Alumnus Spotlight: Mike Kelleher, M.D. (Class of 1975)

A Friar student-athlete turned pediatrician reflects on the ‘formative influence’ of Fenwick’s teachers and coaches.

By Mark Vruno

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.

Read the Full “Friar Med” Story

Giving Thanks for Fenwick

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 alumna Brigid 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!”

COMMENT ON THIS BLOG (SEE BELOW) OR EMAIL US TO TELL US WHY YOU ARE THANKFUL FOR FENWICK (communications@fenwickfriars.com).

UPDATE: Fenwick Alumni Who Teach

Students-turned-teachers help to advance the Friars’ mission.

By Mark Vruno

Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?

Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 32 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr. Holmberg, who doubles as the school’s clubs/activities director.

Raymond Moland ’96

“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”

Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”

Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for nearly six decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg:  “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Co-Chair.

Roger Finnell in 1968.

“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Blackfriars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”

Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012

Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 58 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: Millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”

Grace Lilek David ’08

Learning Resource Coordinator Grace Lilek David ’08, who is in her sixth year of teaching at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Mrs. David. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.

“Faith is another reason we come back,” Lilek surmises. “It is very easy to feel more connected to God at Fenwick. When I consider the fact that the Dominican Order was founded over 800 years ago and couple it with the fact that Fenwick is the only high school in the United States run by the Dominican Friars, I am compelled to keep the tradition alive and the school thriving. And even though not every Fenwick student is Catholic, there is a respect for the faith that built this school. There is also a type of faith that goes along with calling yourself a Fenwick Friar.

“Finally, the greater Fenwick Family, is another reason we come back, David concludes. “Whether you connect with one teacher/staff member/counselor or several, or one friend or several, someone in this building always has your back. And then, when you come back to Fenwick and nervously enter the building for an interview, you are greeted with a smile from Mrs. Tartaglia, who remembers you from the time you were a student, and you know you are home. I simply do not think you can find that anywhere else.”

Here is a breakdown of who the alumni are and what they teach/do:

Continue reading “UPDATE: Fenwick Alumni Who Teach”

Friar Golfers Finish 6th in “Tough” Sectional

Two team members earn GCAC All-Conference honors for 2nd consecutive year!

Season Recap by Mike Trankina ’84, Girls’ Golf Head Coach

The post-season started with our conference championship at White Pines in Bensenville. Fenwick finished third – behind Loyola and St. Ignatius. Lillian Bateman and Kathryn Sweeney each made all-conference for the second year in a row.

For the State series, Regionals were held at St. Andrews, and Fenwick tied for first with St. Ignatius — we finished first in the Regional for the third consecutive year. Sectionals were held at The Bridges of Poplar Creek in Hoffman Estates, which is a very difficult course that earns its name because of water throughout the entire course. Fenwick finished sixth out of 14 teams in the toughest Sectional in the state. That is far better than we have done in the time that I have been around!

And even more impressively, Lillian and Charlotte Bateman both qualified individually for state! Lillian finished tied for second and one shot away from first for the entire Sectional. She posted a 75 on a ridiculously tough course! Charlotte shot 83. The whole team played well! 

The state championships were crazy! The top 40 and ties make it on into Saturday. Both Lillian and Char did that with some drama. The second day was one with much less stress and the girls both put up even better scores. Lillian finished 86-80, and Charlotte scored 86-82. To have two girls qualify for state is a great accomplishment. To have those two players both make the cut is amazing!

Faculty Focus: October 2021

October 1, 2021

Now in his twelfth year of teaching Friars, Mr. Alex Holmberg is a Fenwick alumnus (Class of ’05), Social Studies Department Chair and the school’s Activities Director.

What is your educational background?

AH: I grew up in Oak Park and attended St. Giles School. I then went to Fenwick High School and Illinois Wesleyan University, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in business administration and economics. I completed my master’s degree and teaching certification at National Louis University in Chicago, and I recently finished my Administrative Licensure at Concordia University in River Forest.

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

AH: Before teaching full time at Fenwick, I was completing my master’s degree at National Louis University, substitute teaching around the Chicagoland area, coaching at Fenwick (football and wrestling), and driving school buses for Fenwick. 

What are you currently reading for enjoyment?

AH: Leadership: In Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Nudge: The Final Edition, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

AH: I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, especially my two children, Ryan (3) and Nora (1). I am a big sports fan (Bears, Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks), and I enjoy staying active in my free time. 

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

AH: At Fenwick, I was a captain of the football team and a wrestler. I also participated in the NHS. At Illinois Wesleyan, I was also the captain of the football team. 

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

AH: At Fenwick, I am our Clubs and Activities Director as well as the Social Studies Department Chair. 

What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?

AH: A Fenwick student is able to balance grit and determination with a profound empathy for others. Fenwick students are known to accomplish a lot during their time here, but the lifelong relationships that are formed in the halls of this place really start with the empathy students are able to show towards each other. 

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

AH: I had always wanted to be a teacher, but I originally envisioned that as a path later in life. After graduating during the 2008-09 financial crisis, I had a decision to make about whether to try to wait out a struggling labor market without great employment prospects, or to take action and pursue the opportunity to work with students. I chose the latter, and I have not regretted my decision in the slightest. I always knew I wanted to work in a highly engaged setting with like-minded and mission-driven individuals, and working at Fenwick has given me an opportunity to do just that. 

What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?

AH: I believe resilience in the face of the past two years has helped me to refocus my energies within the classroom on relationship building and the importance of creating a strong community to support student development. 

Continue reading “Faculty Focus: October 2021”

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

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

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

Read his obituary.

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

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

Oak Park Wednesday Journal:

Chicago Sun-Times

Swimming World Magazine

Friars Remember 9/11: Twenty Years Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angela (Mostardi) Wold ’02

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

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

Jeanette (Stamm) Fair ’03

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

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

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

Lisa Danno ’05

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

Dan Logas ’05

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Nerger ’74 was working at the Pentagon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Math Teacher Roger Finnell ’59:

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

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

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

Jeff Oakey ’88

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

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

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

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

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

Theology Teacher Pat Mulcahy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID Can’t Stop Kairos!

Fenwick’s senior-class retreats have been different in 2021, but things are slowly returning to a more “normal” state.

Call it “Pandemic Prayer Power” perhaps, but the coronavirus cannot stop the Fenwick Friars’ KAIROS senior retreats, which have taken place — safely and socially distanced — this winter for members of the Class of 2021!

Fenwick Kairos Director and Math Teacher Mrs. Maria Nowicki

“This year has brought many different challenges,” says Kairos Director Mrs. Maria Nowicki, “but getting back to Bellarmine [retreat house in Barrington, IL] in February was needed, and I know that God had a hand in helping us get there. Our young people have a lot to deal with, and they need God and [need] to know His great love for all of us.

“It has been beautiful to see our students sharing stories of faith and inspiration or simple moments, like 30 kids trying to build a snowman together, especially after the many hardships of the last year,” Mrs. Nowicki continues. “My heart has been touched with the incredible amount of gratitude the senior class has shown when there is so much they could be down about.” What three recent retreatants took away:

“I know I am young, but I can say truthfully that I am going to try and ‘Live the 4th’ every day for the rest of my life. I believe it has shaped me more into the person I am supposed to be and will have a forever impact on how I choose to live my life.”

“I learned to value my friendships and family more, to never forget everyone has hardships that I may not be aware of, and that God loves me and everyone He created so much.

“On Kairos I found that if God brought you to it, He will bring you through it.”

Fenwick Kairos 2021 Photo Gallery:

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Fenwick Faculty, Staff Receive First Dose of COVID Vaccine!

Some 140 of our “Status 1B Educators” rolled up their sleeves this past weekend.

School Nurse Donna Pape administers the shot to Senior Class Counselor and baseball coach Mr. Pat Jacobsen, who was one of some 140 Fenwick faculty and staff members to get vaccinated on Saturday.

Fenwick teachers, coaches, staff and administrators received their first COVID-19 vaccinations at a Saturday event for Oak Park private schools. “We had a great turn out with approximately 265 Oak Park private school educators and staff,” reports School Nurse Kathleen Monty, RN. “Of that, approximately 140 were Fenwick faculty/staff. The Village of Oak Park and the Oak Park Board of Health were pleased with the turnout ….” Later this month, the faculty/staff will return for shot two. 

Ms. Monty adds that she and fellow School Nurse Donna Pape, RN, appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding. “The Fenwick faculty and staff have put up with all our constantly changing rules and have shown up every day since August for our students. We are proud to be part of the Fenwick family!”

Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. notes: “Please join me thanking our nurses, Donna Pape and Kitty Monty, for all their great work this year and their heroic efforts to get all of us vaccinated on Saturday. It was truly inspiring to see them in action! The Fenwick community owes them so much. Thanks, too, to Bryan Boehm [Digital Learning Specialist] and Jimmy Sperandio [Class of ’85 and Community Resource Officer] for their good work on Saturday on our behalf.”

Fenwick ‘Mathletes’ Claim Chicago Archdiocese Crown

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

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

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

Mr. Finnell in 1968 (yearbook image).

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

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

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