Turning Pain into Purpose

How Friar alumni are changing the face of cancer support with buddhi.

By alumna guest blogger Kathleen Brown ’00

Starting a new school without many friends is rough. Doing it while 14 years old and in cancer treatment out of state was less than ideal. For the first four months at Fenwick, I was back and forth between Chicago and Memphis — where St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is based — receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments for a rare form of bone cancer.

Meanwhile, I tried to fit in with my new classmates and keep my illness, wig and scars under wraps, somewhat unsuccessfully. It helped having an older brother (Kevin Brown ’98*) there to look out for me, but ultimately until I started to open up about what I was going through, it was challenging for me to make genuine connections and begin to heal. It was in the Fenwick cafeteria where I told new friends about my illness, and in the women’s bathroom adjacent where I exposed my wig and began to see that, although I was different in some ways, we were all going through something. 

As I looked forward to my final chemotherapy treatment in early December freshman year — ready to put cancer behind me — I was unprepared for the mental-health crisis compounded by the loss of my guardian angel, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, to a cancer recurrence two weeks before. 

I was fortunate enough to meet Cardinal Bernardin at the start of my cancer journey, and we became pen pals; he was one of the only people I felt comfortable opening up to about my real feelings. It felt like “my friend Joe” and I understood each other.

Several months into my treatment protocol, while at the local children’s hospital where we met, I developed a staph infection that eventually sent my body into septic shock. Without much hope of my survival, my parents asked him to perform the Anointing of the Sick. Miraculously, my vitals stabilized and they were able to transfer my care to St. Jude, where we stayed connected through letters and phone calls. (This was before the days of the Internet, cell phones and social media!) Although I didn’t have any friends my age in cancer treatment, it was comforting to know that he had been through it and, as a survivor, did so much to support others. 

When I learned of his passing on November 14th, the grief and loss I felt was suffocating. Until then, as a naive teenager, cancer had been an inconvenience; a temporary setback. I could not comprehend how the disease could take this incredible man’s life and spare my own. While my family and friends prepared to celebrate the end of my treatment and Christmas at home, I put on a brave face — and quietly plotted to end my life.

“I … quietly plotted to end my life.”

Kathleen Brown

Survivor’s guilt is one of the many mental-health side effects that cancer patients experience and are ill-equipped to manage on their own. If I expressed how I really felt — sad, scared sh!tless, angry, anxious — how would it make my loved ones feel? For so many of us, it feels like we’re the only one in pain, but suffering is part of the shared human experience. 

I credit my family, friends and teachers at Fenwick, and social activities I engaged in (Student Council, softball, basketball, Campus Ministry and Kairos) for getting me through my darkest days. Once I began to share, the world seemed to open up, and I got more comfortable being myself, scars and all. After I was declared “cancer-free,” I got involved in giving back to the community, through a variety of fundraising activities for St. Jude and as a mentor to many other patients. As a public speaker, volunteer, event organizer and board member, I found fulfillment in serving others, and living Fenwick values to lead, achieve and serve. Despite finding success in advertising sales for over a decade with Comcast and Disney/ESPN, I yearned to do more with St. Jude and accepted a fundraising leadership position to work for a fellow Friar (Jenny DiBenedetto-McKenna ’97) in 2014, where I spent five years in field event and corporate development — a true dream job.

During my time fundraising for St. Jude, I got to meet thousands of people impacted by cancer. With our shared experience; I learned how many were also putting on a brave face, quietly suffering in silence while their friends and family had no idea about their private struggles. On nights and weekends, I sketched ideas of a “pipe dream” business plan for a platform that would bridge the divide between patients and well-intentioned supporters; where patients in treatment and recovery could connect with each other in an online community with events and resources that felt more fun and upbeat — like a place you wanted to go back to. And users would be empowered to share how they were feeling with a social tool, complete with helpful prompts for family and friends to support them with love notes or wellness wallet funds that could be redeemed for things like a meditation app or a therapy session.

Photo taken of buddhi members by Enas Siddiqi, July 2019.

I was reminded about the gift of wellness in January 2019, when results from a secondary cancer biopsy came back clear of disease, and decided to leave my job at St. Jude and go all-in to make buddhi (“to be awake”) a reality, because when it comes to coping with cancer, we could all use a bud. After months of research and development, I raised capital (from a number of Friar alumni!) to build the platform and make strategic hires to launch in October 2020, with the first being our Community Director, who also happens to be my sister, Meagan Brown ’07

Alumni the Brown sisters.

While we are just getting started, with social and marketplace features coming in the first quarter of 2021, buddhi has already made a big impact in the lives of thousands of cancer thrivers and supporters. None of it would be possible if not for support from the Fenwick community and the values instilled in us to lead with service. I have audacious goals for what buddhi can accomplish, because the need is both great and urgent, given compounded isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one should have to go through cancer alone, and I am reminded daily of the power of community to heal.

If you’d like to join our community or be part of our mission, please visit hibuddhi.com or drop me a line: kathleen@hibuddhi.com.

READ MORE ABOUT THE FENWICK – ST. JUDE CONNECTION.

* Brian ’95, Kevin ’98, Kathleen ’00 and Meagan Brown ’07 are the children of Mary Kay and Fenwick alumnus/Hall of Famer Pete Brown ’71, whose father, Roger, was a proud member of the Friars’ Class of 1946.

Friars Not Just Local Power

By Ted Londos
(Originally published in the Oak Leaves newspaper, April 1972)

“There will always be a Fenwick. Yes indeed, the prep-renowned Friars will continue to make the usual good brand of history in both the academic and sports world for many years to come.”

These were the unequivocal utterances of youthful, brilliant Richard B. Kennedy , assistant principal of this great school when interviewed by this reporter.

My two-hour-long visit to Friarland was dictated by an abundance of disturbing rumors that Fenwick would eventually meet the same fate that befell a few of their Catholic high school counterparts, because of dire pecuniary straits. Well, after much talk and probing with other official Fenwick sources – I was assured, in no uncertain language, this just ain’t so!

Tony Lawless and Dan O’Brien in unison couldn’t conceive of anyone entertaining the idea of an exodus for the Friars from the Catholic prep ranks. Fenwick’s lofty status in the all-important fields of academics and athletics precludes such idle chatter. This writer evokes an Amen.

How many Oak Park-River Forest citizens know the splendid history of Fenwick?

I know that over the many, many years – folk from everywhere marveled at the architectural beauty of Fenwick High School. Our people exuded pride, and the school building was acclaimed by countless as “the most esthetic looking edifice in our village.” It is located on Washington Blvd., between Scoville and East avenues.

Variety is given in its 300-foot length by the wall in front of the gymnasium, the extended tower in the center of the building, and the castellated effect in the main entrance. Its three stories contain 19 class rooms, laboratories, library, cafeteria, swimming pool and gymnasium. Modern equipment in class rooms and laboratories add to the efficiency of its educational facilities.

Fenwick owes its birth to an invitation extended in 1928 by George Cardinal Mundelein, Archbishop of Chicago; to the Dominican Fathers, and the founding principal, the Rev. Leo C. Gainor, to erect and administer a new high school to serve the educational needs to the rapidly growing west side of Chicago and its western suburbs. The school, begun in November, 1928, was finished in August of 1929 and opened its doors to the first students in September of the same year.

Fenwick was chosen as its name in honor of the pioneer Dominican in the United States and the first Bishop of Cincinnati, Edward Dominic Fenwick, whose educational ideals and labors contributed so much to the early Catholic history of the Middle West.

It’s common knowledge that Fenwick is primarily a day school for boys – offering every facility for the highest and broadest mental culture. The big aim is to provide a thoroughly dependable foundation in solid elemental subjects conducive for college and for life in the world.

Fenwick’s faculty is second to none in the world of storied three or four R’s and higher learning. In addition to regular collegiate work – they have followed the seven year course of philosophical and theological subjects in the various Dominican Houses of Studies and have made special studies for advanced degrees in leading Catholic and European universities.

In the 43 years of its existence, Fenwick’s record in the field of sports can be tagged as truly spectacular – one of the finest athletic programs in the United States – always under the superlative coaching guidance of the great Tony Lawless. More important, countless members of its graduating classes have won exceptional recognition and honors in colleges throughout the United States. Add to this the many, many athletes who brought fame to their respective colleges as well as to the Friars [and] to Oak Park.

At the University of Notre Dame, out of representatives of 800 preparatory and secondary schools, the graduates of Fenwick have consistently ranked first in group excellence. At Xavier and Holy Cross, Fenwick alumni attained a Percentile mark of 90.9 percent, to rank second among graduates of 50 schools. Similar records at Purdue, St. Benedicts, and Providence College bear strong evidence of the type of training received at Fenwick and of the scholastic ability of its graduates.

We fervently pray and hope that this still-young school will ever remain the major force in the education and formation of the young men of Oak Park and the Chicago area.

Eulogizing Fenwick Athletic Legend Tony Lawless (1903-1976)

His closest friend for 46 years summed up the great Coach’s qualities in an address to Friar student-athletes one month after his death at age 73.

By late coach/trainer Dan O’Brien ’34
(Fenwick Sports Banquet, December 1976)

Editor’s Note: In 1929, 250 people applied for the position of athletic director at Fenwick High School, an all-boys Catholic school opening in September of that year. Principal/President Fr. Leo Gainor, O.P. selected 26-year-old Anthony R. Lawless to direct the new school’s athletic program. From Peoria, IL, Mr. Lawless was a graduate of Loyola University, Chicago, and the lone layperson among the then all-Dominican faculty and staff. He was the Friars’ head football coach from 1929-56 (record: 177-43-8). A member of the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame, Lawless also was Fenwick’s head basketball coach (1929-47) and founded the Chicago Catholic League Coaches Association.

There comes a time in the life of every athlete when he draws back and takes a hard look at his experiences in order to assess the returns that might have been. His initial inclination will be to recall the emotional peaks, the victories: the win over Loyola’s football team; the cross country effort against Gordon Tech; the golf team’s close finish in the league and district competition; our tennis team’s dramatic victory in straight sets. It is perfectly natural to cling to these memories for personal satisfaction.

However, your more meaningful returns – rewards that will affect your lifestyle and personality – will come in the form of your character-information. This type of return will, in most cases, come as the result of behavior patterns formed from personal contacts – benefits derived from the regard you have for your leader or coach. No doubt most of you, presumably, have developed this type of respect for your respective coaches.

I believe it is very timely to consider the returns we have received from our association with the incomparable Tony Lawless. This very unusual man had personal characteristics that are rare by any standard of reference. His lifestyle was anything but commonplace; it was truly unique. Father Conley’s beautiful homily reflected insight into Tony’s character in his peak years as a coach. My forty-six years with him have given me a singular opportunity to discern what made him tick and the legacy he has left us.

A Supreme Court justice said he learned in his youth a lesson that remained indelible throughout his life: human happiness is not gained from a series of pleasures but from total dedication to a goal above and beyond oneself.

An even greater authority said: “He who loses his life shall find it; he who finds his life shall lose it.” It is a lesson of history that happiness comes only to those who surrender themselves to a work greater than themselves. There is no greater delight than to feel necessary to something you love. A young mother, even if ill herself, when walking the floor at midnight with her sick infant, is doing what she prefers to all else in the world. Children never understand mother until they have children of their own. Tony would have no trouble discerning that young mother’s feelings.

Father Gainor, the founding principal of Fenwick and a priest of exceptional talent and insight – who brought Tony to Fenwick – had a “rule of thumb” in judging the potential value of a student or employee. He believed that a person, regardless of his shortcomings, had value to Fenwick if he had demonstrated love for Fenwick. Tony Lawless was close to the heart of that tradition.

Tony truly loved his work in a most extraordinary way; he really relished coming to work in the morning. The size of his salary was of little or no consideration with him. He filled his every day in a work he deeply loved; being paid for it was a bonus.

Tony was a romantic at heart. While still very young, he fell in love with Fenwick and all it stood for. To the very end, that love was undiminished. What he left us came from a great heart in love with a sublime dream.

Photo album of Coach Tony Lawless:

Cold War on the Airwaves: The Radio Propaganda War Against East Germany

Almost 50 years since graduation, this loyal alumnus still is writing book reviews for Fenwick!

By Timothy Fitzpatrick ’71 (MAJ, USA, Ret.), HHC Berlin Brigade and 4th BN, 6th in 1980-1983

In 1970 I was bombarded with images of the world as seen through U.S. media and prevailing opinion-makers in the United States as the Vietnam War was dragging on and numerous Communist challenges were confronting our country. I was a 17-year-old Fenwick High School rising senior that summer and took my first flight ever, on my first overseas experience ever, and landed in Berlin for 10 days of my six-week Foreign Study League German immersion program led by Father Nicholas Aschenbrenner, O.P., our Fenwick German instructor. Our group took some of our meals in the Free University dining hall where tables covered with Marxist and Maoist literature were hawking their wares mostly to students trying to ignore them. I bought an ITT Schaub – Lorenz radio and listened across many bands to various broadcasts and was surprised at the clarity of BBC world broadcast and Voice of America compared to other nation’s broadcasts. I even tuned into Radio Albania, which would turn anyone away from Marxism by their heavy-handed diatribes.

As a group, we began a tour of East Berlin by walking through Check Point Charlie. In contrast to the relaxed, confident and friendly U.S. MPs [military police] at Checkpoint Charlie, the East German foreign visitor checkpoint was designed to intimidate — with your passport disappearing and sense that the wait gave them time to begin a file on you and make you nervous; both, in fact, true. Once through and walking along Friedrichstrasse towards Unter den Linden, there were numerous anti-USA posters in English, clearly aimed at me.

East Berlin was a sad contrast to West Berlin in all things. I was saddened to see a burned-out Cathedral and nearby the twin French and German Churches barely standing in the shell of their walls with trees growing through. The Alexander Platz shopping area and the newly opened (October 1969) Berliner Fernsehturm or Pope’s Revenge (we mistakenly called it the funkturm) were clearly meant to be a showcase for DDR [German Democratic Republic] progressiveness, but the lack of goods in shops gave away the lie. I was amazed that East Berlin youth were not listening to Radio Berlin DDR broadcasts emanating from that tower, but to RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) and U.S. Military Armed Forces Network broadcasts. The contrast between communism and its threat to freedom and Western democracy and capitalism and freedom could not be made starker to me, and this is where I decided to join the U.S. Army.

My experiences as a youth in Berlin, as a member of the Berlin Brigade and as a Psychological Operations Officer, have always made me appreciate RIAS, but I never knew the breadth and depth of what RIAS meant to U.S. efforts in Berlin and to the people of East Germany. Nicholas J. Schlosser, in his book Cold War on the Airwaves: The Radio Propaganda War against East Germany, has given us a precious gift to our understanding of the contributions of RIAS to the psychological combat between the Soviet block and the United States and between the contrasts in freedom between East and West Germany. The book sums up the importance of RIAS to East Germans, Berliners and the United States powerfully when Schlosser writes “….RIAS went from being just a purveyor of news and information to a quasi-United States Embassy, a representative of the United States  in East Germany.” RIAS was founded by and controlled by the United States but staffed by German-Berliners and engaged in the front lines of influence and political warfare against communism.

Schlosser relates the early foundations of RIAS to counter Radio Berlin that the Soviets took despite being in the British Sector (the Eifel Tower-like Funkturm) and refused to share with the other occupying powers. To compete, though late, the American Forces initiated broadcasts on the old, Nazi-wired (telephone line) radio system developed so allied WWII bombers could not home in on Berlin through a signal. This Wired (Drahtfunk) Broadcasting in the American Sector (DIAS) initiated U.S. broadcasting in its sector as the voice of the U.S. Occupation Government. It soon began radio broadcast and became Radio (Rundfunk) in the American Sector (RIAS).

Schlosser relates the stages of RIAS effort over time and in reaction to Berlin and world events. Throughout its history, RIAS emphasis on credible and objective news from a United States perspective and calling out DDR and communist failings were its hallmark. The people of East Germany came to rely on this during crisis after crisis, starting with the Berlin Airlift during the 17 June 1953 East German uprising and Soviet suppression, the Berlin crisis and the construction of the wall, and during the long period of the Cold War, easing tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the collapse of the wall, and Berlin and German reunification.

Schlosser writes this book not in a technical manner, but in very human terms that goes to the heart of RIAS’s dedicated staff and their understanding of the information (and entertainment) needs of their audience in clear contrast to communist deterministic programming. 

I strongly recommend this book for all students of history as you explore the totality of what the U.S. meant to Berliner’s on both sides of the wall and to complement our own understanding of RIAS giving voice to what we in the U.S. and allied forces physically stood for. 

RIAS still exists as the RIAS Berlin Commission. The RIAS Berlin Commission was founded in 1992 as a binational organization for the promotion of German-American understanding in the field of broadcasting and promotes the exchange of persons and information in the field of broadcast journalism between the two countries.

Cold War on the Airwaves: The Radio Propaganda War against East Germany by Nicholas J. Schlosser is Published by the University of Illinois Press (1st Edition November 3, 2015) and is available at Amazon.

What Fenwick Means to Me

By Johnny Lattner ’50 (originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, May 30, 2007)

Growing up on Chicago’s West Side near Cicero and Madison, I could have gone to St. Mel, St. Phillip, Austin or St. Ignatius. I decided on Fenwick because I knew it was a good academic school and I had heard about the football program coached by Tony Lawless.

I was a big kid in eighth grade, 6-1, more recruited for basketball than football, and I almost went to St. Phillip because of coach Bill Shay, who later coached at Fenwick. But I wanted to see if I could play football at Fenwick. It was a challenge.

Lattner, who passed away in 2016, was an All-State football player for the Friars in 1948 and ’49 and won the Heisman Trophy at the University of Notre Dame in 1953.

At the time, I didn’t know if I would go to college. Neither of my parents nor my older brother and sister went to college. They couldn’t afford it. At Fenwick, I learned a lot. I wasn’t dumb, but it took me a year to acclimate to the school. And Lawless taught me so much.

Fenwick had won the city championship in 1945. I went to the game at Soldier Field and was impressed. I knew Lawless was a hard-nosed coach who taught the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. He was a winner, a legendary figure on the West Side.

He taught me persistence and fundamentals, not to think of today but of tomorrow, how to compete, to keep improving.

“[Coach] Lawless taught me … persistence and fundamentals, not to think of today but of tomorrow, how to compete, to keep improving.”

the late, great John Lattner ’50

Lattner (left) with Coach Lawless and John Carroll ’54.

I never regretted my decision to go to Fenwick.

Learning to play both ways – I also was a defensive back – helped me to win the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame. I went there because, like Fenwick, it was a challenge. Some people said I wasn’t fast enough and never would play at Notre Dame, that I’d just be another number on the roster.

But Lawless taught me to stick to my books, to hang in there, to play when you’re hurt.

It helped me to get through Notre Dame. I was in awe of the program … Frank Leahy, Leon Hart, Terry Brennan, Johnny Lujack, George Conner.

They were unbeaten for four years. I hoped to make a name for myself.

READ MORE ABOUT MR. LATTNER

“Fenwick Community Gathers to Say Goodbye to Johnny Lattner.”

Colleges Are Calling Friar Athletes

Three Fenwick senior student-athletes have made their college decisions, while Class of 2021 classmates and juniors weigh their options. Congratulations to Fenwick volleyball All-Stater Beau Vanderlaan ’21 (above): The 6’2″ senior middle blocker from Oak Park has committed to Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) in the prestigious Ivy League!

Cakuls

Fellow senior and Friar swimmer Angelina Cakuls ’21 (right) from Palos Park has committed to continue her education and athletic career in the pool at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) in the MAC.

Wiktor

Golfer Jake Wiktor ’21 (River Forest, IL) has committed to North Carolina State. Jake earned All-Conference honors for the third consecutive year and also is the Chicago Catholic League’s Lawless Player of the Year!

Hopkins

Basketball All-Stater Bryce Hopkins ’21 is expected to make his decision soon. The much-sought 6’6″, 220-lb. power forward, who de-committed from Louisville this past summer, has narrowed down his top nine college choices: Cal, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon, Providence and Texas.

Gridiron greats

To date, 26 colleges have verbally offered athletic scholarships to seven Fenwick football players: three seniors and four juniors. Ball State University (Muncie, Indiana) offered the four members of the Class of 2022 on the same day in early September!

Cobb

Junior QB Kaden Cobb ’22 now has nine D1 scholarship offers (and counting): Ball State, Boston College, Bowling Green, Howard University, Northern Illinois, Mizzou (University of Missouri), Toledo, Vanderbilt and West Virginia!

Liston

Junior center/offensive lineman Jimmy Liston ’22 (No. 64) has been offered by Ole Miss (University of Mississippi), Ball State and Central Michigan so far. “Jimbo” also is a heavyweight wrestler for the Friars.

Reese

Junior slot receiver/tight end Max Reese ’22 has five offers from Alcorn State, Arizona State, Ball State, Bowling Green and Kansas. Reese also plays basketball for the Friars.

Lanky, junior wide receiver Eian Pugh ’22 now has seven offers, from: Ball State, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Howard, Indiana University, Toledo and the University of Kansas. Pugh also is a Fenwick basketball player.

Capek

Senior wide receiver Jonas Capek ’21 has offers from Roosevelt University (NAIA, Chicago), Lake Forest College (D3 in Illinois), St. Ambrose (D3 in Iowa), St. Norbert (D3 in Wisconsin) and St. Olaf (D3 in Minnesota).

Novak

Senior running back Isaac Novak ’21 has offers from Wheeling University (D2 in West Virginia) and St. Norbert (D3 in Wisconsin).

Moran

Senior offensive lineman Jamie Moran (No. 70) has a pair of D3 offers from Augustana College (Rock Island, IL) and North Park University (Chicago).

Teaching to be a Champion: Vocation and Unity in Christ

How a young alumna’s Fenwick education has influenced and informed her understanding of and action on behalf of her vocation.

By Tierney Vrdolyak ’14

One motto of the Dominican Order that has resonated with me these six years out of Fenwick is contemplare et contemplata aliis trader – “to contemplate and hand on to others the fruits of contemplation.” In my experience with Catholic educators there, so many have lived this truth: to contemplate Christ and share with others (students, specifically) the mystery of Christ through their words and works, their lessons and lives is the Divine call of the teacher. Through their witness and God’s grace, I have come to realize my vocation as teacher, too. I’d like to relay one person’s authentic witness as teacher to you in the hopes that you might contemplate and share with others this fruit.

As I have come to believe through education observation, theory and practice, a teacher succeeds when the student develops; the teacher more than less fades into the background.[1] The teacher leads only when he or she serves; the teacher imitates Jesus Christ, the Divine Teacher, who freely humbles Himself to the point of death to Himself (the words “humble” and “human” are derived from the Latin humus, meaning “earth” or “soil” – that is, what is on the ground). The truly successful teacher is the one who stimulates the student’s receptivity – qualifying the pupil for all vocations (priesthood, religious life, married life, single life) and opening up avenues for vocations within vocations (professional life) – and remains humble by letting God lead, the students follow, and oneself adapt to their promptings. The teacher, therefore, takes on the “He must increase, I must decrease,” dynamic of which the Gospel speaks (John 3:30), adjusting his or her view of the harmonious human person to the individual student’s personality. Fenwick teachers have helped countless students come face to face with reality, welcoming our vocation and that of others with joy.

Friar tennis alumni/former teammates Annie Krug ’14 (from left), Tierney Vrdolyak ’14, Coach Tom Draski and Kaelin Schillinger ’14 during the 2014 Summer Tennis Camp.

Mr. Draski was my tennis coach during the Frosh-Soph fall seasons of 2010 and 2011. From the first week of tryouts through the last banquet, Coach Draski encouraged the team to seek and find wonder in all things. His practices, lectures and personal example oriented us toward our good as individuals and as a team. Although his teams had an 11-peat at that point, winning wasn’t the goal. Growing into our authentic selves was.

Practice

The “Ten Ball Drill” was certainly an example through which we learned to love building speed, stamina and strength during practices. It was a joy to place each ball on the racket before our teammates’ feet on the doubles’ sideline as we ran to collect the next ball from the opposite side.

Lecture

Coach Draski’s words, too, and the way in which he spoke, encouraged us to be nourished and renewed together. Before each tournament, Coach Draski called us together to pray through Our Lady and read a poem entitled, “The Champion.” He divided the poem into stanzas, which some players would recite and on which all would reflect. These words – which to me point to our universal call to greatness, which is holiness – have stuck with me in small and large decision-making moments. Before I took part in a city-wide half marathon last May, for instance, I warmed up with a prayer and this poem. Some phrases that resonated while I ran the race were: “You’ve got to think high to rise./ You’ve got to be sure of yourself before/ You can ever win a prize./ Think big and your deeds will grow, think small and you’ll fall behind./ Think that you can and you will; it’s all in the state of the mind…Our Lady of Victory, pray for us!” I was able to run at a personal-record pace among many others – perhaps tennis players themselves – keeping Coach’s words in mind. Before your work or school day today in these times, we can ponder these lines again.

During each tournament, Coach would invite us to “give a love tap” to our partner after every point – win or lose – letting our partner know that she is good, she can do it and you are there for her. He would invite us, too, to come to him in difficult situations during breaks in a game, set or match. Coach Draski would then poke his pointer through the wire for us to each tap it and afterwards ask, “How are we doing?”

Personal Example

Not only did his practices and words inspire my teammates and me, but his personal example reflected all that he tried to teach. I will never forget Coach Draski’s smile, finger taps, fist bumps or chuckle at some pasta party conversation. I will never forget his personal stories that shed light onto the words we spoke in the “Champion,” making me think about the wonderful power of our minds to think well and wills to act well, no matter the situations within our societies, families or selves.

Working together on hatching and raising chickens, learning the life cycle first-hand.

After graduation from college in 2018, through the guidance of grace, my human nature, mentors, courses and many more encounters, I realized my call to be a Catholic educator. For two years, I attended graduate school in theology while teaching theology within a Catholic middle-school setting. Following this program, beginning this August, I was led into teaching in the home-school setting using the Montessori and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd model as guides. Here, I have the opportunity to walk with three children, fostering a relationship with each child and God through formative learning experiences.

Continue reading “Teaching to be a Champion: Vocation and Unity in Christ”

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.

“So, You Two Wanna Fight, Do Ya?”

A 1958-62 alumnus takes a fist-in-cheek look back at Fenwick’s lost ‘art’ of pugilism, which began at the school in 1930 as an intramural activity.

By Jim Fineran ’62 (originally published in Fenwick’s First 75 Years, 2005)

It was called the boxing tournament but it actually was ‘fighting’ with gloves and rules, because [for many students] the boxing instruction lasted about two minutes. Tony Lawless was the instructor for what he called the ‘Art Course.’ It was strictly voluntary in that Mr. Lawless decided who was to volunteer and who was not. It was not a good time of year (early February) to be on his bad side. Doctors all over the West Side were exhausted from writing excuses for boys to not participate in the ‘Art Course.’

A left uppercut by freshman Ray Heinz slowed fellow frosh Bob Denvir, who recovered to win the 100-lb. class title in 1960.

The bouts consisted of three one-minute rounds with Referee Lawless intoning ‘That’s a round!’ when the minute was up. Of course, if a couple of guys were really going at it, Mr. Lawless would let the rounds go on longer. The tournament commenced on a Friday night in March with ‘The Silver-Gloves:’ a big night of runner-up and championship fights in eight different weight classes. The gym was always packed. [In 1960, some 1,500 fans jammed into the bleachers and balcony.] Tony would bring in ex-pug ‘Tuffy’ Griffiths to referee. ‘Tuffy’ appeared to have taken a few too many shots during his career because it was not unknown for him to ‘put ’em up’ and start feinting when the bell would sound.

Fenwick’s “Silver Gloves” tourney received prominent coverage in Blackfriars’ yearbooks for more than three decades.

I don’t know when Mr. Lawless started all this [it was in 1930, during Fenwick’s infancy], but I do know it came to an end when Fr. Thomas Cumiskey became principal/president (1962-69). More than once he told me that he thought the whole thing was too brutal. Maybe yes, maybe no, but I never knew anyone who got hurt and I think the boxing did a little character-building.

Continue reading ““So, You Two Wanna Fight, Do Ya?””

Common Sense and the Importance of Obeying Rules

What Fenwick was and is: from the school vault …

Bernardi as a Fenwick student.

“I have been thinking about the anecdotes I recall from my years at Fenwick …,” alumnus Judge Donald Bernardi ’69 wrote some 20 years ago from his Bloomington, IL office to then Social Studies Teacher Mr. Louis Spitznagel. More than three decades had passed since Mr. Bernardi’s high-school graduation:

I will go to my grave recalling the image of Tony Lawless standing on the balcony of the pool prior to our exercise and lecturing on the importance of common sense. Mr. Lawless (see above) was fond of reminding all of us that, although we may walk around with a stack of books a foot high under our arm, it doesn’t mean anything if you ‘don’t have common sense.’ These comments were usually preceded by some event that occurred that day which demonstrated a lack of common sense on the part of one of the students.

Fr. Robert Pieper, O.P. was Fenwick’s Director of Discipline at the time.

The second memory that I recall vividly would be that of either an AM or PM assembly resulting from student rule violations. Generally, the assemblies were not pleasant occurences because we were typically advised of what the rules were and who had been breaking them — and then warned not to break them again in the future. Father Pieper would always end these speeches with the following words: ‘Those are the rules, and if you don’t like it, there is the door,’ as he pointed to the back of the auditorium.

The most vivid recollection I have of being at Fenwick in the 1965-69 era was the atmosphere of discipline created by the faculty and staff. The notion of group discipline was foreign to me when I arrived at Fenwick and it caused me to be on edge and alert to problems constantly throughout the school day. I recall numerous ‘Class JUGs’ [detentions] as a result of various persons in my class having misbehaved ….

“Overall, the high quality of the students and the intense academic competition [at Fenwick] made the transition to college remarkably easy.”

Ret. Judge Donald Bernardi ’69
Continue reading “Common Sense and the Importance of Obeying Rules”