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:

Continue reading “COVID Can’t Stop Kairos!”

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LENTEN REFLECTION 2021: At Home in the Desert

Lent during a pandemic: How Dorothy Day’s story poured on a Dominican Brother like a sweet sun shower.

By Br. Joseph Trout, O.P.

Servant of God Dorothy Day did not support the New Deal. This was an utterly intriguing fact even before the current pandemic and ongoing relief-package debates. Dorothy Day was a fixture in progressive and socialist movements of the early 20th century who converted to Catholicism and continued a life of radical commitment to the poor, nourished by daily Mass and the Rosary. PBS released an outstanding documentary on her a year ago (“Revolution of the Heart“), which I cannot recommend highly enough.

She not only established communities for the poor, she chose to live with them in poverty herself. Yet, this champion of the forgotten initially opposed the New Deal and only gradually came to see it as necessary to help people survive the Great Depression. She was not particularly enthusiastic about it. Why not? And what on earth does this have to do with Lent?

To the first question, Dorothy Day’s logic is fairly straightforward: It is our job to serve our neighbors. Outsourcing the works of mercy to the government erodes the community that binds us together. It eases the consciences of the successful who can fool themselves into thinking, “We have paid our taxes, let someone else deal with those in need!” She feared the depersonalization of the needy and a world where we could talk about “people on welfare” rather than our family, friends, neighbors in need. We build up the Kingdom of God, not Caesar. 

I know very little about economics, let alone economic policy. I don’t know what the best way out of a depression or a pandemic is. I have zero policy proposals for you here. It certainly seems like “communities coming together” is too simplistic to solve our problems, but I can also imagine Dorothy Day begging each of us to act now and help those struggling regardless of what the government does. Jesus did not say, “whatever Caesar did not do for one of these least ones …” but rather, “whatever you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” If Jesus and Dorothy Day are to be taken seriously, you and I have some work to do.  

What’s Lent Got to Do with It?

What, then, of the second question? What does any of this have to do with Lent? For me, gearing up for Lent has been a challenge. Sure, it calls us into the desert every year — but aren’t we already in the desert? This year, it feels like we are being asked to buy property and take out a mortgage in the desert. This has become our home, and here we are to stay. Just last week I heard someone genuinely asked if schools will be in a hybrid next year and I shuddered a little. How can anyone care about normal penitential practices such as giving up desserts and alcohol after a year of significant sacrifices? What more could God be asking of anyone?

I have to admit when I first asked myself that question, an inner voice rebuked me. Lent happens every year and has for millenia. I don’t know what a season of penance meant in World War II, or during the Depression, or any number of other plagues in history. (I’m sure people prayed a lot!) Much of our world is always vulnerable without easy pleasures. And, to be honest, I haven’t really lost the things I personally enjoy. I spent last Saturday morning reading War and Peace and then running on a treadmill for an hour. I did both of those things for my enjoyment — not penance. I never really liked going out to eat anyway. It’s hard to get too upset about hybrid teaching and not being able to visit family as much when I look at unemployment numbers, death tolls and food-pantry shortages. 

Perhaps this is exactly the point. Lent has never been about these little sacrifices in and of themselves. It always has been about love: learning to actually love God and neighbor and to be less self-centered. Now, as someone who can enjoy running on a treadmill, I probably shouldn’t give others specific advice about penitential actions. Human beings have great variety in their pleasures and pains. Whatever penance and sacrifice are, they should always move us outwards. They transform us into a new Christ. To put it simply: Lent is about losing ego, not weight. I am forced to ask myself what my life is all about. What do I hope for? What do I do with what I have been given? Can I stop spending money on my pleasures to find a greater joy in loving my neighbor? That has always been the big question. If it’s unpleasant to be generous, then I need conversion and I need it now.

Could Dorothy Day become a saint?

Dorothy Day captures my imagination this Lent because I’m not sure how generous this pandemic has made me. She chose to live with the poor and openly admitted that it was not always pleasant. She loved them anyway. She refused to outsource love and mercy. I, however, have complained a lot this year (just ask Principal Groom, he has plenty of text messages to confirm this). I have spent a lot of time running, reading and focused on me. Sure, I’ve helped others and prayed rosaries while running, but have I found joy in love? Have I been attentive to the needy? Am I more like Christ than I was a year ago? Whatever I think about the government’s response to this pandemic, have I made the world a better place?

As much as I hate to admit it, it really is time to take up a home in the desert. God will send manna and quail. He’s certainly sent plenty of (frozen) water. He will nourish us. No, this isn’t the promised land. Let’s not lie to ourselves about that. However, the central Christian mystery is that dying with Christ brings us new life; his spirit will breathe new life into our dry bones. This is the sure promise of faith. As impossible as it seems to believe, Jesus asks us to die a bit more to ourselves out here in the desert so that with him we may create a beautiful oasis. He has asked us to be merciful as he is merciful. How will we answer him?

Brother Joe Trout, O.P. (“BroTro”) is Chair of the Theology Department at Fenwick, head coach for the Boys’ Bowling Team and an assistant coach for the Girls’ Cross Country Team. He grew up in Fort Wayne, IN, and graduated from Purdue University in 2009 where he studied Math Education. For a year Br. Trout taught middle school math in Crawfordsville, IN, before entering the Dominican Order in 2010. He completed a Master’s in Theology from Aquinas Institute in 2015, focusing his research on the relationship between morality and psychology based on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas , O.P.

HIS STORY: Tackling Race at Fenwick

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

By Aaron Garland ’15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘East Kids’ and ‘West Kids’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE FRIAR BLACK HISTORY
Also read about:

The Fenwick Journey of Alumnus Michael Black ’09

Fenwick’s First Black Student in 1955

Why Marlon Hall Left Fenwick in the Early 1970s

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.