The Friars’ championship football run in November brought great joy to a loyal alumnus and American hero on his final days.
Friar alumnusVernon Breen ’44 passed away on December 14, 2021. A year ago in the Fenwick Alumni News (FAN e-newsletter), we wrote about then 95-year-old Mr. Breen, who had been recognized by the Chicago Bears as part of the NFL’s “Salute to Service” in 2020. Sgt. Breen served in the U.S. Army during World War II, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped to liberate the Dachau concentration camp — receiving a Bronze Star for his heroics.
On December 13, 2021, one of Mr. Breen’s grandsons wrote via email to Head Football Coach Matt Battaglia:
Dear Coach Battaglia,
Congratulations on a very successful season and winning the state championship. Our grandfather, Vernon Cecil Breen is an alum of Fenwick high school, he graduated in 1944 and is still a die hard Friar fan. After graduation, Vernon was drafted to serve in WWII. After his service he returned home and worked at Central Ink Corporation and moved to Glen Ellyn.
Your team’s football season brought much joy to him this year. He keeps us up to date on the Friar’s athletics, though his main love is the football team. The last couple of months his health has declined, but was still able to watch the Friars win the state title game. My father in law said after the game was over, our grandfather was humming the fight song.
We wanted to share how much he still cares about the school and football team. Thank you for bringing him some much needed enjoyment. Best of luck in the future and again congratulations on a tremendous year. Go Friars!
P.S. – Vernon has the flag proudly hanging in his bedroom! (See below.)
The coach’s response that same day:
Thank you for sharing! This is such a great story and really humbling for me as a coach to realize something as simple as a football game can bring so much joy to those around us.
I hope Vernon is continuing to feel better! Could you please share with me a mailing address? I would love to send him a note signed by the team.
Then, on December 15, Vern’s daughter, Maureen, followed up with this note:
Dear Coach Battaglia,
I would like to add my congratulations to you and the Friars as well.
The state championship did bring a lot of joy to my dad. Sadly, he passed away yesterday. But we are so happy for him that one of the last things that he was able to enjoy was the state championship. You mentioned in your email that something as “simple as football” could bring so much joy. Sports is always about so much more than a simple game, something I learned in 1960, when at 5 years old, my dad began bringing me to Fenwick football games.
We attended several games a year, and those were treasured moments that I will never forget. I remember the first game I attended, taking in the stadium, and the excitement of the crowd. I had never seen a football game before and I had a million questions. I can still see that sunny fall afternoon in my head and the very moment when he explained to me what a first and ten was. From that day on, football, the Friars and sports in general was something that I loved sharing with my dad. I think that my family is not alone with that concept. Football and sports creates bonds, not just among teammates, but among the fans as well.
Again, congratulations. My dad was always proud to be a Friar.
Maureen Breen Barunas
Before Fenwick, Mr. Breen attended Horace Mann School and was a St. Giles parishioner. For four years, he was an avid participant intramural athletics while he was a Friar student.
In the fall ’21 Friar Reporter(page 16), we reported that alumnus Dr. Tord Alden ’85 was hired into informatics at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital (Chicago) by fellow Fenwick Friar Dr. Michael Kelleher ’75, a pediatrician who spent 17 years at Lurie (Children’s Memorial).
In 2020, Dr. Kelleher became the chief medical officer of Amita Health (Mercy Medical Center, Aurora, IL). For 11 months he chaired the COVID-19 Vaccine Steering Committee, which administered more than 50,000 doses to area health-care workers, first responders and patients.
“I had Roger Finnell for four years,” remembers Dr. Kelleher. “Roger [Fenwick Class of ’59] was a young man when I was at Fenwick. He is a wonderful math teacher and a great human being! I still remember what ‘e to the pi I’ equals.” [Euler’s formula: e^(i pi) = -1]
Kelleher also ran track and cross country for Coach John Polka for four years. “Mr. Polka was my biology teacher, too. These two men had a formative influence over me,” he notes, adding that, in the early 1970s, he was taking “regular and honors classes, which they now call AP [advanced placement], I think.”
Sneezing into med school
Graduating in three years from Northwestern University (Evanston) with a B.A. in biology, Kelleher went on to the University of Minnesota to earn a master’s degree in ecology. His study emphasis was on population genetics and statistics, but severe allergic reactions forced him to change his mind. “I had terrible allergies and couldn’t do the field work,” the doctor recalls.
Kelleher had thought about pursuing medicine in the past, and he received his M.D. in 1986 from the University of Illinois College of Medicine (Urbana and Rockford, IL). His post-graduate training took place at Wyler Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago, where he competed a residency, became chief resident and was a Pediatric Critical Care Fellow (1990-93). He also served for five years on U of C’s faculty.
Before coming home to Chicago, Dr. Kelleher spent five years in Iowa City as the head of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Once at Lurie (Children’s Memorial), he progressed up the ranks, first handling electronic medical record implementation and ascending to chief medical officer from 2003-19.
“My values were formed at Fenwick High School,” Dr. Kelleher insists, citing the service ‘mission’ of Catholic education as being integral to his experience. “There, our teachers inculcated us to provide service to others. They said that it should be a goal in life.” It’s no coincidence, he says, that several of his ’75 Friar classmates also went into the medical field.
In November, Friar alumni, faculty, parents and students were asked why they are thankful for Fenwick High School. Here are some responses.
A few current students chimed in, as did a Fenwick parent: “I am thankful for the wisdom and knowledge that is shared at Fenwick … [and] that, even though we may come from different backgrounds, we all share in the love of Christ,” writes Cybelle Miranda, mother of Alejandra ’25 of Chicago. “May God continue to bless us all!”
Senior Rasheed Anderson of Elmhurst believes that “the quality of education is second to none. Fenwick teachers truly care and want students [to] reach their potential. Fenwick is a positive part of my life … and has shaped me into a better man ….” Classmate Pam Martinez ’22, of Berwyn, adds: “Fenwick has challenged me academically … and helped me learn my potential.”
The biggest voices praising their beloved alma mater came from alumni, of course. Here’s what some members of Friar Nation have to say:
“I’m thankful to Fenwick because of lifelong friendships,” writes Dr. Lia Bernardi ’99, assistant OB-GYN professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She is pictured (at left) on a 40th-birthday trip to Mexico with classmates Colleen Ryan, Katie Moore, Lauren Dillon, Rachel Fitzpatrick, Julie Wilkens and Caitlin McKiernan.
Jim Grant ’87 adds: “Fenwick exposed me to a completely different academic, athletic and social world than I had known. Every step challenged me and made me a better student, athlete and person. When I went to college, I truly felt like I had an advantage having been through the rigors of Fenwick and all the lessons I had learned. Nothing in my life, before or after, shaped me as much as my time at Fenwick did.”
Timothy Fitzpatrick ’71 says it’s “very difficult to put what Fenwick did for me into words, as reflecting on the experience brings back so many memories.” Major Fitzpatrick, now retired (U.S. Army) articulated his feelings:
“I would say first that Fenwick welcomed me into an experience of challenge from day one in a very Catholic environment,” he continues. “If you look at the Holy Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit I think that is how we were approached as individuals. If expressed as Logos, Ethos and Pathos or as the cognitive, physical and spiritual/affective aspects of human dimensions, each was challenged and deliberately developed with great care.
“In education the classic logic and rhetoric provided a life time foundation in reason and the ability to formulate and express ideas. The emphasis on physical development provided the greater understanding of self and how the physical affected our cognitive ability and our spirit. The emphasis on math and science further developed reason. Math developed an ability to see the world in more than its surface, but in all dimensions, which saved my and others lives later in my career.
“Forever thankful for Fr. Aschenbrenner’s German language program and his methods. Going to Germany, Austria and Switzerland was an incredible experience that showed me a world beyond what popular culture portrayed. The contrast between good and evil experienced at the Berlin Wall between freedom in West Berlin and oppression in communist East Berlin was stark, leading me to make the decision to join the U.S. Army in order to defend freedom.
“Finally, I am thankful for Fenwick’s emphasis on prayer, Mass and Eucharist. This has been of great comfort to me in peace, under duress and at war.”
Alumni and Faculty
Not to be outdone, alumni-turned-faculty members took time out of their hectic schedules to share some thoughts. “Fenwick has always been a prominent part of my life,” writes World Languages Chair and alumna Samantha Carraher ’96. “It all started on the sidelines of a football game when I was about five years old. It was there that I met my dad’s former teacher and a man who would become such a positive influence in my life … My dad told me, ‘You should get to know this man because you will be attending Fenwick some day, and he very well may be your teacher, too.’ And my dad was right.
“I am grateful to Fenwick for going co-ed and giving young women an opportunity to become a part of the experience and the tradition,” Ms. Carraher notes. “I am grateful to the teachers and coaches who always looked out for me and had my best interests at heart, especially … Mr. Arellano, Coach Power and Mrs. Megall. I will forever appreciate the phone call from Mr. Arellano urging me to apply for a position teaching Spanish right after I graduated college. I am now in my 21st year of teaching at Fenwick and can honestly say I love my job. I am grateful to our supportive administration, tremendous colleagues (many of whom are dear friends) and our phenomenal students who make coming to work every day such a wonderful experience. Thank you, Fenwick, for being a place I consider home.”
Learning Resource Coordinator and alumna Grace Lilek David ’08 (at right) can relate. “I’m thankful for a school that I’ve called ‘home’ for the majority of my life!” she says. I’m thankful for our students, who genuinely want the best for those around them. They support one another through the highs and lows, and it’s truly special to witness. And, I’m thankful for my colleagues who work tirelessly to make Fenwick such a wonderful place.”
“I am grateful to be surrounded by colleagues and students who have a passion for learning, a genuine care and concern for one another, and a desire to achieve at the highest level,” says Science Teacher and alumnaBrigid Baier Esposito ’96.
Fellow alumni, English Teacher and Head Boys’ Water Polo Coach Kyle Perry ’01 offers a two-word reason as to why he’s thankful for Fenwick: “the pool!”
Tracy Bonaccorsi, Athletics Administrative Assistant and Girls’ Lacrosse Head Coach, concludes: “I’m thankful for Fenwick because I’m blessed to come to work each day and work with three gentlemen that I’m lucky enough to call friends, not just my co-workers. Just like our sports teams here at Fenwick, we make a great team as well in Athletics!”
Fenwick won its 1st ever football state championship in DeKalb, IL, on Saturday.
The Friars (12-2) beat Kankakee 34-15 on Saturday at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb to claim the Illinois Class 5A State Championship! Our talented boys dominated, jumping out to an early, 28-0 lead in the first half and never looked back. It was a total team win highlighted by stellar catches (Bryan Hunt, Jr., Eian Pugh and Max Reese), spectacular throws and runs (QB Kaden Cobb), hard-nosed blocking (Jimmy Liston, Rasheed Anderson, Will Rosenberg, Pat Durkin, Aaron Johnson, Lukas Mikuzis and the rest of the offensive line). Defensively, the Paris twins (Conor and Martin) stood out, as usual, as did Suleiman Abuaqel, Den Juette, Mirko Jaksic (junior), Harry Kenny, Conor Stetz (junior), Aden Vargas, Jacque Walls, Quin Wieties, sophomores Luke D’Alise & Will Gladden and freshman Nate Marshall. They executed defensive coordinator Coach Titcus Pettigrew’s game plan to near perfection.
Running back Danny Kent (above) rushed for more than 200 yards on 28 carries and was named Player of the Game. This marks Fenwick’s first state title in football since the IHSA first introduced the playoff system in 1974.
“It has been amazing how I have been fully embraced as a Friar, and I could not be happier to have helped deliver this first-ever football state championship to Fenwick High School and the community,” says Head Coach Matt Battaglia, who joined Fenwick in late 2019. “Special thanks and congratulations to all the players and coaches who made this possible, especially our seniors! Thanks, and Go Friars!“
Athletic Director and alumnus Scott Thies ’99 adds: “Congratulations to Coach Battaglia, our student-athletes and all who contributed to Fenwick’s first state championship in football! It was so awesome to see generations of Friars come out in support of this team. We are all super proud!”
The Fenwick Boys’ Cross Country Team made Illinois High School Association (IHSA) history on November 6. “Ours is the first CCL [Chicago Catholic League] team to ever win a state championship in cross country,” Fenwick Athletic Director Scott Thies ’99 proudly reports. “A HUGE congratulations to Head Coach Dave Rill and assistants Gus Coronado, Brixton Rill and Dan Wnek!”
A breakdown of how the Friars ran and placed:
Grayden Rill 8th place 15:06.34
Nate Mckillop 20th place 15:17.35
Dean O’Bryan 33rd place 15:37.33
Zac Daley 43rd place 15:44.54
Lee O’Bryan 87th place 16:05.68
Carl Lukas 123rd place 16:21.04
Christian Kline 205th place 17:07.96
Grayden Rill ’23 (Chicago), who has been the team’s steady leader all season, and Nate Mckillop ’24 (Elmhurst, IL) earned All-State honors for their performances. But it was sophomore Dean O’Bryan (La Grange, IL) who really raised some eyebrows this past Saturday in Peoria by running at personal-record pace, beating his own best time by a whopping 40 seconds! “Dean might have won it [the title] for us,” proclaims Head Coach Dave Rill ’87. “He was consistently our sixth-place runner all year, then comes in third [33rd overall] at state!”
Grayden Rill adds, “Saturday’s race was our end goal since summer, and we had a good day. Shoutout to our sophomores who stepped up! We now have two sophomores, Nate Mckillop and Dean O’Bryan, who are both in the top five best sophomores in Fenwick history — and they are a lot of the reason we took home the title Saturday.
“I am so proud of all of my boys,” the All-State junior continues. “We have worked so hard since track last year for this goal, and all those miles payed off. I loved seeing all of my teammates buy into the sport and buy into this goal that we made back at camp in the summer: to be one of being one of the best teams in the state. And from this goal we turned into the best team in the state and the best cross-country team in Fenwick history.”
“This state championship is extra special for me,” concludes Coach Rill, who was an All-American while at Fenwick, because two of his sons are part of the team. “I’ve been able to coach Brixton [Class of 2014], who now is an assistant coach, and now Grayden. I cannot tell you how proud I am of these guys. We went from being last place at the last state meet to first. We believe this is only the second time that has been done.”
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.
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 somememories 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.
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 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, FenwickDirector 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!”
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!”
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.
“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.
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
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