Forever Friars: Remembering Mr. Edward Ludwig (1934-2012)

For 37 years, this 1993 Hall of Fame inductee enriched the character of Fenwick and its students with intelligence, kindness, talent and wit.

Mathematics teacher, department head, Assistant Principal and Dean of Students, and perennial Blackfriars Guild director and moderator, Mr. Edward E. Ludwig (shown above in 1988) was exemplary of the Catholic layperson involved in the Church’s mission to teach at Fenwick High School.

Born and raised in Chicago, Mr. Ludwig was educated at Loyola University. He did extensive graduate-level work at both DePaul and Michigan State universities. At age 26, Mr. Ludwig joined the Fenwick faculty as a teacher in the Mathematics Department. For the next 37 years until his retirement in 1990, he participated in the Christian apostolate of teaching. He held students to the Fenwick standard of discipline as well as academic and personal achievement and growth. In many ways, he was responsible for establishing these standards during his long tenure as teacher and administrator.

When Mr. Ludwig was asked to be Chair of the Mathematics Department in 1967, he revised the mathematics curriculum to include courses in pre-calculus and then calculus to better prepare Fenwick students for college and university and an increasingly technological society.

Mr. Ludwig was acknowledged as an outstanding teacher of mathematics by all who came into contact with him – students, parents and faculty. His knowledge of the subject matter was exceptional. His ability to communicate it to his students was phenomenal. He was empathetic and precise; his method of delivery was unique.

Mr. Ludwig taught algebra and geometry in 1955.

When he wanted to be heard, he spoke sensibly in quiet, well-modulated tones. When he enunciated “gentlemen!”, students whose minds might have started to go elsewhere were brought back to attention. “Come here, child,” brought to his desk boys who needed individual tutoring or counseling.

At times Mr. Ludwig allowed irony to enter into his sense of humor, and sometimes it took the students some time to understand and appreciate him. Once he told a cafeteria full of students that a few Fenwick boys at the bus stop had hindered the progress of an ambulance. He told them if they ever did that again, the ambulance would have to make an unscheduled stop to pick them up. All of this was done in his best basso voice – nervous laughter, point well made.

Students always felt he cared about them, and, indeed, he did. During freshmen orientation in his classroom, students were encouraged to talk about themselves – their hobbies, their abilities. Many students would then discover they had common interests and develop close friendships that lasted lifetimes.

Math & the Arts

Mr. Ludwig’s work with Blackfriars Guild reflected his own varied aesthetic interests in opera and other music, drama, art, dance and literature. He produced and directed musicals, drama and the annual variety performance. Under him, this organization flourished adding a needed dimension in the arts to the Fenwick curriculum. A number of former members of the Guild are now involved in professional theatre.

Mr. Ludwig in 1973 (Blackfriars yearbook photo).

Mr. Ludwig served as Assistant Principal and Dean of Students for fourteen years – longer than anyone in the history of Fenwick. The Director of Happiness, an expression for this office originating with one of the priests on the faculty, was one that Mr. Ludwig relished.

Students came first. He never allowed paperwork to take priority over people. Mr. Ludwig could be seen in his office at all hours tutoring students in mathematics or other subjects. He always saw himself as a teacher first and only then an administrator.

Mr. Ludwig had a fierce pride in the school. As Dean, he personally saw to many of the details in the school – health needs, pep rallies and, of course, conferences with students who found adjustment to school difficult. He was always in the halls and cafeteria greeting students with a smile (or a sterner look when necessary). He knew most by name, and they generally responded favorably to him. He was present at almost all student events outside school hours – many times the first to arrive and the last to leave. He was always one of those staff members former students wished to see when they returned to school during college vacation periods.

In addition, he was always interested in promoting the religious heritage of the school. He made this his primary goal. He was one of those faculty members who formed and then preserved the Fenwick tradition of a strong, structured, disciplined Christian environment.

A student who might speak out of turn was asked if he “had a license to broadcast.” Mr. Ludwig would tell the offender that if he did not, the “federal government would have to smash his transmitter.”

In 1976 when vandals broke into the building and turned on the fire hoses, Mr. Ludwig was called about 11:00 p.m. The water had already done a good deal of damage, and school might have to be cancelled the next day. However, he telephoned students and organized a clean-up detail, working all night. He was at the main entrance of the school as usual the next morning to greet the students and faculty at 8:00 a.m.

Mr. Ludwig was admired by all members of the faculty, personally and professionally. His pedagogical expertise, kindness and sense of justice were impressive. His devotion to his mother and aunt in their old age and sickness was inspirational. The faculty awarded him the Father Conway, O.P. Award for Excellence.

His time at Fenwick was devoted to thousands of students and many duties, some great, some small, some beautiful, some sad. His time here enriched the entire Fenwick community then and now.

(The original of this historic recollection (from 1993?) can be found in the Fenwick archives; author unknown.)

If Dogma Won’t Save Us, Nothing Will

Remembering Fenwick and Fr. Regan in the 1940s: “There was a reason for burning incense. Father James Regan knew it and explained it.”

By James Bowman, Sr. ’49 (originally published The Alumni Wick Magazine, spring 1985)

Father Jim Regan, O.P. taught at Fenwick High School for 29 years and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame posthumously in 2002. His picture first appears in the 1943 yearbook and every year afterwards through and including 1971. Fr. Regan was born to eternal life in the year 2000.

At Fenwick in the middle and late ’40s, there was this bald, big-eyed priest, always with the armful of papers and pencil, walking along the corridor taking everything in, or sitting as study-period prefect in the library, also taking everything in. He looked like he knew more than he was saying.

A freshman might know him from the servers’ club, where this priest made the point that the incense better be well lit so the smoke could rise high and full. Why? Because smoke rising stood for prayers rising to heaven, that’s why. The freshman had never thought of it that way. There was a reason for burning incense. Father James Regan knew it and explained it.

For the senior who had him for religion, the message was much the same: there’s meaning in religion you haven’t even thought of. Gospel passages were memorized, such as “Behold the lilies of the field, they neither reap nor sow, etc.” with its punch line, “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and its justice.” He said lines as if he meant them, and knew whether you knew them by use of the daily quiz.

Fr. Regan in the early 1940s.

That’s what all those papers in his arms were, daily quizzes from four or five classes. There was a lot of tedious work correcting those quizzes. But if he didn’t correct them and get them back, the senior didn’t know where he stood. Lots of them didn’t want to know, but that’s another question.

He quoted a lot from Time Magazine. A man bet he could drink a quart of absinthe in one gulp and live. He did it and died. Nice, obvious mortality for 17-year-old ears.

Or the story of Franklin D. Roosevelt riding in an open car in the rain without a hat on, to make the point that he was vigorous and capable of leading the country. It was one of the anecdotes Father Regan used to point up the Gospel saying, “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” That is to say, followers of Jesus don’t work as hard at following Jesus as others at achieving their worldly ambitions.

Father Regan intended to make points with his seniors. He was very serious about it (entertaining too), and he had a plan: if dogma (doctrine) won’t save them, nothing will. He meant to inundate us with church teaching. He believed in church.

Skip Mass to go fishing on Sunday?

He could be stunned by disbelief or disloyalty. The student who said it was O.K. to miss mass on Sunday to go fishing, became the center of his attention. How could this be? Whence came this creature into our midst, or this idea anyhow? Skip Sunday mass to go fishing?

Not histrionics by the aggrieved father, but genuine amazement (though played out for effect, to be sure). We heard about it in his high-pitched voice, fast-paced speech (mind and lips working at high speed) and windup pause and slight smile for effect. Silence spoke as well as words.

Fr. Regan in the early 1970s.

Discipline … seemed secondary to the business of the classroom or study hall, the classroom especially. It was basically a college-style classroom, senior religion under Father Regan: daily quiz, return of the previous day’s quizzes and extended discussion of missed answers.

He repeated questions time and again until enough of the students got them right. The quizzes were teaching devices, not just checks on retention. Then lecture. The 42 minutes went fast, and up and out we went with books, gym bags and the rest to what the next 42 had to offer, which was rarely better and usually not as good.

He took religion seriously, aided and abetted by the school’s policy which put it on a par with the other four subjects. He took the Scriptures seriously, extracting meaning from gospel sayings that we’d heard from pulpits for years, thinking they had no meaning.

He used the classroom for what it’s good for: indoctrination and motivation. Counting on his students’ faith to supply the impetus, he would put the question about daily mass: what else can you do daily that is worth as much? Time and again, he asked it in those quizzes. He couldn’t force you to go to mass, but he could drill you in the reality of faith, forcing you to choose.

That’s not bad. It took a lot of work and commitment to the life he had chosen. It’s a lesson for us all. It was then for us 17-year-olds, and given a little thought on the matter, it is now, too.

Read more recollections of Fr. Regan from alumnus James Loverde ’64:

About the Author

In addition to being a member of Fenwick’s Class of 1949, Jim Bowman is a long-time Oak Parker and former newspaper reporter. Mr. Bowman wrote the “Way We Were” column for the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine as well as corporate histories and other books, including books about religious issues. His eighth book, Illinois Blues: How the Ruling Party Talks to Voters, was published in 2016.

Read more about him.

Lucky 7: New Courses Coming for Fenwick’s 92nd Academic Year

Four advanced computer science classes, one advanced theatre class, Mandarin and yoga headline exciting curriculum additions for Friar students and teachers!

By Mark Vruno

The Fenwick administration and faculty are excited to offer several new courses to students this coming school year. A series of four Advanced Computer Topics (ACT) classes as well as a new World Language course (Mandarin), an Advanced Theatre class and a new Physical-education class (yoga).

Dave Kleinhans

In discussing the new Advanced Computer courses, “Close to 30% of Fenwick’s graduates pursue a degree in STEM [science, technology, engineering or mathematics],” reports Computer Science & Physics Dept. Co-chair Dave Kleinhans. “Our investment in courses and physical spaces must match this interest.” The school’s new Computer Science Engineering & 3D Printing Lab, which debuted in the fall of 2019, will support four new advanced Computer Science (CS) classes: Data Structures & Algorithms, Introduction to Robotics, 3D Printing and IT Fundamentals for Cybersecurity.

The four, half-credit “ACT” classes are designed for students interested in diving deeper into the so-called computer sciences. They will have the opportunity to explore specific topics beyond the College Board’s AP Curriculum in an online format during scheduled CS class time. Each course has a programming or computer-aided design (CAD) requirement and is taught via an online, education-software platform.

Don Nelson joined Fenwick’s faculty in the 2019-20 school year.

“These topics represent areas that provide valuable preparation to students interested in pursuing technical disciplines — and those that are hot in today’s computing market,” adds CS/Physics Teacher Don Nelson. He should know. Mr. Nelson spent 30 years as a business person/nuclear engineer before embarking on a second career in education. (Prior to coming to Fenwick in 2019, Nelson taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology and DePaul Prep, formerly Gordon Tech.)

“Each of the classes offers students with experience and advanced knowledge of CS through two primary activities,” Nelson explains:

  • The online format is offered through Coursera and more than 100 partner universities (e.g., University of Illinois, Northwestern) and private corporations (e.g., IBM).
  • A capstone project complements the online format with a hands-on application of the concepts presented.

Upon successful completion, the student will receive a digital certificate and hands-on experience valued by universities and prospective employers. “With Don and our five other engineers serving as teachers here, combined with our recent physical space and course investments,” Mr. Kleinhans continues, “Fenwick is uniquely positioned in the high-school arena to serve students interested in STEM.” (See sidebar for additional course details.)

 

“If you want to talk to someone, speak in your language. But if you want to connect with someone, speak in theirs.”

– Nelson Mandela

 

Mandarin I (1.0 credit)

“The sixth language offered by Fenwick will be Mandarin [Chinese],” reports Principal Peter Groom. It is the language of government and education of the Chinese mainland and Taiwan (with the notable exceptions of Hong Kong and Macau, where a local dialect of Chinese called Cantonese is more often used.) Mandarin is one of five major regional languages of China.

At admissions-sponsored events over the past two years or so, “we have heard repeatedly from families that this is an area we needed to seriously consider,” Mr. Groom continues. “We have a current freshman student with some background in Mandarin.” He adds that the language fits within the wheelhouse of faculty member Shana Wang, who offered to teach it as a pilot program this school year.

Shana Wang

Last year, incoming Friar prospect Dylan Zorovich ’23 “was looking for a language but could not find it at Fenwick,” recounts Ms. Wang, who describes the free-thinking freshman from Elmhurst, IL, as both “diligent and delightful.” In true Dominican fashion, mentor and student set out on a journey this past August. “Our quest? To find a common language,” says Wang, who has taught in China.

Principal Peter Groom

The full-fledged course next school year seeks to provide a lively and challenging introduction to the basics of reading, writing, speaking and listening in Mandarin. Students will aim to identify at least 300 Chinese characters by the end of the year and write at least 150 Chinese characters using the correct stroke order. These characters are used to construct simple sentences while employing the proper grammatical conventions. In addition to learning Chinese characters, students will partake in continuous speaking and listening practice. They will watch videos, listen to dialogues and make presentations about important historical figures and events in China, Taiwan and Singapore. There will also be a focus on various Chinese cultures and their specific contributions to the global society.

Theatre II  (0.5 credit)

Caleb Faille

This course is geared toward musical theatre, performance and design, building on the student experiences learned in Theatre I (which is a prerequisite). Students will engage in activities including music and text analysis, staging, scene analysis, choreography, theatre tech, lighting design, stage management and production. The course will culminate with a musical revue including solo and group numbers. The skills learned will not only enhance students’ musical theatre experience but also expose them to careers off the stage. 

“Theatre I is for students with no theatre background,” Mr. Groom notes. “This second-level addition will attract those who do have some background in theatre.” Therefore, previous experience is required, as is approval from Theatre Teacher Mr. Caleb Faille, whose responsibilities within Fenwick’s Expressive Arts Dept. gradually have been increasing. “Mr. Faille now is in charge of our spring musicals,” Groom reports. An additional benefit is that Blackfriars Guild members can study their craft during the school day, he adds.

 

“Yoga is like music; the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.”

 – B.K.S. Iyengar

 

Yoga (0.5 credit)

Also coming to the Fenwick curriculum in 2020-21 is a yoga course, “which can fulfill the P.E. [physical education] requirement, for sophomores,” Groom says. Expressive Arts Chairperson Rizelle Capito will teach the course. She has conducted yoga instruction for Fenwick faculty as well as for the varsity football team.

Rizelle Capito

Ms. Capito says, “Studies and research have shown that yoga and mindfulness exercises not only promote physical health, but also mental health. Our students are under a lot of pressure and stress and we need to provide them with healthy ways of dealing with their stress. The class will include the physical practice of yoga to build physical strength and flexibility, meditation and mindfulness exercises. The hope is that the students will take these tools and incorporate them into their daily lives as a means of staying both physically and mentally healthy.”

Sophomores have the option to choose a regular PE class or yoga as their physical-education credit. (Placement is not guaranteed and is dependent on period availability and scheduling.) The course is designed to introduce students, safely and accessibly, to the basic postures, breathing techniques, and relaxation methods of yoga.  Areas of focus will be on low-impact activities to improve overall flexibility, strength, core and cardiovascular endurance.

Find complete course descriptions in Fenwick’s 2020-21 Course Selection Guide.

Continue reading “Lucky 7: New Courses Coming for Fenwick’s 92nd Academic Year”

Faculty Focus: July 2020

Math Teacher Mrs. Toni Dactilidis, who recently completed her 12th year at Fenwick, is entering her 23rd year as an educator.

What is your educational background?

TD: I was educated in the City of Steel and Stone: Joliet, Illinois. From preschool at the Little Red Schoolhouse to my Master’s Degree at the University of St. Francis, I feel so fortunate that I grew up in a diverse city with valuable lessons surrounding me at every turn. I am reminded of a beautiful quote from the Greek philosopher Diogenes that I saw every day in high school proudly displayed in the building, ‘the foundation of every state is the education of its youth.’  I love my hometown and, as I grow older, I search for ways to give back to show appreciation for all the education I received in that city. I relish all the lessons learned – from sports to dance, music to the Greek language – my education began at a very young age thanks to my mother, Mary Ann, and all the resources she found for me in Joliet.  

If you have never visited Joliet, please do! My high school alma mater, Joliet Central, is one of the most beautiful schools I have ever seen – Forever the Steelmen! I tell my students that the reason I teach high school students is because I loved my high school experience so much. Thank you to all my teachers, both in the classroom and beyond, in Joliet throughout the years! 

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

TD: I will begin my 23rd year of teaching in August. Next month will definitely look different than other school year beginnings; but, I am excited to connect with a new group of Friars. I started teaching young people right out of college. I have taught students from the grade school level up to the college level for the past 22 years at Gompers Junior High School to Joliet Junior College. I completed my student teaching at Joliet Catholic Academy, where I truly witnessed the power of a Catholic high school education for young people. Prior to Fenwick, I taught at Rich Central High School [Olympia Fields, IL], where I really fell in love with teaching high school students. As a novice teacher, I was surrounded by amazing mentors who supported and guided me. My students there were wonderful, strong, smart young people that worked hard toward all their goals. I loved my time at Rich Central. But my experience at JCA inspired me to teach at a Catholic institution one day; luckily, I found Fenwick in 2008 in search of an AP Statistics teacher and a crew moderator for theater productions, all of which, I had experience with at Rich Central. Needless to say, the stars aligned for me perfectly. 

As I reflect back on my 22 years in education, I think about all the wonderful mentors from whom I have learned. Anna White, the Gompers principal, comes to mind. She taught me so many great lessons on being an effective educator. She created a school climate where students felt loved and had a safe environment to learn. Ms. White showed me daily that loving your students must still involve having good structure and discipline – a priceless lesson indeed! I thoroughly believe love is the foundation of every classroom where learning and supporting each other will then fill the room. From the very beginning of the year, I show my students that I love and care for them as people with hopes, desires, dreams and ambitions. I start the year with a project no matter what the class is and incorporate our mathematical concepts into the project. My students feel loved and appreciated right from the onset because I create a supportive environment where we all feel comfortable to learn together. The ‘T-Shirt’ project is one of my favorites – come by my room during the year; I love to hang the “T-Shirts” up so we are reminded each day of the strong community we have together.

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?  

TD: Shout out to my book club – we just finished reading and then discussing Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips: a beautifully written book with themes and experiences that speak to all of us in America even though the book’s setting is the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia. I have wonderful colleagues at Fenwick that are dear friends and we share a passion for reading and continuing to learn and grow in all we do. We love to gather as well: community! 

I am currently reading Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning; I enjoy reading about history, and this book is challenging me to think so very differently from the historical stories I usually read. Next on my list is Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell; this has been on my reading list since Dr. Tracy Gau recommended it to me in January. Gladwell’s books have always been favorites of mine. 

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

Ms. Dactilidis likes to travel the world, too.

TD: I have so many interests and now [summer] is the time when I can really enjoy so many of them. I love being outside all year round but the summertime allows me to do that more than ever. In the summer, one will usually find me around the yard playing in the dirt. I have a big garden filled with delicious vegetables – lettuce, spinach, onions, beets, herbs, peas and beans are some of the veggies that I have enjoyed up to this point in the summer. My zucchini are close to harvest and then cucumbers will be coming in. I cannot wait for the peppers and tomatoes to start exploding as well! My husband and I start everything from seed and it is truly a labor of love to tend to a thriving garden. Each year, I become more enamored with my perennial flowers – I love the ability to transplant them and separate them to expand my garden or share with family and friends. I relish the quiet time in my veggie or flower garden in the morning as the warmth of the summer sun rises over me. It is precious quiet time that is so appreciated after a long school year. It is a time to rejuvenate mind, body and spirit. 

Besides my yard, another favorite location of mine is Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. I enjoy hiking, biking and cross country skiing through the preserve, which is a short walk from my backyard – nature at your doorstep! 

My family jokes that I sponsor ‘Camp Toni’ at my house as well during the summer. I teach my youngest family members how to swim, explore nature and be active just as kids are meant to be! These are some of my favorite summertime endeavors. Time is the most meaningful thing we can give one another. I love that I am able to spend so much time with them during the summer. 

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: July 2020”

Faculty Focus: June 2020

Math Teacher and Coach Matt Barabasz will begin his fourth school year at Fenwick in August.

What is your educational background?

MB: I graduated in 2014 with a BS from Illinois State University in Secondary Mathematics with a Middle Level Education Endorsement. In 2019 I earned my MA from Concordia University (River Forest) in Educational Leadership Program. Right now, I am looking to begin a Doctorate Program in Educational Leadership; currently looking into Lewis University.

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

MB: Upon graduation from college I took my first teaching job at Saint Patrick High School. During my first year teaching, I also coached the sophomore football team and both varsity/JV track. The following year I was named the head sophomore football coach and head varsity track coach, which I continued to hold until I made my move to Fenwick.

During my time teaching and coaching, I also gave presentations on different educational philosophies and skills that I have been learning and using within my years as a new teacher. In 2015, I presented “Brain Breaks” at the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics (ICTM) Conference, and in 2017 I presented “The Use of iPads to Create an Engaging Classroom” at the Mathematics Teacher Association of Chicago (MTA) dinner. (Roger Finnell has been on the board of this committee since 1968.)

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

MB: I am reading Teacher Man by Frank McCourt, which is a tribute to teachers everywhere. I was given this book from my then great mentor and now friend, Chad Cluver. Chad was my corresponding teacher while I was a student teacher at Moroa-Forsyth [near Bloomington, IL]. During the year I spent there, I learned and grew an incredible amount due to Chad and the amount he continued to push and support me. He is currently doing amazing things both in and out of the classroom. I am truly blessed to have a great friend to continually provide me advice and guidance.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

MB: I have many interests that take up my time outside of the classroom. Aside from continuing my education through completing various grants and courses, I also coach football for Fenwick. Away from Fenwick, still working within education, I am a member of AdvancED, which is an organization that conducts rigorous, on-site reviews of a variety of educational institutions and systems to ensure that all learners realize their full potential.

On a more personal level, I compete in many intramural leagues, football and softball, across the different neighborhoods in Chicago. I love animals and the outdoors. From sixth grade until I accepted my first teaching job, I volunteered and worked at the Park Ridge Park District Nature Center. When I was younger, I would volunteer every Saturday at the Nature Center. Once I turned 16 I took on many roles there. I was hired as a manager to oversee the volunteer staff, run nature birthday parties, run campfires, run outdoor skills courses, and for six years I ran one of their nature summer camps.

Animals have been and are a huge part of my life.  In the summer of 2018 I adopted my dog, Bella, and she takes up a lot of my time. Each day we go on a lot of walks and adventures around the city. Also, almost every summer morning I will drop my kayak into the Chicago River and spend a few hours paddling. 

When I have time I love to get out my old charcoal and graphite supplies to draw. Art has always been a big passion of mine as well. At Illinois State University, my original plan was to double major in Mathematics and Art; however, the scheduling did not work within the four-year constraint I wanted to complete it in.

Lastly, I am a huge Chicago sports fan. If there is a Bears, Cubs or Blackhawks game on, if I am not there I am watching it.

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

MB: Going back to when I was in high school I was a member of Student Council, Art Club, Football and Track.

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

MB:

  • Sophomore Football Coach: 2017-19
  • Freshman Football Coach: 2020 – current
  • Sailing Club Moderator: 2019 – current
  • PAWS Club Moderator: 2019 – current

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

MB: The two biggest qualities I see in all the students I teach are determination and self-advocacy. Each year I am continually surprised by how much I can educationally push these students and what they can achieve. Also, I am continually impressed by how much they will speak up for their learning and themselves. It is amazing to see this skill being engrained with so many of our students. So many people are okay being passive and not speaking up for themselves; however, at Fenwick the students advocate for themselves and their learning and will not settle for anything but the best.

When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?

MB: There are two distinct things that have paved my path. I remember sitting in my sophomore Geometry class, thinking, “What the heck are we learning?” This is a typical thought that runs through most sophomores’ heads as they are trying to grasp the brand new concept of Geometry. Mathematics was a subject that I was always okay in. I didn’t hate going to class, but most of the time, like most students, I felt lost and confused. It was in the Sophomore Geometry class where I started to realize [that] everyone is just as confused as I am! Once that reality clicked, I started to put more time into studying with friends and concepts started to click. As we would work together and learn, I gained a feeling of great accomplishment. When something finally makes sense to someone else, there’s this little look that always happens. It is that look and that feeling of accomplishment that partially drove me to the field education.

The second was my grandfather. As a child, I only had one pair of grandparents (my father’s parents both passed when he was a teenager). My grandfather was a man I cannot even begin to describe. Anytime there was something wrong, he was right there with me. He sparked my passion into the arts, being an incredible artist himself, and was always someone I needed by my side. When I was younger, I was always spending my weekends with my grandpa. My grandfather made a huge impact within the educational world. He was a teacher for many years, but then made his way to being the president of a Chicago school. To this day, my grandma shows me articles of the amazing things he had accomplished and all the recognition he gained for his hard work and dedication to the students and families. If I can become half the teacher and man that he was, I will have a very successful career and life. [Note: Matt’s grandfather, the late Dr. Allen Zak, retired in 1991 as superintendent of School District 102 in La Grange Park, IL. He also was a former superintendent of schools in West Northfield District 31 in Northbrook, IL.] 

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: June 2020”

Fenwick’s Staying Power Is Its People, says 9-year Friar Teaching Veteran

Fellowship among fellow teachers and their students is a key factor as to why faculty members stay with the Friars.

By Laura (Dixon) Gallinari, English Teacher

In the spring of 2011, on the verge of graduation from my MFA poetry program, I applied for every high school English and Spanish opening in Chicagoland, from Waukegan to Wheaton to Orland Park. I grew up in south Oak Park, and my husband and I had just purchased a house here. On a lark, I submitted my resume to Fenwick, even though no job was posted. So, why am I here? To start with, I figured it would be cool to live seven blocks from school.

Having attended OPRF, I was minimally familiar with Fenwick, aware of it as the local Catholic school that went co-ed while I was in high school. Kathy Curtin called to set up an interview. At the time, one of my mom’s best friends, Kathy Miller, had a sister who taught at Fenwick and agreed to meet with me in the teacher cafe before my interview. So my introduction to Fenwick was coffee with the unforgettable Mariana Curtin, who charmed me with her sincerity, warmth, wisdom, humor and occasional curse words.

To my great fortune, it turned out that Fenwick did have a need for one more English teacher, in a year that saw 17 new Fenwick teachers, several of them in the English department. I walked home from the interview, not quite a mile, and when Pete Groom called to say yes, it felt like providence.

That year marked a huge transition for me. I had taught and coached for 10 years before taking a break for my MFA, but for the past three years I had been paid to attend a few classes and write poetry. I read for hours every day and wrote hundreds of poems. I played basketball every week and even watched TV. It was dreamy. Then, I graduated, moved back to Chicago, bought a house, got married, got a dog, got a new job, and — yep, got pregnant. You know, just a few small changes.

I had long been told by doctors that it might be hard for me to get pregnant or to carry a pregnancy to term due to my unusual womb that has an extra wall in the middle, like a valentine heart. So Gabriel, our wedding-night baby, came as a bit of a surprise. In August before school started, I walked over to Fenwick and found Pete Groom shooting baskets with one of his kids in the gym. I sheepishly informed him that I hoped I would need a maternity sub in March, and in the meantime I would need to back out on coaching volleyball and basketball due to the high-risk nature of the pregnancy. I was more than a little nervous to be such a ‘problem child’ right out of the gates, but Pete met the news with a resigned but affable, nodding, red-faced smile that seemed to say, ‘Ah. Of course you do.’ (You all know that look.) I then apologetically explained the situation to Trish [Grigg in Human Resources], who just smiled and said, ‘That’s what God wanted.’ Somewhere else I might have been at risk of a pink slip, but not at Fenwick.

That first year, so many people helped me to find my way — both figuratively and, indeed, literally (as in the time I was assigned to sub in, uh, Room 46??). Andy Arellano, Jerry Lordan, Mary Marcotte, and John Schoeph shepherded me through. And a quick shout-out to Rick O’Connor, too, whose camaraderie in our first year meant the world.

Mutual respect and blessings

The first and most compelling reason that I have stayed at Fenwick is the people. I both like and respect all the people I answer to, and I have never before at another school been able to say that so uniformly. And my colleagues, all of you, are amazing. Truly. I am wowed by your dedication, expertise and enthusiasm every day. If I’m having a tough time, Pete Gallo will both crack me up and pray for me. When I need to respond to a tricky email, John Schoeph will sit down and talk it through with me. Coach [Kevin] Roche sets the bar so high that he makes us all better people. Arthur [Wickiewicz] greets me with an exploding fist bump daily. Hope [(Feist) Zelmer] gives me Hope. Maria Nowicki gives me hugs and pumpkin bread. Theresa Steinmeyer tells everyone, ‘You’re my favorite and sincerely means it every, single time. When I suffered my second of three miscarriages, Brigid Esposito brought me two roses and made me feel seen. Time and again, we lift each other up.

I am also here because I have a deep and abiding love for grading. KIDDING. NO. Like all of you, I am primarily here because of my students. Because my students are motivated, engaged, prepared, respectful and helpful, I am able to do my best work in the classroom. I can manage serious discipline issues, but here I mostly don’t have to. My students are allies in learning, and their intellectual curiosity propels us forward. With students so ready and eager to learn, I am free to show them what more is possible, to acquaint them with new ideas and engage in closer readings. Beyond their high level of academic accomplishment, my students’ decency, kindness, creativity and insight daily show me what more is possible. I’m here because Nate Jakaitis [Class of 2016] still sends me the latest cool thing he wrote in college; because Abbey Nowicki [also ’16] also sends me pumpkin bread; and because Robert Metaxatos [’17] takes the time to write me a letter by hand because he is reading Crime and Punishment and I first introduced him to Dostoevsky years ago in our Brothers Karamavoz reading group. My students are incredible people. They are incredible blessings.

Faculty and staff members read chapters of Moby-Dick at “Moby-Con” in January 2019.

I have been fortunate to teach subjects here that speak to my own intellectual passions — American literature and creative writing. And I think it’s an open secret that I sneak in 12 chapters of Moby-Dick when everyone else does two. I’m at Fenwick because six years ago my AP students were jealous of the Honors classes who got to read those 12 chapters and asked me to stay after school with them on Mondays to discuss the entire book. I’m here because every year since then, my Moby-Dick readers have recruited the next year’s crew. I’m here because when I brought our lunatic notion of Moby-Con to Pete Groom and Jerry Ruffino, they didn’t say no. They came aboard, as did dozens of you. I’m here because you tolerate (or dare I say even enjoy?) my whaling and sailing puns. It made my heart full that so many colleagues stepped up to chaperone and read at Moby-Con, that Father Peddicord was game to play Father Mapple, that Ernesto screened four film versions, that Rick O’Connor live-streamed the whole event with his Broadcasting club. Those students will never forget our marathon voyage, and I don’t know whether it would have happened at another school.

All of this adds up to true community, and people filled with genuine affection and compassion for their coworkers and students. People say teaching is a thankless job, but at least at Fenwick, I disagree. My students depart class daily with a parade of thank-yous — I mean, even in study hall! Seriously!

‘God wants me to be here’

One thing that makes Fenwick special is that we treat our work here as a vocation, a ministry. We are called to this work, and we are here to shape more than minds. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our Kairos program and the teachers and student leaders who work tirelessly to offer that spiritual experience to our students.

As a Protestant, I had no idea what to expect in coming here. Would I be out of place? How would people here treat the non-Catholic minority? Would even the statues give me the side-eye? I could not have imagined that Lucy White would ask me to speak at Kairos about the Christian Family or that Maria and Mary Beth would invite me to speak today at a Dominican spiritual retreat.

I am here because God wants me to be here. (Please write this down and look up when you have finished: I am here because — sorry, Kairos humor — but that is why I’m here.) As a religious institution, we are a community of learning and also a community of prayer. We celebrate God in our service to one another. And when you’re in need you can always be sure that Pete Gallo is not the only one praying for you.

To wrap up, I’d like to just tell a few anecdotes that speak to my time at Fenwick:

Continue reading “Fenwick’s Staying Power Is Its People, says 9-year Friar Teaching Veteran”

Faculty Focus: May 2020

Even from home, 3rd-year Fenwick Social Studies Teacher Brian Jerger loves Western Civilization — and working with freshmen!

What is your educational background?

BJ: I went to high school in the southwest suburbs — Oak Lawn Community High School (’09). I have my B.A. in History from the University of Notre Dame (’13). My M.Ed. is from Notre Dame as well (’15).

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

BJ: I was a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher in Heredia, Costa Rica, for nearly a year before coming to Fenwick. Before that, I taught World Geography & Cultures to freshmen at Saint Joseph Academy in Brownsville, Texas as part, of Notre Dame’s ACE Teaching Fellows program (2013-15).

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

BJ: It may not be for enjoyment, but it is almost impossible to avoid trying to stay current with the COVID-19 news. Aside from that, I am currently trying to finish The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

BJ: I really love to cook. Fall weekends are for ND football and the Green Bay Packers. Wednesday nights are Trivia Night for me. In the summer, I like to travel and try to get outside, whether it be for hiking, fishing, brunch, baseball games or something else. I also help out as a young adult leader for a youth group at my parish throughout the year. 

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

BJ: A little bit of everything. I played golf and ran XC/distance track. I also participated in student council, class advisory boards, student helpers and a really unique group called Cross Countries — not to be confused with cross country. Cross Countries was a small group of eight students who fund-raised over $40,000 in three years to complete an international service trip to Bolivia to help build a hospital. I even did a group interpretation theater production my senior year. I was also really active in my youth group, Foundations, at Old St. Pat’s in West Loop.

Even eTeaching from his “home-classroom” can’t keep down Mr. Jerger!

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

BJ: I am the assistant debate coach and the assistant freshmen girls’ basketball coach. I also go on every Kairos [retreat] Mrs. Nowicki will let me!

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

BJ: In general, I think they push themselves and are gritty. Fenwick is not the ‘easy’ choice; students are challenged here. That said, the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fire. Our students come out on the other end far ahead of their peers and ready to lead. And, in the end, they still wish they had “FOUR MORE YEARS!”

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: May 2020”

Why Do Teachers Stay at Fenwick?

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

By John Schoeph ’95

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

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

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

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

This is an environment I want to be in.​

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

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

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

Best students in the land

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

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

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

Continue reading “Why Do Teachers Stay at Fenwick?”