Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values

A Forty-Niner alumnus and former Fenwick teacher reflects on the heels of his 70th class reunion.

By Jack Spatafora, PhD. ’49

In addition to reforming curricula, Fenwick alumnus Jack Spatafora, PhD. was a White House speech writer.

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!

Jack Spatafora as a Fenwick junior in 1948.

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
Mr. Spatafora’s Fenwick Faculty photo from 1957.

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.

Continue reading “Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values”

Fenwick Student Stands Against Childhood Cancer

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has been the backbone of the family of Sadie Briggs ’20 for four generations.

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 speechless.  

Sadie’s great-grandpa, Joe Shaker, Sr., in 1951.

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
Alumnus Joseph G. Shaker ’68 (now retired) was President/CEO of Shaker Recruitment Marketing.

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. 

St. 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. 

Continue reading “Fenwick Student Stands Against Childhood Cancer”

The Powerful Pillar of Prayer

Kairos retreats — a senior rite at Fenwick for the past 34 years — are life-altering for many students, each of whom has ‘a story.’

By Mark Vruno

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.

The Bellarmine Retreat House is situated on 80 acres in northwest suburban Barrington, Illinois.

“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 Colorado Springs.

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.

Class of 2020 team-building and bonding at October Kairos.

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 their own.”

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.”

Embracing emotions

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 same.”

October Kairos participants were comprised of 25 boys and 26 girls.

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.

Peter Salvino ’15 graduated this past May from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

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 McLean ’16, 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 ’16 is a senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.

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 younger Friars.”

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.”

Amen.

More praise for Kairos

Kairos alumna Erin Kulik ’16 now is a senior at the University of Illinois.

“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 Katie 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,” says Lorenzano 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 School.

Rachel McCarthy ’17 is a junior at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington/Normal.

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.

Teaching Morals and Values to Teenagers

The theology curriculum at Fenwick brings together all students to ponder important issues.

By Brother Joseph Trout, O.P.

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. 

Brother Joseph Trout, O.P. engages junior theology students in a morality discussion.

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?  

The great equalizer

Dominican Spirituality: Mr. Patrick Mulcahy instructing senior theology students last March.

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. 

Father Thomas Saucier, O.P. holds “court” with Class of 2020 theology students.

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.

Fostering moral servant/leaders

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

READ ALSO:

“How Fenwick Students Minister to Others” (Fall 2018 Friar Reporter, beginning on page 6).

“The Myth of Science vs. Religion”

“Summer of Service”

Freshman students from the Class of 2023 get a lesson on scripture.
Continue reading “Teaching Morals and Values to Teenagers”

Lacrosse Is on the Fast Track in the Chicago Area – and at Fenwick

Two new LAX coaches have lofty visions for the Friars’ boys and girls programs in 2020 and beyond.

By Mark Vruno

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 Lacrosse.

Molly Welsh, from Elmhurst, will be one of the Friar’ senior leaders in the spring.

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.

Dan Applebaum is the new head coach for Fenwick boys’ LAX.

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 insists.

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.

Coach Applebaum with some of his East Ave. kids.

“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, now a junior, formed a close-knit bond with his IHSA Super-Sectional Champion teammates from two seasons ago.

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.”

What is lacrosse?

“Lacrosse is fast-paced … engaging and exhausting,” says Coach Applebaum.

“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.”

Tracy Bonaccorsi is the new girls’ LAX head coach at Fenwick.

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.”

Playing, coaching experience

Between its two teams (varsity and JV), Coach Bonaccorsi expects approximately 70 girls to play for the Friars’ program this coming spring.

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.

Future Friars? Applebaum and Bonaccorsi coach youth clinics together.

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.

In early November, coaches Applebaum and Bonaccorsi ran a clinic with the OWLS kids – and Fenwick & East Ave. players volunteered to help.

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.

LAX Facts

Source: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

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.

The 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.

Student-athlete Declan Donnelly, a junior from Berwyn (St. Mary’s Riverside), plays football and lacrosse for the Fenwick Friars.

“If you would like to play, don’t be shy, contact me or any of my fellow teammates.”

Follow Fenwick Lacrosse on social media:

Boys Twitter: @FenwickLacrosse
Boys Instagram: @fenwickboyslax

Girls Twitter: @FenwickGirlsLAX
Girls Instagram: @fenwickgirlslax

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Legalized Pot Could be a ‘Scary Bag’ for the U.S. Health-care System

As legal weed looms in Illinois (January 1, 2020), a Fenwick alumnus and medical doctor warns that the effects of recreational marijuana usage often are shrouded in smoke screens.

By Dr. Albert Mensah ’82

Greetings, Fenwick Family. My name is Dr. Albert Mensah, and I am a proud Fenwick alumnus — a member of the graduating class of 1982. I can say without hesitation, that my time at Fenwick provided an outstanding academic and spiritual foundation for the life that was ahead of me: a life that has included medical school; opening and successfully running (with the help of an outstanding business partner and colleague) a medical clinic that specializes in cognitive health, speaking engagements and teaching/training opportunities around the world; and, most importantly, a rich and fulfilling family life. I am most thankful that Fenwick has been, and continues to be, an important part of my life.

My reason for writing to you today, however, goes far beyond wanting to express my gratitude for the opportunity to be part of the Fenwick community. Rather, I want to share with my Fenwick family some concerns that several members of the mental healthcare community, including myself, have felt compelled to be outspoken about lately, given the recent direction taken by lawmakers regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Stated simply, marijuana is not the benign substance that many in the media and the legislature have made it out to be. Its effects can be quite devastating, and as it becomes more readily available, we anticipate a significant rise in the medical and social problems that are connected to regular marijuana use. For example, the American Academy of Family Practice recently cited several studies that link marijuana to the development of schizophrenia.

These studies indicate that regular users are six times more likely to develop and exhibit schizophrenic* symptoms. These same studies also point to decreased motivation, increased lethargy and a lack of focus and mental clarity that persists beyond the time that a user is “high.” Other studies point to a correlation between marijuana use and reproductive difficulties, particularly in males. These studies indicate that regular male users of marijuana have an exceptionally high risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED), and that medications such as Viagra and Cialis are ineffective in treating marijuana induced ED symptoms.

*Schizophrenia is a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.

Even though full recreational marijuana use laws do not go into effect in Illinois until January 1, 2020, we are already seeing the results of a more relaxed atmosphere and increased availability in our clinic, Mensah Medical, located in Warrenville, IL. At Mensah Medical, we specialize in the natural treatment of psychological, cognitive, and neurological health disorders. We identify the biochemical imbalances that most frequently contribute to those disorders and prescribe nutrient therapy to overcome those imbalances. We regularly treat patients who come to us with Autism, ADD/ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, OCD, Eating Disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, Dyslexia, Parkinson’s and several others.

Of late, we are seeing a significant increase in the number patients with Schizophrenia, and far too often, those patients indicate that their symptoms started or worsened as they began or increased their use of marijuana. It is important to note that the vast majority of these patients are young males between the ages of 18 and 27.

Apathy: the real cost

We certainly recognize that there is another side to this debate. We are aware that many people have used illegally obtained marijuana for years with few obvious or lasting side effects. We acknowledge that there are medical cases, such as cancer and chronic disease, in which controlled, physician-monitored use may make marijuana a viable and effective pain-management option. We also recognize that combatting the illegal distribution of marijuana leads to costly law enforcement efforts and the incarceration of many non-violent offenders, most often from communities of color or economic disadvantage. There are reported state and local income-generation benefits that will come from taxing what is already a robust industry. 

Continue reading “Legalized Pot Could be a ‘Scary Bag’ for the U.S. Health-care System”

Veterans Day Reflections on the Cold War, ‘Freiheit’ and the Berlin Wall

By Tim Fitzpatrick ’71

Tim Fitzpatrick afront East Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate as a Fenwick junior in 1970. (The gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument, built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II after the successful restoration of order during the early Batavian Revolution.)

I first visited Berlin in 1970 on a Fenwick High School language trip with Father Nicholas Aschenbrener, O.P.  After living through the 1960s’ Berlin Wall crisis with John. F. Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner Speech” and experiencing the wall in person, I joined the United States Army.  I returned as an infantry officer in 1980 and my twin boys, Tim and Danny, were born in Berlin.  I had previously led Cold War staff rides in Berlin for students in the Department of Defense Executive Leadership Development Program NATO deployments. In September 2018, son Danny, one-year-old grandson Asher and Shawna’s parents were able to watch Danny’s wife Shawna complete the Berlin Marathon, which I had done while stationed in Berlin. 

Fitz (left) at Glienicke Brucke (Bridge of Spies) in 1980.

The Berlin House of Representatives sponsors the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, founded in 1994.  The foundation runs the Welcome Home program to sponsor U.S. Military veterans to return to Berlin, to share their story with Berlin schools, government and other organizations, and for them to experience Berlin as it has emerged from the Cold War into a very lively city.

I was privileged to be the group leader for nine U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Berlin veterans, representing a good cross-section of America, whose service in Berlin spanned from 1959 to 1993, greater than the life of the Berlin Wall itself.  For each of us, the shared common bond and deep emotions about our service in Berlin, and connection to Berliners, caused us to form almost instantly into a tight-knit group.

We stayed in the Hotel Air, Berlin center near the “KeDeWe” department store. We had a warm and gracious “Welcome Home” dinner at the Europa Center’s Kartoffelkisten. On Saturday 11 May we started our tour at the Glienicker Brucke (Bridge of Spies) and a tour of the Russian Colony, Potsdam (including Sanssouci Palace), culminating with a tour of Cecilianhof Palace where the Potsdam conference at the end of WWII was held.

Fitz (left) with 98-year-old retired U.S. Army Air Corps/Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen. “Hal” is best known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” or “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and gained fame for dropping candy to German children during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.

What made this year’s tour so exciting was the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift and the following reception in our old Outpost Theater, now Allied Museum, which allowed us to shake the hand of the famous Berlin Airlift “Candy Bomber” Colonel (USAF, Ret.) Gail Halvorsen (98 years old!). The host was the German Minister of Defense, who gave a very moving speech about the Allies saving Berlin and about the importance of Freedom – Freiheit! She awarded the German Gold Cross of Honor to recently retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson for his service as commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan. After receiving his medal he joined the BUSMVA vets for some soldier stories. The evening concluded with an honor guard and serenade by the Luftwaffe band and troops.

“Candy Bomber” Col. Halvorsen (later commander of Tempelhof Air Force Base), speaks at the wreath laying for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Berlin Airlift.

On Sunday 12 May, we participated in the wreath-laying commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the End of the Berlin Airlift at the Luftbrucke Memorial at Tempelhof. Col. Halvorsen was the featured speaker along with senior representatives of Germany, Berlin and all participating Allied nations. A reception followed, with a greeting of Airlift veterans, other dignitaries, and ourselves by the Berlin Governing Mayor in the main Tempelhof terminal hall. An interpretive music and dance performance held at the Columbia Theater (former US Air Force base theater) featured children from Berlin’s Gail Halvorsen School and the Stiftung Luftbrückendank (Airlift Gratitude Foundation founded in 1959 by Willy Brandt). Daniel de la Fuentes performed an original work “Flying for Freedom.” You could see these things done in their honor having a profound effect on Airlift veterans of each nation. Most stayed to enjoy the mass celebration under the Templehof aircraft awning. The USAFE Band played, dressed in WWII-era, Glenn Miller band uniforms to huge crowds, with an Airlift museum set up in a the hanger. Tempelhof is no longer an active airfield but a massive park where thousands of people play and stroll.

The Minister of Defense awarded the German Gold Cross of Honor to recently retired U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson (the decorated one!) for his service as commander of NATO Forces in Afghanistan.

Monday 13 May we toured our former headquarters, Clay Compound, and McNair Barracks. Almost all is recognizable, but where we once did PT, or stood formation or lined up our reaction platoon armored vehicles, children now play — and the buildings are apartments. Throughout there are little memorials to our presence and the streets have retained their U.S. names. Andrews Barracks now houses the German National Archives and has some new buildings. While an archives employee was telling us about the buildings, it was fun to watch their little fork lift go by still marked “U.S. Army!”

“Ich bin ein Berliner” is a speech by United States President John F. Kennedy given on June 26, 1963, in West Berlin. It is widely regarded as the best-known speech of the Cold War and the most famous anti-communist speech.

We ate lunch at the Schoneberg Rathause, made famous by President Kennedy’s “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) speech. It houses a research library dedicated to memorializing those apprehended and killed by the Nazis. Students do the research and a Stolperstein (stumble stone) is embedded near the entrance of where the victim were last free. This stumble stone is a paver with a brass top engraved with their name, date of arrest and where they were murdered. Every time you touch one, you remember that person, what happened to them, and why the United States was in Berlin.

Stolperstein is a “stumbling stone,” (3.9 in × 3.9 in) concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination or persecution.
Continue reading “Veterans Day Reflections on the Cold War, ‘Freiheit’ and the Berlin Wall”

Fenwick Produced More Than 120 AP Scholars in 2018-19!

When it comes to the Friars’ highest-achieving students, demand drives supply for course offerings.

By Mark Vruno

Fenwick AP students study together diligently.

Robust Advanced Placement (AP) instruction at Fenwick High School in 2018-19 produced an astounding 121 AP Scholars last school year. The private (Catholic) school in Oak Park, IL, administered 843 AP tests in 26 subject areas. Presently, there are 131 students enrolled in AP Psychology, a new course offering, this school year.

“The AP program at Fenwick gives our students a clear advantage when they reach college,” asserts Principal Peter Groom. “In some cases, students benefit from the same type of rigor they will see in their college classes. In other cases, students earn college credit, which enables them to focus on upper-level classes at the collegiate level,” Mr. Groom notes. “The wide range of options our students can explore while at Fenwick clearly benefits them.”

A mixture of sophomores and seniors participate in mock trial activities during Fenwick’s AP Government & Politics class, which is taught by Mrs. Mary Beth Logas.

Last school year, nearly one in 10 of Fenwick’s students was recognized as an AP Scholar at one of these levels:

  • 49 Friars were named AP Scholars, a distinction granted to students who receive scores of 3 or higher on three or more AP Exams.
  • 17 students were named AP Scholars with Honors, which means they received an average score of at least 3.25 on all AP Exams taken and scores of 3 or higher on four or more of these exams.
  • 44 students were named AP Scholars with Distinction. They received an average score of at least 3.5 on all AP Exams taken and scores of 3 or higher on five or more of these tests.
  • 11 students were named National AP Scholars for receiving an average score of at least 4 on all AP Exams taken and scores of 4 or higher on eight or more exams.
Students take a quiz in Ms. Marianne (Palmer ’96) Carrozza’s AP Spanish class.

“Our AP classes don’t just prepare students for the exam,” explains Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton, who directs Fenwick’s Advanced Placement Program. “They are true, college-level courses taught by some of our most talented, dedicated and passionate teachers. Students in these classes consistently attend top universities and then come back and tell us how well they were prepared to work at that level.”

As a testament to Ms. Pendleton’s statement about collegiate preparation, young alumnus Spencer Gallagher ’19 proclaims: “The AP classes I took at Fenwick have been absolutely essential to my success so far at the University of Illinois. The courses prepared me a great amount for the AP tests, helping me to test out of many classes, and helped me to develop study habits that have proven invaluable so far,” notes the Illini freshman, who grew up in Elmhurst and attended Visitation Catholic School. “Many of the classes I am taking right now are easy compared to the challenges presented by classes like AP Physics C and AP Chemistry.”

As a junior two years ago, Gallagher was one of seven Fenwick students to score the maximum of 36 on the American College Test (ACT); he is the Class of 2019’s salutatorian. “Fenwick really does have incredible teachers,” Gallagher adds, “who help their students through very difficult STEM classes and [help] prepare them for college. Even my classes not taught by AP teachers, especially my senior English class …, have helped me a ton with my writing and prepared me for the rigor of college.”

Freshmen in AP

Even students as young as 14 years old can get into the AP act at Fenwick. Right now, 31 freshmen are enrolled in AP Biology. That number represents more than 10% of the Class of 2023. Throughout the school year, these students are performing labs on plants that they have grown. “They are growing two types of plants: mung beans and black-eyed peas,” explains Science Teacher Amy Christophell ’06, who also also coaches Fenwick’s WYSE Biology Team. “They are responsible for caring for their plants throughout the year,” she explains.

Eager freshman students absorb advanced knowledge in Mrs. Amy Christophell’s AP biology class.

The first lab that they performed was on the seeds before they were planted. “They massed out 100 beans to practice with calculating a mean, a standard deviation and standard error,” Ms. Christophell adds. “They also use the masses to determine whether their data formed a normal distribution. The second lab has students using artificial selection, planting the smallest beans and largest beans by mass. They then came up with their own procedures to determine how the growth was different between the two sized seeds, Christophell says.

Continue reading “Fenwick Produced More Than 120 AP Scholars in 2018-19!”

24 Students Experienced Rainforest Ecology Firsthand in Costa Rica

A Fenwick junior from Oak Park offers up a web log on how a nine-day ‘fieldtrip’ to Central America was life changing.

By Ben Groll ’21

It was Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Our flight to Costa Rica landed late the night before, and after three hours of sleep, my roommate Vince’s alarm woke us up. Three hours of sleep is not great, so my three other roommates and I were understandably exhausted. The previous day’s traveling had drained us, and as we all start to get packed, Vince moved the blinds, and we looked out the window. I did not take a picture, but I see it as clearly now as I see this paper: The sight of a massive mountain towering in the sky as the sun rose behind it. I saw the bright rays of pink and red from the rising sun blasting through the dark blues of night, mixing to create a beautiful sight that is unlike any I had ever seen. The “Ecology of the Rainforest” trip was just that: unforgettable, breathtaking and incredible.

The ever-changing rainforest of Costa Rica acted as an excellent background to our ever-changing trip, as our experiences each day were different from the last. Our first day was spent traveling to Tortuguero, and even the several hour bus ride was fun. All around us, we witnessed the breathtaking sights of the country, from banana trees to mountains and everything in between. We even saw a sloth during breakfast. What followed was a unique ride to our hotel, and our form of transportation did not involve wheels. We spent an hour on a boat that took us to our secluded hotel, and we spent the next three days exploring the surrounding wildlife. We were able to live inside the magnificent rainforest for multiple days and experience its wonders first-hand. On one of our boat rides, however, the first-hand nature of our trip backfired. While on our boat, gentlemen’s volleyball coach and English teacher Mrs. Whitman had an unfortunate encounter with a caiman; an experience which she remembers as fondly as one would remember an encounter with a caiman. The lurking caiman rushed through the waters and tapped her side of the boat with a relatively small amount of force. We were all surprised by it, and thankfully, nobody was hurt. Even our tour guides were surprised by this encounter.

The trip was very busy but in a good way. One of the mornings, we were awoken around 4 a.m. by the sound of howler monkeys as they were just waking up. The ambient sounds of the rainforest had woken us on plenty of the mornings, and this was no exception. The busy-ness of the trip left little to be desired in terms of time spent sleeping. Still, the incredible coffee and excitement of our time there kept me energized the entire way.

The sheer awe and amazement of the sights around us is a theme of this trip. Arguably, the most incredible sight I witnessed was when we saw turtles come from the ocean and lay their eggs on the beach. This incredible process only occurs at night, and we were fortunate enough to see multiple, one-meter-long turtles emerge from the ocean, climb onto the beach, dig patches for their eggs, lay their eggs, cover up the eggs to protect them, and crawl back into the sea as elegantly as they came from it. The lengths at which these turtles go to protect their eggs, and their growing young, is remarkable and heartwarming. As we were waiting for our time to view the turtles, we waited on the side of the beach, and there I witnessed another one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen in my life: the clearest night sky filled with a seemingly infinite amount of stars.

On the trip, we took part in ecotourism, which is the process in which tourists experience nature first hand, but in a way that supports the environment and leaves little to no footprint on it. The country of Costa Rica does an incredible job of lowering its reliance on fossil fuels and relying on renewable energy, and its impact is clear. Their commitment to sustaining the environment was awesome to learn about, and it helped me see the efforts required to sustain this world of ours. While it seems complicated, it’s quite simple, and the impact is huge. We witnessed this impact while on the beach before we saw the turtles. Mr. Menich, my classmates and I sat on the beach and witnessed the sheer beauty of the night sky. The stars dotted the dark sky and gave it a blue hue; all while shooting stars temporary lit up the dark blue sky. The untainted atmosphere here sharply contrasts that of Chicago, and this is a testament to Costa Rica’s incredible ability to reduce emissions and help the environment. And the results are breathtaking.

Online Eco-courses

The Costa Rica trip was all part of the Ecology of the Rainforest course offered during the second semester at Fenwick. Each week, we were to complete modules online. The only time I spent in a classroom for this course was when I took tests and did the final presentation. While on the trip, we were split into groups and researched a specific aspect of the ecology of the rainforest. My group was assigned to research gene flow in plant populations. During our trip, we were able to see this gene flow through the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. Both work together and benefit each other, and an example of this was with hummingbirds and Heliconias. On multiple hikes, we saw the curved Heliconias flower, which is specially adapted for the long beaks of hummingbirds. The hummingbirds’ beaks go into the heliconia flower, and the pollen is sneakily put onto the hummingbird’s forehead by the heliconia. Once the hummingbird reaches another heliconia, the pollen on its forehead pollinates that plant, and the cycle repeats. This incredible symbiotic relationship showcases the harmony in the rainforest, which I would not have been able to fully grasp had I not taken this course and gone on this trip.

Continue reading “24 Students Experienced Rainforest Ecology Firsthand in Costa Rica”

Friars’ Student Preacher for October

A Fenwick junior urges her classmates to learn from sisters Martha and Mary in the Bible — and be more diligent with their prayer lives.

By Grace McGann ’21

Grace McGann, a junior, commutes to Fenwick from Western Springs, Illinois.

In today’s Gospel, we learn about two sisters named Martha and Mary. When welcoming Jesus into their home, Martha scrambles to clean and organize the house while Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to his wisdom and prayer. Eventually, fed up and exhausted, Martha complains to Jesus about the actions of her sister. Jesus simply explains to Martha that her own anxieties and worries have gotten the best of her, and that Mary has made the better decision by choosing to pray alongside Jesus.

It’s easy, especially as Fenwick students, to see ourselves in Martha’s position. From what seems to be endless hours of homework, maintaining grades and also maintaining meaningful relationships, high school does come with a lot of things to be worried about. So many of us have gotten to a point where it feels like these worries consume us. It’s at moments like these where we must remember the Gospel. Jesus told Martha that she was too focused on worrisome things and that she should focus more on the thing that truly matters: prayer. We are all individuals with very busy schedules, but as Jesus said to Martha, we cannot let our worries take priority over our faith. In the long run, your grade in geometry is not going to have a significant impact on your life. Your faith, however, can set your soul on fire for the rest of your life, and that all starts with our prayer habits.

Yes, we do pray before every class and some of us might pray before every meal. But it is easy to find ourselves stuck in the rabbit hole where we are just going through the motions. We stand up, say a “Hail Mary” or even an “Our Father” and sit down. But how often do you think about what you just did? An easy step to take to improve your prayer habits is being aware of what you are saying. We pray before class, for example, because we are asking God to help us with our struggles, not to just focus on our struggles and completely and ignore Him in the process. There are thousands of ways to engage in meaningful prayer. For me, its praying before I go to bed.

Continue reading “Friars’ Student Preacher for October”