I knew Grill, Flanagan and Sanderlin from our grammar-school days, and each one was a winner – rarely losing in anything. Both Sanderlin and Flanagan were in the so-called ‘A’ group academically and their basketball ‘IQs’ were just as impressive. Furthermore, even in scrimmages they played to win. I would say the biggest thing that these guys brought to the team was their deep-rooted will to win, a trait perhaps even more important than raw talent. And win we would.

“I always thought that the largest and one of the most impactful classrooms at Fenwick back in the day was the gym – today’s Lawless Gym.”

Mike Shields ’67

CCL mainstay: Long-time Friars’ hoops Head Coach Bill Shay came to Fenwick in 1950.

The Fenwick aura of excellence

To be a student at Fenwick in the mid-60s was to be surrounded by greatness in one’s teachers and coaches. Tony Lawless, our legendary Athletic Director, had joined Fenwick when it opened in 1929 out of Loyola University and an illustrious basketball career there. He hired swimming coach Dan O’Brien (Class of 1934), whose teams would win 28 straight Catholic League titles; Lawless himself would coach the football teams, which over his 25 years (1932-57) would compile a Rockne-like record of 172-40-6 and a winning percentage of .803. In those years, Fenwick’s football teams would win 14 division titles, five Catholic League titles and three City Championships. In 1950, Lawless selected Bill Shay, another highly successful coach, to lead Fenwick’s basketball teams. I would say Lawless, O’Brien and Shay, all successful intelligent coaches, not only believed in excellence but were very (very) serious guys who helped develop the likes of 1953 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lattner (Fenwick ’50) at Notre Dame [who also played basketball and ran track in high school], 1964 Olympic Diving Gold Medalist Ken Sitzberger (Fenwick ’63) and legions of other great Fenwick athletes.

1962 Prep Bowl: Look at that crowd at Soldier Field!

As Athletic Director, Lawless had also brilliantly selected 24-year old John Jardine as football coach, and Jardine proceeded to a 45-6-1 record over five years (1959-63) and an epic 40-0 Prep Bowl victory in 1962 over Schurz in front of 91,000 fans at Soldier Field. That type of serious winning ethos was palpable and expected – academically and athletically. Fenwick teams didn’t always win but they all fought very hard to win and, as our 1966 basketball team continued its journey, we all had imbibed the Fenwick ethos of excellence and high expectations. How could we not?

Bill Shay knew we could be great. We weren’t totally sure about that after our string of early season losses but, as the season wore on, our team – led by the steady and outstanding play of our Bresnahan (captain) and the development of the new three underclassmen starters – started to gel. Our practices were grueling, and Coach Shay brought the entire team, starters and non-starters alike, together us as a winning team with his experienced combination of toughness and teaching. As an aside, there were many nights after a long practice when several of us, including Sanderlin, would stand in the winter cold at the corner at East Ave. and Madison St. to catch a late West Town bus home. We were all tired, but were growing as a team and we began to win. Significantly, at a certain point, I think the winning attitudes of Grill, Flanagan and Sanderlin really kicked in and created a powerful dynamic of confidence, mental toughness and winning. They knew they were winners and were not going to settle for anything less. Adding to the new dynamic was the amazing development of two young (and tall) sophomores, 6’ 4” Jim Martinkus and 6’ 8” Bob Fittin, who Coach Shay was beginning to gradually work into the line-up: a smart move as they would both play pivotal roles in key games ahead. Our team finished strong with four victories in our last five league games and tied for 2nd place with archrival Loyola in the North Section. So, to get into the four-team Catholic League playoff, we had to beat Loyola, to whom we had lost twice during the season.

The run begins

On the night of March 6th, Fenwick met Loyola at DePaul University’s Alumni Hall with its sunken court (aka ‘basketball pit’) and seating for about 5,000 on the DePaul campus. With Bresnahan and Grill combining for 32 points, Fenwick rolled to a 59-46 victory. We were not surprised as we expected the victory. Now that we were in the league playoffs, next up for us on Saturday night would be St. Rita led by their 6’8” All-American center George Janky, We were wary but still confident. Frankly, we were the only ones who were confident we could beat St. Rita, particularly as we had also lost to them twice in the regular season.

That Saturday night, the entire Fenwick student body showed up and Alumni Hall was jam-packed. I was on the bench with a front-row seat, and the cheering was so loud at times that we could not hear Coach Shay in the huddle. Our team though was so cohesive by then that instincts took over – our guys were determined to beat St. Rita, who frankly did not show us much respect. That would change as the game wore on, and it was clear that Fenwick was ‘in the game’ – and could even win it! After four intense quarters of play, regulation time ended with the score tied 60-60. It was a bit surreal, to be honest. In overtime, neither team scored until the very end; with St. Rita holding the ball for the final shot, guard Sanderlin stole the ball and passed it to Bresnahan, who was fouled. With just four second left, Bresnahan sunk both free throws and Fenwick had won another improbable victory 62-60. Bedlam reigned! Thirty minutes after the game though, Coach Shay brought us ‘back to earth’ and reminded us that we ‘had not won anything yet’ – the ‘only thing’ we did was earn the right to play powerful defending City Champ Mt. Carmel for the Championship. We were not favored.

So on Wednesday night March 16th, 1966, DePaul’s Alumni Hall was packed again with nearly 5,000 fans, including local celebrities such as DePaul Coach Ray Meyer. The game, with a tipoff at 8:30 p.m., was broadcast in prime time across the Chicago area on the new UHF TV channel WFLD. It was ‘a spectacle’ – even bigger then the St. Rita game. Mt. Carmel brought a record of 27-2 into the game while Fenwick’s was 15-11 and we had already lost two early-season games to the Caravan. As much of an underdog as we were on paper, though, I did not feel like an ‘underdog’ and neither did my teammates. Probably the biggest challenge we had was to stay focused and play our game and not get swept up in the spectacle of it all. We seemed to have reached a level at which we felt we could beat anyone. Coach Shay, as always, calmly went over the game plan before the game: shut down All-State guard Greg Carney (he scored just 2 points in the first half), prevent their big All-Chicago center Dave Lewis from getting the ball, and play disciplined offense ourselves with smart shot selections. In the end, although Mt. Carmel came close a few times in the 2nd half, we won the game 62-52, with 32 of those points coming on free throws, particularly impressive in such a pressure-packed atmosphere. This was Fenwick’s first Catholic League Senior Basketball title since 1950 – a truly amazing and historic feat.

Needless to say, euphoria reigned and the team headed back to Fenwick after the game. We probably arrived at the school near midnight as March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, began. Our bus was greeted in the school parking lot by an epic mob of our fellow students with the festivities continuing in the gym, where so much of our preparation had happened, including lots of ‘blood and sweat’ being spent. Coach Shay introduced each player and student manager on the team, briefly mentioning the person’s contributions, to wild cheering. This was truly a special night to celebrate the coveted Championship and the team effort behind it – players, coaches, students, staff and alumni. One Fenwick!

Back in 1966, the Catholic League Champ played the Pubic League Champ for the City Championship. It was a big deal. As Catholic League champs we would play the Marshall Commandos and their fabulous All-State forward Richard Bradshaw, who had completed an undefeated Public League season before being upset in the State Super-Sectional game by New Trier. Marshall, with its rich basketball history, was pointing to a victory over Fenwick for ‘redemption.’ The game was played on March 27th at the International Amphitheater with TV coverage again by WFLD. Our team came out ready to play, dominating the first half, but leading only 28-27 at halftime. Marshall surged in the second half and won the game 62-56 for the City Championship. One positive that came out of this loss was that two of the Fenwick players that day, sophomores Martinkus and Fittin, would gain invaluable experience from it and just two years later would lead a 25-4 Fenwick team, still coached by Bill Shay, to another Catholic League Championship and then go on to beat the Public League Champ Crane Tech 56-48 for the City Championship!

The old gym will come alive again on January 17, 2020.

This season and experience in 1966 taught us much. We certainly learned a great deal academically in the classroom from our Dominican and lay teachers, but to be part of this championship team taught me ‘even more,’ which I carried forward throughout my life and professional career. These early lessons from that season’s experience, which I have in fact used and am sill adding to many years later, might be summarized for me (in no particular order after the first one listed) as follows:

  • Win or lose, striving for excellence elevates the team and the individuals.
  • Most success comes from a team effort, being ‘One,’ not just from one ‘star’.
  • One never knows where the final ‘missing piece’ of a winning team will come from; often the person is ‘on the outside’ and ‘not seen’ at first.
  • Sometimes it takes time for a great team to gel (we started 3-7 in 1966).
  • Smart, intelligent coaching, including being creative and trying new approaches when necessary are absolutely essential to winning, when playing ‘dynamic games’.
  • A team made up of players with a winning attitude, who really want to win, are at a competitive advantage to an ‘all-star’ team (with ‘all star’ resumes) that just show up.
  • Playing hard and with focus at all times is essential to winning.
  • The pain of losing is not ‘the end of the world’ – ‘pain’ can motivate and teach a team, which wants to be great, where and how to get better.
  • The little things, practiced over and over, count (like making 20 pressure-packed free throws in the St. Rita game and 32 free throws in the Mt. Carmel game).
  • Positive passion and emotion are really helpful to give a person or a team that extra push when their energy level is running low (Bill Shay was a ‘positive’ coach and our Fenwick student body during the 1966 playoffs was very loud and very positive).
Continue reading “Lessons for a Lifetime”

Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values

A Forty-Niner alumnus and former Fenwick teacher reflects on the heels of his 70th class reunion.

By Jack Spatafora, PhD. ’49

In addition to reforming curricula, Fenwick alumnus Jack Spatafora, PhD. was a White House speech writer.

Everyone agrees that a good education is good for the nation. It gets thornier when it comes to defining a ‘good education.’ For 90 years, Fenwick High School has been addressing this issue the best way it knows how: by graduating hundreds of students each year equipped with both the academic and moral gifts needed to become the kind of citizens our complex times’ need.

From Aristotle to Aquinas to Jefferson, the ideal citizen is one who knows not only what to think but also how to think: clearly, logically, passionately. I experienced this at Fenwick, first as a student and then as a teacher. The day General MacArthur was accepting the surrender of Japan in September 1945, I was entering the old Scoville Avenue entrance as a freshman. Seven years later, I returned to teach U.S. History. That is experiencing Fenwick from both ends of the classroom!

Jack Spatafora as a Fenwick junior in 1948.

Fenwick was much smaller and less equipped during the 1950s, and yet it was already sending some of the best and brightest into post-World War II America. Young men equipped and motivated with three of the academic tools most required for good citizenship: 1) facts, 2) ideas and 3) values:

  1. As a faculty, we had this funny notion that there were facts, not alternative facts, be it science, math or history. Facts are stubborn, objective things that the student needs to confront, process and use in reaching conclusions. 
  2. When properly assessed and connected, facts become the essence of ideas. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
  3. There is a third feature to good citizenship: values. If facts and ideas are essential as a foundation, values are the super-structure to the edifice — including respect for truth, honor, country and God. The ideal citizen embraces each, both profoundly and efficaciously. For as Alexander Hamilton put it: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Mr. Spatafora’s Fenwick Faculty photo from 1957.

Gazing back over these last 70 years, this is some of what I proudly remember. Both as a member of the Fenwick student body and later the Fenwick faculty. You might say I was twice blessed. Frankly, I say it all the time.

Continue reading “Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values”

Fenwick Student Stands Against Childhood Cancer

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been the backbone of the family of Sadie Briggs ’20 for four generations.

By Sadie Briggs ’20

Editor’s note: Long-time Fenwick Speech Teacher Andy Arellano reports that Sadie Briggs presented this past summer to the St. Jude Leadership Society in Memphis, TN. “She began crafting her speech last April,” Mr. Arellano says proudly of his protégé. Sadie made the trip from River Forest with her grandfather and her mother, who knew nothing of about her presentation and really didn’t want to “waste the weekend.” During the speech, her surprised mom “broke down and cried,” Arellano says.

Today, I would like to thank everyone who has made this experience possible. This is my second time being able to come to this event, and even though I am up here again, this experience truly leaves me speechless.  

Sadie’s great-grandpa, Joe Shaker, Sr., in 1951.

Many people ask me why St. Jude means so much to me and, honestly, when I was little, I felt that my amazement was obvious. Everywhere I went, from my grandparent’s homes, to dinners, events, and more, St. Jude was always present. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet my great grandfather, Joseph Shaker, who explained the importance of this great hospital. My great grandpa was one of the co-founders of the hospital along with Danny Thomas. Being first generation Lebanese, with five children and a wife to support, my great grandfather decided to join Danny’s dream. Today, I am the oldest of 20 of Joseph Shaker’s great-grandchildren. Only my brother and I ever got the chance to meet my great grandfather, but trust me, all of the little ones hear enough about him to make them feel as if they had met him too. They also know that they have the duty to carry on his St. Jude legacy. 

“Show me my way in life and I will build you a shrine.”

– Danny Thomas’ prayer to St. Jude Thaddeus
Alumnus Joseph G. Shaker ’68 (now retired) was President/CEO of Shaker Recruitment Marketing.

My great grandfather’s son, Joseph [Fenwick Class of 1968], my grandfather, has also played a major role in my love for this hospital and the St. Jude mission. He still actively participates on the St. Jude/ALSAC board. My grandfather is a person who is often described as one of a kind. Everyone who meets him falls in love with him, and there is nothing that makes him happier than helping St. Jude and teaching his five grandchildren about this hospital. Because of him, we all keep St. Jude so very close to our hearts. 

St. Jude’s Mission Statement

The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.

I first participated in the St. Jude Leadership Society when I was a freshman in high school. I was one of the youngest students present, and visiting the hospital for that first time changed everything for me. I became more grateful for all of the work that my family has done to support this wonderful facility. At that time, I also learned that everyone can play a role in helping St. Jude, no matter one’s occupation or college major. Even though I have no clue as to what I want to do when I am older, I do know that with God’s help I will always stay involved with the St. Jude mission. 

Continue reading “Fenwick Student Stands Against Childhood Cancer”

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.

Collegiate Friars: July 2019

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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.

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