Leading into Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1), a sophomore student shares his Fenwick story – and explains why traveling from La Grange to Oak Park is worth it.
By Jack Henrichs ’22
On a warm spring day at the end of 7th grade, I received a text message from my mom: “We are going to Fenwick’s Open House tomorrow.” Why would I be going there? I live within walking distance between two high school campuses where ALL of my friends would attend.
I argued with my parents until it was pointless. We attended the Open House and, of course, they loved Fenwick. They mentioned strong academics, Catholic values, small class sizes. I don’t remember much about that night, but I did pass the entrance exam that fall. My life was ruined. Or so I thought.
I didn’t even know how to tie a tie on the first day
of school. I kept thinking about how my friends were walking to school, wearing
shorts and T-shirts and excited about high school. I was one of the only kids
from my junior high school at Fenwick. When my dad drove a neighbor and me to the
train station, we passed the public school. I took a car, train and bus to
school. This seemed absurd. But I had been practicing football since the end of
June with my new team, so I was excited about seeing my football friends in my
Joining the football team made my transition to Fenwick so much easier. The first few days of freshman football summer camp were difficult though. I was nervous because I didn’t know a single person on my team. There were kids who were already friends with former elementary and middle school classmates, but there were also kids like me who knew no one around them for the first few practices. After several days of learning plays and running drills, we were all becoming friends. We knew we were going to be with each other for the next four years, and we were excited to prepare for our first high school season.
“Joining the football team made my transition to Fenwick so much easier.”
I entered the school year with a new nickname —“Stork.” Head Freshman Football Coach, Mr. Vruno, approached me before a drill and asked if I knew who “The Stork” was. I had never heard of him, but he explained that Ted Hendricks was a 6’7” outside linebacker (and one of the best NFL players of all time), with my similar height and name. When a football coach gives you a nickname, it sticks. Teammates, classmates and teachers often call me Stork. A mom even called my mom “Mrs. Stork” last year. Joining a team had impacted my experience in ways I never thought it would, and it made my high school experience much easier.
School started and although I didn’t have many of my
football friends in my classes, I saw them in the hallways, and we’d hang out
before school. By the end of the first month of school, I was doing more work
than I had done in my entire middle school life! I adjusted well to new
teachers and classes, and even attending Mass (which was new for me since I
attended a public school). I actually liked the prayers before classes and Mass
was a reminder for me to keep God in my life.
My English teacher, Mr. Schoeph, made the class fun and interesting. He hopped up on desks and acted out stories for us. The grammar lessons were not as entertaining, but I knew they were important. Freshman year is said to be the hardest. And to me, it was. First semester was a challenge, but it prepared me for second semester, which went much smoother. I’m also glad I didn’t have many football friends in my classes because I met so many new people. The school days were busy and exhausting, with football and then basketball after school every day and heavy homework every night. So when the weekend came, it was like a summer day. I felt like I deserved a break because of how hard I had worked.
you want to transfer?’
At the end of the year my parents asked me if I was
happy at Fenwick or if I wanted to transfer. They insisted I give it a try
freshman year and said we would reevaluate the decision in June. Several
friends took the train home with me on the last day of school, and I couldn’t
imagine going to school anywhere else. I still had my neighborhood grade school
friends, and I had my high school friends. It’s the best of both worlds.
Sophomore year has been much easier than freshman year. My workload may seem less, but it’s about the same because I’ve adjusted to the academics and expectations. I played football again this year and am still called “Stork” everywhere I go. I am also looking forward to our football team playing in Dublin [Ireland] in August.
I’ve traveled many ‘roads’ after leaving Fenwick, but I have never forgotten the lessons I learned as a member of the basketball team and particularly the 1966 team that won the Chicago Catholic League title that year – against significant odds.
We won the title in March of ’66; one of many championships won by Fenwick teams throughout its long history. But my own sense as a student of that history is that few of these teams had as amazing and improbable road to a title as we had, and it is that story that I’d like to share and use to reinforce the idea that, although the title was great, it was the ‘lessons learned’ along the way that were more lasting and more important.
As we began the 1965-66-basketball season, we knew we had a well-regarded coach in Bill Shay, but it had been almost 15 years since Fenwick had won a Catholic League Senior (over 5’ 9” players) basketball championship. In fact, the previous season, Fenwick’s Senior team finished at .500 in league play, out of the playoffs, and were maddeningly inconsistent – beating a contender one night and getting blown out another. To be honest, there was cautious optimism at best as we opened the season led by 6’6” senior center Dennis Bresnahan (St. Bernadine – Oak Park), the lone starter from the previous year and who would be joined by three talented underclassmen, including junior forward Joe Grill (Divine Infant – Westchester), junior guard/forward Steve Flanagan (Ascension – Oak Park), and junior guard John Sanderlin (St. Luke – River Forest), who had led their Frosh-Soph team coached by Jerry Hughes to a 20-0 record the year before. Coach Shay knew he might have something special in this young, untested team, but it was mostly a hope.
With Grill and Flanagan, both starting football players, not joining the basketball team until late November, things started out surprisingly rough, losing seven of our first 10 league games, albeit four by three points or less. As ‘ninth man’ on a team that usually played just seven players, my role was to scrimmage against the starters in practice and help prepare them for the games. I knew Grill, Flanagan and Sanderlin from our grammar-school days, and each one was a winner – rarely losing in anything. Both Sanderlin and Flanagan were in the so-called ‘A’ group academically and their basketball ‘IQs’ were just as impressive. Furthermore, even in scrimmages they played to win. I would say the biggest thing that these guys brought to the team was their deep-rooted will to win, a trait perhaps even more important than raw talent. And win we would.
“I always thought that the largest and one of the most impactful classrooms at Fenwick back in the day was the gym – today’s Lawless Gym.”
Mike Shields ’67
The Fenwick auraof excellence
To be a student at Fenwick in the mid-60s was to be surrounded by greatness in one’s teachers and coaches. Tony Lawless, our legendary Athletic Director, had joined Fenwick when it opened in 1929 out of Loyola University and an illustrious basketball career there. He hired swimming coach Dan O’Brien (Class of 1934), whose teams would win 28 straight Catholic League titles; Lawless himself would coach the football teams, which over his 25 years (1932-57) would compile a Rockne-like record of 172-40-6 and a winning percentage of .803. In those years, Fenwick’s football teams would win 14 division titles, five Catholic League titles and three City Championships. In 1950, Lawless selected Bill Shay, another highly successful coach, to lead Fenwick’s basketball teams. I would say Lawless, O’Brien and Shay, all successful intelligent coaches, not only believed in excellence but were very (very) serious guys who helped develop the likes of 1953 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lattner (Fenwick ’50) at Notre Dame [who also played basketball and ran track in high school], 1964 Olympic Diving Gold Medalist Ken Sitzberger (Fenwick ’63) and legions of other great Fenwick athletes.
As Athletic Director, Lawless had also brilliantly selected 24-year old John Jardine as football coach, and Jardine proceeded to a 45-6-1 record over five years (1959-63) and an epic 40-0 Prep Bowl victory in 1962 over Schurz in front of 91,000 fans at Soldier Field. That type of serious winning ethos was palpable and expected – academically and athletically. Fenwick teams didn’t always win but they all fought very hard to win and, as our 1966 basketball team continued its journey, we all had imbibed the Fenwick ethos of excellence and high expectations. How could we not?
Bill Shay knew we could be great. We weren’t totally sure about that after our string of early season losses but, as the season wore on, our team – led by the steady and outstanding play of our Bresnahan (captain) and the development of the new three underclassmen starters – started to gel. Our practices were grueling, and Coach Shay brought the entire team, starters and non-starters alike, together us as a winning team with his experienced combination of toughness and teaching. As an aside, there were many nights after a long practice when several of us, including Sanderlin, would stand in the winter cold at the corner at East Ave. and Madison St. to catch a late West Town bus home. We were all tired, but were growing as a team and we began to win. Significantly, at a certain point, I think the winning attitudes of Grill, Flanagan and Sanderlin really kicked in and created a powerful dynamic of confidence, mental toughness and winning. They knew they were winners and were not going to settle for anything less. Adding to the new dynamic was the amazing development of two young (and tall) sophomores, 6’ 4” Jim Martinkus and 6’ 8” Bob Fittin, who Coach Shay was beginning to gradually work into the line-up: a smart move as they would both play pivotal roles in key games ahead. Our team finished strong with four victories in our last five league games and tied for 2nd place with archrival Loyola in the North Section. So, to get into the four-team Catholic League playoff, we had to beat Loyola, to whom we had lost twice during the season.
The run begins
On the night of March 6th, Fenwick met Loyola at DePaul University’s Alumni Hall with its sunken court (aka ‘basketball pit’) and seating for about 5,000 on the DePaul campus. With Bresnahan and Grill combining for 32 points, Fenwick rolled to a 59-46 victory. We were not surprised as we expected the victory. Now that we were in the league playoffs, next up for us on Saturday night would be St. Rita led by their 6’8” All-American center George Janky, We were wary but still confident. Frankly, we were the only ones who were confident we could beat St. Rita, particularly as we had also lost to them twice in the regular season.
That Saturday night, the entire Fenwick student body showed up and Alumni Hall was jam-packed. I was on the bench with a front-row seat, and the cheering was so loud at times that we could not hear Coach Shay in the huddle. Our team though was so cohesive by then that instincts took over – our guys were determined to beat St. Rita, who frankly did not show us much respect. That would change as the game wore on, and it was clear that Fenwick was ‘in the game’ – and could even win it! After four intense quarters of play, regulation time ended with the score tied 60-60. It was a bit surreal, to be honest. In overtime, neither team scored until the very end; with St. Rita holding the ball for the final shot, guard Sanderlin stole the ball and passed it to Bresnahan, who was fouled. With just four second left, Bresnahan sunk both free throws and Fenwick had won another improbable victory 62-60. Bedlam reigned! Thirty minutes after the game though, Coach Shay brought us ‘back to earth’ and reminded us that we ‘had not won anything yet’ – the ‘only thing’ we did was earn the right to play powerful defending City Champ Mt. Carmel for the Championship. We were not favored.
So on Wednesday night March 16th, 1966, DePaul’s Alumni Hall was packed again with nearly 5,000 fans, including local celebrities such as DePaul Coach Ray Meyer. The game, with a tipoff at 8:30 p.m., was broadcast in prime time across the Chicago area on the new UHF TV channel WFLD. It was ‘a spectacle’ – even bigger then the St. Rita game. Mt. Carmel brought a record of 27-2 into the game while Fenwick’s was 15-11 and we had already lost two early-season games to the Caravan. As much of an underdog as we were on paper, though, I did not feel like an ‘underdog’ and neither did my teammates. Probably the biggest challenge we had was to stay focused and play our game and not get swept up in the spectacle of it all. We seemed to have reached a level at which we felt we could beat anyone. Coach Shay, as always, calmly went over the game plan before the game: shut down All-State guard Greg Carney (he scored just 2 points in the first half), prevent their big All-Chicago center Dave Lewis from getting the ball, and play disciplined offense ourselves with smart shot selections. In the end, although Mt. Carmel came close a few times in the 2nd half, we won the game 62-52, with 32 of those points coming on free throws, particularly impressive in such a pressure-packed atmosphere. This was Fenwick’s first Catholic League Senior Basketball title since 1950 – a truly amazing and historic feat.
Needless to say, euphoria reigned and the team headed back to Fenwick after the game. We probably arrived at the school near midnight as March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, began. Our bus was greeted in the school parking lot by an epic mob of our fellow students with the festivities continuing in the gym, where so much of our preparation had happened, including lots of ‘blood and sweat’ being spent. Coach Shay introduced each player and student manager on the team, briefly mentioning the person’s contributions, to wild cheering. This was truly a special night to celebrate the coveted Championship and the team effort behind it – players, coaches, students, staff and alumni. One Fenwick!
Back in 1966, the Catholic League Champ played the Pubic League Champ for the City Championship. It was a big deal. As Catholic League champs we would play the Marshall Commandos and their fabulous All-State forward Richard Bradshaw, who had completed an undefeated Public League season before being upset in the State Super-Sectional game by New Trier. Marshall, with its rich basketball history, was pointing to a victory over Fenwick for ‘redemption.’ The game was played on March 27th at the International Amphitheater with TV coverage again by WFLD. Our team came out ready to play, dominating the first half, but leading only 28-27 at halftime. Marshall surged in the second half and won the game 62-56 for the City Championship. One positive that came out of this loss was that two of the Fenwick players that day, sophomores Martinkus and Fittin, would gain invaluable experience from it and just two years later would lead a 25-4 Fenwick team, still coached by Bill Shay, to another Catholic League Championship and then go on to beat the Public League Champ Crane Tech 56-48 for the City Championship!
This season and experience in 1966 taught us much. We certainly learned a great deal academically in the classroom from our Dominican and lay teachers, but to be part of this championship team taught me ‘even more,’ which I carried forward throughout my life and professional career. These early lessons from that season’s experience, which I have in fact used and am sill adding to many years later, might be summarized for me (in no particular order after the first one listed) as follows:
Win or lose, striving for excellence elevates the team and the individuals.
Most success comes from a team effort, being ‘One,’ not just from one ‘star’.
One never knows where the final ‘missing piece’ of a winning team will come from; often the person is ‘on the outside’ and ‘not seen’ at first.
Sometimes it takes time for a great team to gel (we started 3-7 in 1966).
Smart, intelligent coaching, including being creative and trying new approaches when necessary are absolutely essential to winning, when playing ‘dynamic games’.
A team made up of players with a winning attitude, who really want to win, are at a competitive advantage to an ‘all-star’ team (with ‘all star’ resumes) that just show up.
Playing hard and with focus at all times is essential to winning.
The pain of losing is not ‘the end of the world’ – ‘pain’ can motivate and teach a team, which wants to be great, where and how to get better.
The little things, practiced over and over, count (like making 20 pressure-packed free throws in the St. Rita game and 32 free throws in the Mt. Carmel game).
Positive passion and emotion are really helpful to give a person or a team that extra push when their energy level is running low (Bill Shay was a ‘positive’ coach and our Fenwick student body during the 1966 playoffs was very loud and very positive).
“I don’t want to go to anatomy class today,” a Fenwick junior was overheard last month, lamenting in one hallowed hallway of Fenwick. “Why not?” a staff member inquired. “Who’s your teacher?”
“Dr. Riggs,” the student replied. “Her class is so hard! She’s smarter than all of us.”
The 17-year-old has a valid point: Jennifer Riggs was a pediatrician before she embarked on a career change to become a teacher. Riggs earned her M.D. in 1995 from Rush Medical College at Rush University in Chicago. (Her B.S. in psychology came from Indiana University.) For three years, she served as a resident pediatrician at Rush Children’s Hospital on the Near West Side. For the next five years, she commuted northbound to Shriners Children Hospital on Oak Park Ave. In early 2004, Dr. Riggs left the field of medicine to don her “mom hat” and raise her four children.
“My career has transitioned from pediatrician to science teacher: my true calling,” Riggs explains. After deciding to enter the field of education, Riggs went back to school to pursue a master’s degree in teaching, which she earned locally at Dominican University in River Forest almost five years ago. “My decision stemmed from a desire to develop sustained relationships with young people that affords me the opportunity to have a significant impact on their lives.”
After completing her student-teaching assignment at Josephine Locke Elementary School (Chicago), Dr. Riggs taught math, science, technology and religion for one year at St. Edmund Parish School in Oak Park, then moved on to Visitation Catholic School in Elmhurst to teach junior-high life/physical science and religion classes for the next three years. As a sponsor of the Illinois Junior Academy of Science “Science Fair,” she guided more than 100 students in planning, researching and conducting their projects. She also served as the Science Olympiad Head Coach at Visitation.
Dr. Riggs joined the faculty at Fenwick, where she is teaching five classes this academic year: two sections of Accelerated Anatomy & Physiology and three sections of College Prep Anatomy & Physiology. “I am one of the faculty moderators for the Medical Club,” she adds.
A different kind of impact on young lives
As for her decision to become a teacher, “I could not be happier with my career,” Dr. Riggs reports. “Teaching has given me the opportunity to get to know my students on a much deeper level than I knew my patients when I was practicing as a pediatrician. I look forward to coming to school each day because of the energy and enthusiasm shown by the students.
“I see my current position teaching Anatomy and Physiology at Fenwick as the perfect fit for me,” the doctor adds. “From my perspective, the biggest drawback to practicing medicine was the lack of time to really get to know my patients. My appointments tended to be relatively short and I often did not see that child again for a significant period of time (some I never saw again at all). Through teaching at Fenwick, I am able to build meaningful relationships with students. What I find unique about my particular position is that I am able to form those relationships through focusing on a topic I am passionate about: the human body.
“Many of my students are planning careers in the medical field,” Dr. Riggs concludes. “I find nothing more satisfying than sharing my knowledge with them and seeing their enthusiasm about the workings of the human body.”
“The positive, eager attitude of the students and the camaraderie of my fellow teachers and staff were an important chapter in my life.”
How many years were you at Fenwick?
TE: 28 years, arriving in the fall of 1985. I retired in the spring of 2013.
What was your role/what classes did you teach?
TE: The majority of my day was spent as one of the class counselors, but I also taught Freshman English. Sophomore Honors English, along with cafeteria supervisor, were my duties in the later years.
Were you involved with any extra-curricular activities?
TE: At various periods, I was in charge of the National Honor Society, the Yearbook, the Video Yearbook, the Financial Aid Committee and the Fenwick Summer School. I also worked with Mr. Arellano in the Teacher Mentor Program.
How do you describe the Fenwick Community to other people?
TE: What comes closest to a core description is the term and idea of family: a close-knit group of distinct personalities, ages and backgrounds working together toward shared goals.
What do you miss most about Fenwick?
TE: The positive, eager attitude of the students and the camaraderie of my fellow teachers and staff were an important chapter in my life. I do miss these and treasure the memories.
Funniest Fenwick moments?
TE: There are many. Especially clear in my memory are the hilariously creative skits that were performed each year as part of our Homecoming rallies. Also, dress-ups during that whole week added to the fun.
Fondest Fenwick moments?
TE: On a personal level, the joy and lessons I learned from reading all of the students’ essays (both in-class and on college applications). Their dreams, their insights, their struggles-all were special.
With a school-wide focus, I was especially proud of the way the transition from all male to co-ed was handled. Faculty, teachers and students all made the new, lady Friars feel welcome and motivated. And what a success the change has been!
Do you have any words of wisdom for current students?
TE: We all know that at this point in your lives, one of the most powerful influences upon you are your peers — and you upon them. Associate yourself with those who have your best interests at heart; be a force for the good with your friends.
Any wise words or advice for the present faculty, staff or administration?
TE: With a position on our Condo Board, visits to L.A. Fitness three times per week, travel, volunteer work at PADS and other commitments, I’m kept busy. Some contacts with former students and co-workers add to my enjoyments.
On the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Fenwick junior from Berwyn reflected about the Blessed Mother’s special connection with the oppressed, the impoverished and the powerless.
By Chelsea Quiroga ’21
Today, we gather to celebrate and honor the virgin of
Guadalupe; the mother of Jesus, known to most of us as Mary. Just shy of 500
years ago the virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, who was an Aztec
peasant who had recently converted to Catholicism, on the hill of tepeyac just
outside of present day Mexico City.
She appeared with a green cloak covered in gold stars
as well as having the same olive complexion of that of the native Juan Diego.
She told him to build a church in honor of her, and he humbly accepted. Juan
Diego went back down the mountain into town to see the bishop and informed him
of his recent encounter.
Juan Diego told the bishop of Mary’s request, and the
bishop was doubtful and asked for Juan Diego to bring him proof of her
existence before he approved any construction. Mary appeared to Juan Diego for
a second time, and she responded to his request for proof by telling him to
gather the wild plants around the hill, which was very dry and desert like. She
told him to put them into his tilma, which was like toga, and not to open it
until he saw the bishop.
Juan Diego listened and carried the dried plants down
the hill, and when he came to the bishop he let down his tilma. In the place of
the dried, wild plants out fell dozens of red roses, and the image of Mary was
imprinted onto his tilma. Soon after, a church in her honor was constructed.
Ten years prior to her visitation to Juan Diego, Mexico had been conquered by
the Spanish and Catholic conversion was pushed onto the natives.
La virgen of Guadalupe’s appearance to a native
peasant caused many similar to Juan Diego to feel a sense of belonging in Catholic
faith and caused Catholicism to spread like wildfire. Mary’s visitation to a
poor native peasant demonstrates God’s love for all backgrounds and the special
connection had with those oppressed, impoverished and powerless. Her visitation
was a triumph and allowed for Mexicans and Latin Americans alike to have a
personal tie to their faith and gain a strong feeling of home with God.
A Forty-Niner alumnus and former Fenwick teacher
reflects on the heels of his 70th class reunion.
By Jack Spatafora, PhD. ’49
Everyone agrees that a good education is good for the nation. It gets thornier when it comes to defining a ‘good education.’ For 90 years, Fenwick High School has been addressing this issue the best way it knows how: by graduating hundreds of students each year equipped with both the academic and moral gifts needed to become the kind of citizens our complex times’ need.
From Aristotle to Aquinas to Jefferson, the ideal citizen is one who knows not only what to think but also how to think: clearly, logically, passionately. I experienced this at Fenwick, first as a student and then as a teacher. The day General MacArthur was accepting the surrender of Japan in September 1945, I was entering the old Scoville Avenue entrance as a freshman. Seven years later, I returned to teach U.S. History. That is experiencing Fenwick from both ends of the classroom!
Fenwick was much smaller and less equipped during the 1950s, and yet it was already sending some of the best and brightest into post-World War II America. Young men equipped and motivated with three of the academic tools most required for good citizenship: 1) facts, 2) ideas and 3) values:
As a faculty, we had this funny notion that there were facts, not alternative facts, be it science, math or history. Facts are stubborn, objective things that the student needs to confront, process and use in reaching conclusions.
When properly assessed and connected, facts become the essence of ideas. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
There is a third feature to good citizenship: values. If facts and ideas are essential as a foundation, values are the super-structure to the edifice — including respect for truth, honor, country and God. The ideal citizen embraces each, both profoundly and efficaciously. For as Alexander Hamilton put it: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Gazing back over these last 70 years, this is some of what I proudly remember. Both as a member of the Fenwick student body and later the Fenwick faculty. You might say I was twice blessed. Frankly, I say it all the time.
St. Jude Children’s Research
Hospital has been the backbone of the family of Sadie Briggs ’20 for four
By Sadie Briggs ’20
Editor’s note: Long-time Fenwick Speech Teacher Andy Arellano reports that Sadie Briggs presented this past summer to the St. Jude Leadership Society in Memphis, TN. “She began crafting her speech last April,” Mr. Arellano says proudly of his protégé. Sadie made the trip from River Forest with her grandfather and her mother, who knew nothing of about her presentation and really didn’t want to “waste the weekend.” During the speech, her surprised mom “broke down and cried,” Arellano says.
Today, I would like to thank everyone who has made this
experience possible. This is my second time being able to come to this event,
and even though I am up here again, this experience truly leaves me
Many people ask me why St. Jude means so much to me and, honestly, when I was little, I felt that my amazement was obvious. Everywhere I went, from my grandparent’s homes, to dinners, events, and more, St. Jude was always present. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet my great grandfather, Joseph Shaker, who explained the importance of this great hospital. My great grandpa was one of the co-founders of the hospital along with Danny Thomas. Being first generation Lebanese, with five children and a wife to support, my great grandfather decided to join Danny’s dream. Today, I am the oldest of 20 of Joseph Shaker’s great-grandchildren. Only my brother and I ever got the chance to meet my great grandfather, but trust me, all of the little ones hear enough about him to make them feel as if they had met him too. They also know that they have the duty to carry on his St. Jude legacy.
“Show me my way in life and I will build you a shrine.”
– Danny Thomas’ prayer to St. Jude Thaddeus
My great grandfather’s son, Joseph [Fenwick Class of 1968], my grandfather, has also played a major role in my love for this hospital and the St. Jude mission. He still actively participates on the St. Jude/ALSAC board. My grandfather is a person who is often described as one of a kind. Everyone who meets him falls in love with him, and there is nothing that makes him happier than helping St. Jude and teaching his five grandchildren about this hospital. Because of him, we all keep St. Jude so very close to our hearts.
Jude’s Mission Statement
The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research
Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric
catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the
vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race,
religion or a family’s ability to pay.
I first participated in the St. Jude Leadership Society when I was a freshman in high school. I was one of the youngest students present, and visiting the hospital for that first time changed everything for me. I became more grateful for all of the work that my family has done to support this wonderful facility. At that time, I also learned that everyone can play a role in helping St. Jude, no matter one’s occupation or college major. Even though I have no clue as to what I want to do when I am older, I do know that with God’s help I will always stay involved with the St. Jude mission.
Most faithful Friars can recite the four pillars of Dominican
life: 1) prayer, 2) study, 3) community and 4) preaching. Fenwick’s Kairos
retreats blend together three of these pillars (community, preaching and
praying), but it truly personifies prayer most of all. The nationally
recognized Roman Catholic program is a two-and-a-half day, off-campus
experience designed for high school students.
The word Kairos (from the Greek καιρός) “means ‘God’s time,’ ” translates former Theology Teacher Lucy White, who oversaw the senior retreat program at Fenwick for seven years before retiring in spring 2018.
“It is an opportunity for seniors to go apart and experience God,
others and themselves in a new way. Fenwick is unique in that, in keeping with
the Dominican tradition of preaching, the students, with adult supervision, are
the leaders of the retreat,” Mrs. White continues. “We train the student
leaders to give talks, lead small groups and guide the retreat. It is an
opportunity for the students to be honest, open and supportive of each other in
a safe, prayerful environment. Students open up and are supported by their
peers in their struggles, pressures and fears as well as their successes. The
senior class bonds as a whole, making life-long friendships. Many seniors say
that it is their best experience of Fenwick.”
Young alumnus Kyle Gruszka ’17, from Chicago and now a third-class (year) cadet at the United
States Air Force Academy, recounts: “Kairos really opened my eyes and helped me
connect to my classmates in ways I couldn’t even imagine.” A graduate of St.
Giles School in Oak Park, Gruszka is studying astronautical engineering in
Over more than three decades, nearly 10,000 Friar students have embarked on the student-run retreats. “I was on the very first Fenwick Kairos in December of 1985,” recalls former Campus Minister Fr. Dennis Woerter, O.P., D.Min. ’86, adding that fellow alumnus John Quinn ’76 was a faculty team member present at that inaugural retreat. Mr. Quinn remembers Kairos’ roots at Fenwick. “Father Peter Heidenrich, O.P., now deceased, was the driving force/founder of the program [here] ,” reports the long-time history/social studies teacher and former basketball coach.
Spanish Teacher and alumnus Jim Reardon ’86 served as a captain of that first Kairos, which was held at the Dominican House of Studies (Priory) in River Forest. A decade later, ’96 classmates turned Spanish and science teachers, respectively, Samantha Carraher and Brigid Esposito, were among the first female retreatants at Fenwick. Social Studies Teacher Gary Richied ’95 was the rector for that first co-ed Kairos in Fenwick history.
Fr. Heidenrich sought a spiritual component beyond classroom
instruction. “He wanted to create a cutting-edge retreat program,” Mr. Quinn
elaborates, wherein students could serve as living examples for each other. He
traveled around the United States to different Catholic high schools and
conferences, “probing and mining,” according to Quinn. “The vision was to seek
out young people of great leadership and faith potential to be ministers of
With the school being comprised solely of boys during Kairos’
inception, the wise priest thought it was critical to obtain buy-in from
coaches at the time, including Jim Nudera (football and wrestling) and Mike Latz ’81 (wrestling) in addition to theology teachers
such as Br. Carlos Griego. “Young men were being asked to take on very
different roles as faith leaders,” explains Quinn, then the Friars’ head
varsity basketball coach. “Bringing in coaches as part of the Kairos leadership
team was an integral part of Heidenrich’s strategy.” Strong support from the
top down came from then-President Fr. William Bernacki, O.P., notes Quinn,
followed later by Fr. Robert Botthof, O.P. and Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50.
Adds Athletic Director/alumnus Scott Thies ’99, “Kairos is a great tool for breaking down the barriers that
often exist among different groups of teenagers.”
Fr. Woerter continues: “We all have an inherent desire to be and
feel loved. Despite what may be going on in a student’s life, Kairos is an
opportunity for him or her to simply experience love. Love of God and love of
neighbor are two elements of the Great Commandment,” notes Woerter, who left
Fenwick this past spring to become associate pastor with the St. Paul Catholic
Center (Newman Center) at Indiana University. “Kairos allows the student to
feel loved by both God and neighbor. I have witnessed the life-changing effect
of Kairos, not only for individuals, but for entire classes.”
In mid-October, 51 members of the Class of 2020 — 25 boys and 26
girls — bused to the Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington, IL, some 50
miles northwest of Oak Park and Chicago. Fenwick facilitates six such retreats
each school year, explains Math Teacher Maria Nowicki, who is in her second
year of directing Kairos, which falls under the Campus Ministry umbrella. Two
similar groups had their Kairos this past June and September, and three more
will occur in December and next January and March.
“Our hope is that these young people grow stronger in their faith,
get closer to God and actually feel His love during their time at Kairos,” Mrs.
Nowicki says, emphasizing that the program is run by the students. A core team
of 10 seniors, “who have made their own Kairos,” lead each retreat, she points
out, while two others serve as rectors. “These students put on the retreats for
their peers,” Nowicki notes, “and are assisted by a team of six adults.”
Kairos days and nights are rich in personal, heart-felt
reflections and intimate sharing. More often than not, hearing their peers open
up emotionally forges bonds and strengthens connections between classmates.
What does it mean to Fenwick students chosen to be retreat leaders?
Joe Zawacki ’20, one member of the current senior leadership team, shares: “The
opportunity to be a Kairos leader has to be the blessing for which I am most
grateful in my life right now. The chance you have to preach God’s love and
then witness it in action among the retreatants as they learn to embrace Kairos
is indescribable,” says Zawacki, a musician and soccer player who hails from
Oak Park and is a member of the Fenwick Math Team. “I don’t see anything better
in life than this retreat and its power to bring our grade together, from one
retreat to the next.”
Classmate Kennedy Berschel ’20 adds, “As a Kairos leader, I have never grown more respect or
appreciation for the people I surround myself with every day at Fenwick. The
overwhelming sense of trust, vulnerability and love displayed on every retreat
is something that can only be described as God’s presence.” Berschel plans to
study and play women’s soccer (she is a midfielder) at the University of
Illinois next year.
Fellow senior and soccer defender Joe Sedlacek asserts, “The Kairos retreat has by far been
the highlight of my four years here at Fenwick as I have actively been part of
a life-changing program that unites an entire class into one, loving family. It
taught me that no matter how different we may seem from each other, we are
similar in a multitude of ways and can build lasting relationships.” Sedlacek,
who grew up in La Grange Park and attended Park Junior High School, adds, “I am
eternally grateful for the Kairos experience and hope every student feels the
What recent alumni are saying
Young alumna Meredith Kisla ’15, who graduated from high school four and a half years ago,
relates, “Leading and rectoring Kairos was my greatest experience at Fenwick. I
had the opportunity to deepen my relationships with my classmates, myself and
my faith over the course of three days, and truly believe it has shaped the way
I carry out my life.”
Kisla, who hails from Western Springs (St. Francis Xavier) and
graduated from Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame, IN) added, “Kairos is such a
wonderful experience, and I am forever grateful for the many lessons, friends
and memories I gained from each retreat.” This past spring, she began a career
in public accounting in London, U.K.
Her 2015 classmate Pete Salvino, a former Friar football player and recent neuroscience/electrical
engineering graduate of Johns Hopkins, “was lucky enough to take part in Kairos
twice; the second time as a leader. It really was unlike any other experience I
had at Fenwick and gave me new appreciation for the type of people my classmates
are.” Salvino grew up in River Forest and went to Roosevelt Middle School.
Other recent Fenwick graduates echo Salvino’s praise for the
retreats. Daniela Echiveste
’16 credits Kairos as the
one Fenwick experience that changed her the most. “The experience made me
realize how blessed I am and to always keep in mind what other people are going
through in life,” says the native Chicagoan (John Spry Community School) who is
majoring in advertising management at Michigan State.
“Kairos really helped each person become
closer to those around them and helped us realize that everyone has a story,
and we don’t know what others have been through,” adds Elmhurst native and
fellow alumna Margaret
now a senior nursing student at Saint Louis University. “Showing kindness to
someone who is secretly going through a rough time can make a world of
difference to them. I am going to carry this with me through my nursing career
and offer love and kindness in all that I do.”
Jakarie Gates, their 2016 classmate and a senior at Morehouse College in
Atlanta, notes, “Kairos taught me not to take the important things in life for
granted: love and appreciation. Kairos made me appreciate time more.” Gates,
who aspires to work in public relations/social media after graduation, also
grew up in Chicago and attended St. Malachy Catholic School. He has been active
in the North Lawndale Reads project through the Steans Family Foundation.
Anastasia Velliotis, another ’16 classmate, notes, “I absolutely loved Kairos because
I feel that is when our class really connected the most. Being able to hear
everyone’s story was incredibly inspirational and something that I will truly
cherish and remember forever.” Velliotis, originally from Western Springs (La
Grange Highlands Middle School), now is a senior in the University of Illinois’
Gies College of Business.
Adds Lina, Anastasia’s
mother, “I do believe the Fenwick Mission that inspires excellence and educates
each student to lead, achieve and serve resonates with Friars long after they
graduate. Fenwick should be proud!”
“The Fenwick Mission — that inspires excellence and educates each student to lead, achieve and serve — resonates with Friars long after they graduate.”
— past parent
So what goes on at Kairos?
There is an air of mystery surrounding Kairos. Seniors
sort of know what it is, but they are not truly certain of what happens at the
big retreat. There are wake-up and clean-up logistics, of course. “Kairos is
simply something which needs to be experienced,” stresses Brother Joseph Trout,
O.P., Chair of Fenwick’s Theology Department. “Knowing the sequence of events
does not tell you what Kairos is any more than outlining a married couple’s
daily schedule really tells you what it is like to be married.”
Alumnus Charlie Myers ’17 reflected on
his own retreat experience three years ago. “Kairos was hands down the Fenwick
experience that changed me most,” concludes Myers, a junior marketing major at
Bradley University in Peoria, IL, who was raised in Chicago (Catalyst Circle
Rock Elementary School). “But I won’t say too much — to not spoil it for the
Classmate Lauren Lombard ’17, of Western
Springs (St. John of the Cross), perhaps says it best. “Kairos at the beginning
of my senior year showed me the love that surrounded me at Fenwick and allowed
our grade to unite around each other for the remainder of our time together.”
Now a college junior, Lombard is a chemical engineering major at the University
of Notre Dame.
The environment of Kairos is extraordinarily
supportive, explains Isabelle Bucolo ’20, a senior retreat co-leader for
the 2019-20 school year. “Because of this, most people have found it to be a
comfortable outlet for them to open up to others and to themselves. I am
typically an open book,” admits Bucolo, an Elmhurst resident and accomplished
alto singer (All-District) in the Fenwick Choir, “but Kairos has given me even
more of an opportunity, and a great platform, for me to tell my story in order
to help others. Kairos shows us that we have our own built-in support system. I
think Kairos is incredible for this reason: not only are you helping yourself,
but you are helping others.”
praise for Kairos
“I would love to relive Kairos,” admits alumna Eryn Kulik
’16, a senior advertising major at the University of Illinois in
Champaign-Urbana. “Kairos is a retreat that will bring classmates together to
form life-long friendships. It is also a way for students to get to know God
and themselves. Through Kairos I have learned to love and appreciate everything
and everyone around me in a more positive way!” says Kulik, a double Friar (St.
Vincent Ferrer) from Elmwood Park.
“My Kairos experiences shaped who I am today,” reveals
Vulich ’15, a former college swimmer at Bellarmine University in
Louisville. “I learned something different as a retreatant, leader and rector.
The retreat that stands out the most was my final Kairos and helping Fr. Dennis
navigate the process. I owe that retreat for making me believe in my leadership
skills,” recalls Vulich, a La Grange Park native (Cossitt Elementary and Park
Junior High); she now is a Wellness and Recreation Graduate Assistant at St.
Ambrose University in Iowa.
“The Fenwick experience that changed me was Kairos,”
Blakeney ’18, who plays football with his twin brother, Lorente, at
Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL, where he is majoring in
health science. “Before attending the trip, I had my doubts on whether I would
even enjoy myself. I ended up reconnecting with a lot of people I used to talk
to and meeting people who I’d never had a conversation with before.” The
Blakeney brothers grew up in Chicago and attended Washington Irving Elementary
Rachel McCarthy ’17, an English literature/psychology double major at Illinois Wesleyan University, adds: “To me, Kairos was a powerful experience of acceptance and healing.” Ms. McCarthy grew up in Riverside and attended St. Mary School there.
Determining the “best” is a
notoriously complicated task. Is the best team the one with the most wins? The
one with the most potential? The one that wins the last game? The one that won
the most consistently?
This is no less challenging in
classes. Are good students the ones with the best scores; with the clearest understanding
of the material; or with the most original thought? What of those who ask the
best questions? The list goes on.
As a teacher of morality, the task
becomes even more complicated. Some students are standouts, not because they
always get the questions right on the tests, but because they have lived through
difficulty and grasp immediately the significance of moral issues. Others have
a deep, personal commitment to faith and justice: They innately grasp what it
means to be good and raise the level of discussion, but can’t always explain
their convictions perfectly. Others still have a nuanced grasp of ideas and ace
the tests but demonstrate no real commitment to enacting justice in their
lives. Which of those is the best?
All of this is to say that a theology class remains a great equalizer in Catholic education. Everyone, regardless of personal beliefs and upbringing, needs to wrestle with the big-picture questions of life. Does God exist or not? If so, who or what is God? What is a just world? What counts as a life well lived? No one can afford to live the “unexamined life.”
Because the subject matter is
usually beyond all of us (God), everyone needs to reach beyond themselves and
question their assumptions about reality. Yet it is also deeply personal — who
am I? What does it mean to be me? What is my relation to God, neighbor,
society? How will I know that I have lived well? Some of the highest achieving
students struggle tremendously with that kind of introspection, while some of
the lowest achievers soar.
At the end of the day, theology is
an excellent subject to help develop humility because you face an unconquerable
task. Calculus and grammar can be mastered, but not theology. Its subject is a
transcendent God who is infinitely more complex than the human mind can
understand. We can learn many truths about God and come to a deep understanding
of and relationship with God, but we cannot tame God. No matter how brilliant,
good, insightful, original or articulate we are, we remain equal as short-lived
creatures before the one who simply is.
Perhaps the students who grasp this,
who know precisely what it is that they do not comprehend, are the best ones of
All Fenwick students, regardless of religious affiliation, study four years of Theology:
Theology I: Scripture
Theolgy II: The Mission of Jesus Christ and Sacraments
Theology III: Moral Theology
Theology IV: Interreligious Dialog (may be taken for college credit) and Dominican Spirituality
“How Fenwick Students Minister to Others” (Fall 2018 Friar Reporter, beginning on page 6).
It should come as no surprise that lacrosse is one of
the fastest-growing sports in the United States. The sport’s participation
numbers have been on the rise for the better part a decade. Nationally, more
than 210,000 high school student-athletes now played organized lacrosse (as of
2018), according to statistics tracked by the National Federation of High
School Associations. Some 113,000 of those
participants were boys, while nearly 97,000 were girls. At the youth
level, more than 825,000 children age 13 and under now play “LAX,” reports US
People from the East Coast know lacrosse; most of us
from the Midwest, not so much. More than 30 years ago, some college boys were
playing catch — with nets on sticks — an hour north of Chicago. “What is that?” asked a local, curious observer
while his friends from Boston, New Jersey and New York looked on and laughed.
“Lacrosse is a great game,” attests new Fenwick Boys’ Head Coach Dan Applebaum, who grew up in Oak Park, IL, playing baseball as a kid since the age of six. Applebaum worked at New Wave Lacrosse in Naperville and assisted the staffs at Oak Park-River Forest (his alma mater) as well as Lyons Township high schools in La Grange. He was a Friars’ varsity assistant coach for several seasons before accepting the boys’ head coaching job at Northside College Prep in Chicago (2018-19). Athletic Director Scott Thies ’99 tapped Applebaum as the Fenwick boys’ head coach earlier this year.
Applebaum first picked up a lacrosse stick as a
freshman at OPRF in 2005-06. “I wasn’t good enough to play baseball in high
school,” he admits, adding that perhaps he had outgrown America’s so-called pastime,
which was beginning to bore him as a young teenager. What he liked most about
lacrosse is that it is “such a skill-based sport,” the coach explains. “You
don’t have to be the biggest, fastest or strongest [athlete].” The blend of
athleticism and physicality appeals to many boys. It may sound overly
simplistic, but “if you can pass and catch, you can be on the field,” he
Molly Welsh ’20, a senior leader on this coming season’s team who hails from Elmhurst, has been a member of East Ave. for the past two years. “I started lacrosse when I was in fourth grade but quit because I had other sports,” Welsh explains. She picked up a stick again as a freshman and has “loved it ever since. Lacrosse is very different from other sports,” she says. “It is one of the fastest and most competitive sports I have ever played.”
Junior teammate Maggie Chudik (Western Springs) had a similar experience. “I had tried lacrosse in elementary school, but it wasn’t until my freshman year at Fenwick that it became my main sport,” she says. “The Fenwick lacrosse team is such an amazing, supportive group of girls that I feel so lucky to be a part of. “
Fellow junior Declan Donnelly ’21 adds: “Lacrosse has been a large part of my life at Fenwick. My lacrosse experience started at a young age playing for the local lacrosse team,” says Donnelly, a two-sport student-athlete (he started at linebacker this season for the Friars’ varsity, playoff football team) who lives in Berwyn and attended St. Mary’s School in Riverside. “Not only has lacrosse helped me to make the transition into high school, but it has allowed for me to develop skills that would be helpful to me in other sports,” the defenseman points out. “Being a lacrosse player has allowed me to develop skills that have helped me greatly while being on the football field.
“The summer of seventh grade I decided to attend the Fenwick Lacrosse Camp because I was hoping to play for the Friars,” Donnelly recalls. At the end of the camp, Jerry Considine (then coaching at Fenwick) asked whether Declan might be interested in playing for the combined youth and high school lacrosse [U14] team that he was putting together. This was the start, in 2015, of the East Ave. program, which added a girls’ division two years later headed up by Tracy Bonaccorsi, who now is the new girls’ HC at Fenwick (see below). Donnelly plays for Fenwick and East Ave., the latter of which he describes as “a thriving program with teams of all ages, for both boys and girls hoping to play lacrosse for sport or fun. The best part about having an elite, club program in the local area, notes Coach Bonaccorsi, is that it gives kids “the opportunity to improve their game and play more than just the three-month high school season.”
Donnelly credits the East Ave.
program and coaches for most of his high-school lacrosse success. “When I came
to Fenwick I was nervous to play lacrosse,” he admits, “but once I met the team,
I never looked back. I was on varsity my freshman year when we made it to the
Super Sectional Round. To this day, I am friends and stay in contact with many
of the guys on that Super Sectional team. Fenwick lacrosse is a family and
always will be.”
“Lacrosse is fast-paced,” adds Coach Applebaum, who helps
to direct the East Ave. club program (he is one of three founders), now in its
fifth year. “There is a lot of running up and down the field. Guys [and gals] get
gassed, even in practice! The game is engaging and exhausting, which is partly
why parents love it,” he laughs.
All kidding aside, Applebaum notes that the sport’s creativity
was a lure for him. Lacrosse is “a very individual team sport.” What does he
mean by that paradox? “What I mean is that every person on the field has his or
her own style of play – but there still is a team around you.” He acknowledges
that much of the game’s strategy is similar to basketball. However, the skill
set is very different. “I didn’t need anyone else to go out with me to
practice,” he continues. “I figured out ways to make wall-ball fun.”
He expects to see as many as 45 Fenwick boys out for the two teams (varsity and junior varsity) this coming spring. The girls’ squad has even bigger numbers: “There are 70 [female] names on my list for JV and varsity,” reveals new Head Coach Tracy Bonnacorsi, who comes to the Friars by way of East Ave. and Trinity High School in River Forest, where she built up the Blazers’ program over the past three seasons. Five of her players have gone on to play collegiately.
The girls’ version of the game features more finesse and less body checking. (The boys wear helmets.) “We have 20 to 30 girls consistently showing up for [weight] lifting and open gyms,” Coach Bonaccorsi says. One of those players is junior Caroline Finn(Western Springs), who was an All-Conference selection last season as a sophomore.
“I have played with Coach ‘Bono’ [at East Ave.] since I was a sophomore,” Welsh notes. “She is a very encouraging and determined coach. I believe she will push us more than we have been in the past in order to go far in playoffs.” Teammate Chudik adds: “Coach Bono brings a positive energy to the field that I think drives my love and my teammates’ love for lacrosse.”
Bonaccorsi was a multi-sport athlete who graduated from Montini Catholic in Lombard. She became interested in lacrosse when her older sister, Annie, instituted the first-ever lacrosse team at the high school in 2005-06. After playing for the Broncos, the younger Bonaccorsi played and studied at Concordia University in Irvine, CA. Before returning to the Chicago area to take the job at Trinity, she coached at Beckman High in Irvine for two years (while still attending college) and with the Buku club team in Southern California. Her degree is in business administration with an emphasis in sports management. At Fenwick, Tracy’s full-time role is as an assistant to the athletic director.
As for Applebaum’s LAX “pedigree,” after his
All-Conference senior season at OPRF, he played junior-college lacrosse in
Pennsylvania — and then at Mars Hill University (NCAA Div. II) in North
Carolina. As a midfielder there, he garnered second team All-Conference
recognition. Applebaum also has played internationally at the Indoor World
Championships, coming in fifth place as a member of Team Israel.
Increased media visibility is aiding lacrosse’s popularity
among American youth, Applebaum believes. Fifteen years ago, “there were like
four games on TV all year,” he remembers. “Now, they broadcast college games
four to six times per week! You just have to know where to look for them.”
Like ice hockey, lacrosse has a reputation of being an expensive sport to play: Buying a new helmet, stick, gloves, elbow and shoulder pads can cost upwards of $500 per player. However, organizations such as US Lacrosse are making it more affordable, especially for rural as well as inner-city kids. (US Lacrosse is the national governing body of men and women’s lacrosse in the United States.) Its “First Stick Program” grants sticks and protective gear for up to 20 field players and one goalie. Heading into its ninth year, First Stick has leveraged the support of generous individual, foundation and corporate donors into $10 million worth of equipment to give more than 22,000 kids on 760+ teams (448 boys, 320 girls), in every region of the country, the opportunity to play lacrosse — many for the first time.
Locally, Coach Applebaum cites the OWLS sports-based, non-profit youth development organization, which creates opportunities for underserved youth in Chicago. With lacrosse as its foundation, OWLS provides impactful mentorship and access to scholarships, improving the academic and social outcomes of the youth it serves. Bonaccorsi serves on its executive board.
Did you know that lacrosse has its origins in a tribal game played by eastern Woodlands Native Americans and by some Plains Indians tribes in what is now the United States of America and Canada? European colonizers to North America extensively modified the game to create its current collegiate and professional form.
Friars in 2020
“I am excited for this upcoming lacrosse season and highly
recommend anyone who is considering playing, even in the slightest, to come out
and try it,” Donnelly encourages. “There is always room for new players, and
all are welcome. You won’t regret it, and I know this because I didn’t.”
Donnelly says he is eager to see how Applebaum
plans to take the Fenwick program to an even higher level. “I have now known Coach
Dan for many years,” Donnelly concludes. “He is a great coach who I know has
the skills and ability to lead us on the right path. I have great faith in him
and the coaching staff that he is bringing in to help him. Coach Dan … is
a large reason why I have become the player I am today.
“If you would like to play, don’t be shy, contact me or any
of my fellow teammates.”