Friars Forge Bonds with Argentine Visitors

Fenwick families hosted 10 students from Buenos Aires this month.

Ten students from Colegio Champagnat in Buenos Aires, Argentina visited Fenwick High School this month as part of an exchange program developed by Spanish teacher Crissy Lilek ‘05. Argentine visitors spent more than a week shadowing 11 Fenwick junior and senior hosts, staying with their families and immersing themselves in American life and culture.

In addition to attending Fenwick classes and participating in extracurricular activities, the group explored Chicagoland over the course of their stay. They made visits to the Willis Tower and Six Flags Great America, counting Navy Pier and the United Center among their favorite attractions and bagels, cinnamon rolls and deep dish pizza as the best cuisine.

Colegio Champagnat students have been studying the English language since second grade. In presentations before Fenwick Spanish classes, they gave background on their neighborhood in the city of Buenos Aires, along with information on Argentine geography and history. Students learned about the similarities in their government and pastimes, noting differences in climate and school schedules.

Fenwick hosts were eager to hear about their visitors’ 12-hour journey to the U.S and how they feel about famed Argentine footballer Lionel Messi playing for Major League Soccer in the states. (They’re OK with it.) Classes also sampled a traditional Argentine mate drink, prepared by their guests in the classroom of Marianne Carrozza ‘96.

Lilek almost instantly saw the exchange experience as formative for her Spanish students. “This opened their eyes to a different culture and the power of world language…it showed them what language can do,” Lilek said. “I hope it inspires them to want to travel and continue to learn more.”

The bonds formed between hosts and guests was “heartwarming” to witness, Lilek said: “The relationships they’ve formed are so sweet…they’re genuinely best friends.”

Fenwick students are planning a spring break exchange trip to Argentina in March to reunite with their visitantes.

Student Reflections: 2023-2024

March 1

Olivia Nybo ’25 provided the Student Reflection at the 2nd Friday of Lent Mass Mass on Friday, March 1, 2024.

Good morning, my name is Olivia Nybo, and I am a member of the class of 2025. 

During the season of Lent, we are called to spend our time reflecting on who Jesus was, and the example He set for us to follow. 

In today’s Gospel, it is said:

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes.” 

The cornerstone is symbolic of many things in Christianity. It can be seen as a symbol for Christ, a symbol of our faith, and most importantly a symbol for how we should live our lives. 

A cornerstone may often be seen as insignificant, but in truth, it is the most important stone in a structure. When constructing a building, builders must choose a cornerstone, and only the best stones are selected. Its job then becomes to connect the two walls and be the foundation for the structure. Essentially, a cornerstone is something that in the beginning seems small and insignificant but grows to become an important part of the whole. 

This idea of something “insignificant” transforming to be significant can be seen in our daily lives. Many of us here, including myself, have once viewed their faith to be insignificant. Growing up, I attended a Catholic grade school, where we would have morning prayer every day, along with religion class and Mass every friday. Growing up, I tended to view these events as something that could be brushed off. I didn’t view my relationship with God as something worth giving up my time for. However, as I grew older, my faith began to become an essential part of my life. My faith has become a cornerstone in my life because it is the foundation on which I stand on, especially during hard times. God has changed in my eyes from someone who I didn’t really desire to have a relationship to someone who I depend on and can’t live without. 

We are all called to make Faith the cornerstone of our lives, which is saying that our faith should be an essential part of us. There is a big difference between being a stone vs. a cornerstone. A stone is someone who has good intentions, who has a kind heart, and who tries to care about others. Whereas a cornerstone is someone who takes faith and acts upon the characteristics of faith.  A cornerstone does good in the world, treats others with respect, and puts others before themselves. 

Being a cornerstone rather than just a stone, however, is not an easy job. One of the most significant parts of the quote I previously read is that the builders had first rejected the stone. 

Jesus is the cornerstone of all cornerstones. He showed mercy to everyone and what it means to sacrifice for the good of others. Because of this, he was persecuted and crucified, before being raised again.

Similarly, we can choose to follow these often under-appreciated characteristics on Earth. Through things like service, choosing kindness, and putting others before ourselves. 

When I was 12 years old, I attended an overnight summer camp. At this camp, we had to pass a swim test to be able to use the boats on the lake. Luckily for me, I passed the swim test along with every other girl in our cabin but one. The first day we were able to go to the lake, the girls in my cabin decided to go on the boats together. However, this meant that the one girl who didn’t pass had to stay behind. A cabin counselor asked if one of us would be willing to stay behind with her, and I hesitantly agreed. It was a hard decision at the time and made me unpopular, but it led me down the path of creating a strong bond with a cabin mate. Because of this decision, I missed out on the opportunity to be a part of the group of girls on the boats, but I gained a friendship. A friendship I may not have made if I had not decided to stay behind. In this instance, I accepted the possibility of rejection from others in my cabin in making the unpopular decision, but I gained something even more valuable — a close friend who I still hold dear today. I learned that my long, meaningful friendship was worth more than being accepted by the group of girls in my cabin. 

As I finish my reflection today, I urge all of you, especially in the season of Lent where we try to follow Jesus’ example, to not just be an ordinary stone but to follow Christ and be a cornerstone, even if the task is strenuous, it will be rewarding in the long run as we seek to dwell with God in heaven. 

Thank you.

February 14

Patrick Gilboy ’25 provided the student reflection at Ash Wednesday Mass on February 14, 2024.

Hello Friars, My name is Patrick Gilboy of the class of 2025. As you may know, today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season. Along with not having meat in the cafeteria on Fridays, we all have to give up chocolate right? Maybe not. As I have found myself falling victim to in the past, I would give up something that was slightly inconvenient at best. However, we are given the opportunity to grow in our faith here at Fenwick, that means that we can also advance our knowledge of Lent.

As I mentioned, in years past, I would give up something that did not have much value to me. Without value, it was pretty easy to give up. Eventually, I started to consider what it would be like to give up something that was dragging me down. It was hard to imagine a world without something which was of such importance in my life. Forty days without my phone seemed impossible. I considered 40 days without Starbucks or Celsius, and maybe even 40 days without the snooze button. As I started to learn more about Lent, I discovered that most churches have the stations of the cross every Friday, along with confession. I also learned that Lent is not only to prepare us for the Death and Resurrection of our Lord, but to enter into a piece of the suffering that our Lord endured for the 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. Therefore this year, I invite all of you to join me in giving up something that holds value to you. Whether that is giving up the Instagram Reels that you use to procrastinate, or the warm showers that you happen to spend 45 minutes in, allow yourself to give something up; Something that would be a true sacrifice, for the glory of God. That’s the next part, for the glory of God. A true sacrifice is pointless if it’s replaced with another useless activity.

Allow the time or the pleasure which you save from this sacrifice to be beneficial. For example, instead of the extra 15 minutes of laying in bed after your alarm, get up, get ready, and enjoy a conversation with a family member. Instead of the extra 30 minutes that you spend just standing in the hot shower, use that time to start your homework or get to bed earlier. Best of all, instead of scrolling through your phone for hours on end, take that time to talk to God, tell Him about your day, or even visit Him in Adoration.

After learning about all of the sacrifices I could make, a different kind of Lent was introduced to me. A Lent where love and mercy are the motivations for my actions. Of course, there is some sacrifice to bring ourselves closer to Jesus, but just as important, actions full of love. I learned that a Lenten promise could be fulfilled by not giving something up, but by doing something that would grow my relationship with God. Some ways to grow your relationship with God could include going to daily Mass, here at Fenwick, at 7:30, to experience the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior. Or you could call your grandparents everyday for 15 minutes, even something as simple as starting your homework right when you get home will Glorify God. Whatever it is, act with love and mercy in your heart.

Finally, when we get to the end of Lent. Challenge yourself to continue with your new habit. Continue going to Mass or calling your grandparents; don’t just revert back to your old habits, allow yourself to be better. Lent is a very powerful time to grow closer to God (pause)  if you allow it to be. Thank you. 

February 2

Julia Schumm ‘25 provided the student reflection at Mass during Catholic Schools Week on Friday, February 2. Read her entire reflection below.

Good morning Friars. My name is Julia Schumm and I am a member of the class of 2025. Today we not only celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, but we are finishing up the celebration of Catholic Schools week. In today’s Gospel reading, in accordance with Jewish tradition, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. This was to fulfill the law of Moses, which required firstborn sons to be dedicated to God. At the Temple, they encounter two pious individuals, Simeon and Anna. Both recognize Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, marking a significant event in the New Testament.

I find this extremely similar to how my parents presented me to my faith. Much like many Catholic children, I was baptized as an infant, and yearned to find a way to continue my faith. My parents then exposed me to youth catechesis where not only did they desire me to grow my faith, but they were my teachers themselves. While the other children felt as though it was a chore to show up every Sunday morning, I was eager to attend and learn more about how to grow in my faith each weekend. By utilizing my parents as his agent, God has brought me to experience some of the most incredible places and communities.

Three years ago my parents led me to a new opportunity to develop my faith, one like I had never experienced before. My decision to go to Fenwick led me to experience many “firsts.” First time having a substantial commute to school, first time wearing a uniform and taking a daily theology class, and first time experiencing an academic environment rooted in Catholic values.

My Fenwick peers and I live out these values in our hallways, classrooms, athletic venues, clubs, and throughout our daily lives. We are taught to live out the four Dominican pillars of prayer, study, community, and preaching, not only while we walk the Fenwick halls, but every single day. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, we are Friars.

I think it is important to recognize that the time we get to spend at Fenwick isn’t as long as we think it is. Throughout my past two and a half years, I have learned that it is never too late to get involved in something new. This year I finally became active in the Respect Life Club, and had the opportunity to attend the March for Life in Washington DC, an opportunity that as an underclassmen I would’ve never taken advantage of. 
I urge each and every one of you to make the most out of the opportunities that the Fenwick community can provide for you.

Seniors, although you only have one semester left, there is no better time than the present to make a new friend, try something new, and make a difference.

Juniors, it is almost time for us to step up. It is now our chance to learn from the past to cultivate an even brighter future.

Sophomores, take advantage of every opportunity Fenwick gives you. Try out for the sport, join the club. Every opportunity, big or small, will turn into something amazing.

And finally, Freshmen. I know by now you are all tired of sitting in the balcony getting “four more years” chanted at you, but I can assure you, don’t take it for granted. You have four more years. Enough time to make new friendships, learn how to walk on the right side of the hallway, learn to ask for help, and live in the moment. Much like how Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, we have been presented to Fenwick and it is up to us to embrace every moment we have here.

January 19

Mia Menendez ‘25 provided the student reflection at Mass on Friday, January 19, 2024.

Good Morning Friars. My name is Mia Menendez, and I am a member of the Class of 2025. I am pleased to welcome you to the first Fenwick all-school Mass of 2024, celebrating the Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time.

I would like to begin by asking all of you: When was the last time that you felt you answered God’s call? It could be something as small as giving a couple dollars to a homeless person, donating a coat to a coat drive, or even buying coffee for the person behind you in line. Maybe you have answered God’s call on a larger scale, such as making the decision to attend Fenwick, starting your own charity, or going on a mission trip. There are endless ways to answer God’s call. Mother Teresa once said: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” Whether it be big or small, we all respond to God’s call in our own, unique ways.

The Gospel in this Mass celebrates when Jesus called the twelve apostles, a pivotal moment in Salvation History. In preparation for calling the twelve apostles, Jesus spent much time praying on a mountain, entrusting God, the Father, to look over Him. Jesus then called the apostles by name and told them to go out into the world, preach His word, and cast out demons. Jesus believed in them and saw the goodness in their potential. The Lord does the same with all of us.

We are called to imitate the apostles and help Jesus carry out his ministry in the world. All of our calls from God are different, and it was not until I joined the youth catechism program at my parish that I truly discovered my call from God. This was when I began to study the Bible, pray on a regular basis, and serve others. After I went through the program myself, I was given the opportunity to be an aid in one of the classrooms. I felt as though this opportunity was the perfect way to continue to answer my call from God. Now, for my junior service project, I have continued my commitment to my parish, and I help out at family gatherings on Sunday mornings.

While we all have different answers to God’s call, we do share a commonality in our faith journeys. All of us in this auditorium made the commitment to be Fenwick Friars. Students, we have all answered God’s call by attending Fenwick and accepting the responsibilities that come along with it being a Catholic high school. Many of us contemplated and debated coming to Fenwick for some time, similar to how Jesus prayed to God for a long time before embarking on calling his twelve closest followers.

There are an infinite number of ways to answer God’s call. I challenge all of you to be more cognizant of doing small acts in your daily lives to respond to your call from God. Your answer can be something as simple as greeting someone that you normally don’t talk to. Just as the Lord saw talent in the apostles, He sees it in all of us as well. With the Lord by our sides, there is nothing stopping us from continuing to incorporate acts of love and kindness in our lives. Thank you.


December 8

Luis Avalos ’24 provided the Student Reflection at the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception Mass on Friday, December 8, 2023.

Hello, my name is Luis Avalos from the class of 2024 and I’d like to welcome you for today’s Mass celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Today is designated to celebrate Mary’s conception without sin, including the original sin present in all humans since their birth. Her conception free from sin was in preparation for her becoming the mother of God, Jesus Christ, who is a pretty important character in our faith, if I do say so myself.

I am not going to stand here and lie to you all.Truthfully, I have never had that struggle in my faith where I thought, “Oh, God can not be real because of what I’ve just gone through,” or “God would never let something like this happen.” But, in a life where I’ve experienced many difficult things (evictions from my home, the sudden deaths of relatives and well, let’s just say “relationship issues” in the past), God has been the only constant in my life. Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose the lives we’re born into, nor do we get to control the roller coaster that life is. One thing we can all control, no matter what, is our faith and how that will impact our lives. We can choose to allow God to walk alongside us, and trust that he will help us through difficult times.  We can choose to trust that He has a plan for us, just like He did for Mary.  We can choose to believe that despite the difficulties we might face in life, God can do miraculous things- things like healing a relative, giving us the courage to leave a difficult situation or relationship, or even allow for the conception of a person without original sin, and then allow that woman to conceive a child through the help of the Holy Spirit.

As Fenwick students, we’re oftentimes scared and worried about things we can’t control: “Will my teacher give me a test this day? Will I get into this college, or will I get into this summer program?” At the end of the day, we don’t make that decision; somebody else does, but we can prepare ourselves as best as we can, and trust that God will help us with the rest. When we face our doubts and uncertainties, let us turn to the witness of Mary.  We can recall that God had faith in Mary to conceive His only Son. From the moment of her conception she was spared from sin — she was “immaculate.” Mary could not have known in the moment of her “yes” all that she was saying yes to, but she knew that God had a plan. With the grace of her immaculate birth and through the faith built through her relationship with God, she could trust in Him and accept her role as Mary, Queen of Heaven, Mother of our Lord.

I invite us — you and me — to embrace the uncertainty in our lives, and to embrace our relationships with God just like Mary did.  God has given us graces to help us say “yes”’ just like Mary to His plan. In the words of a famous poet, “Life is such a roller coaster—then it drops, but what should I scream for? This is my theme park.” It is in these “drops” where the only certain thing you may have in your life is your faith, so remember to embrace it, just as the immaculate conception of Mary prepared her to embrace her role as the Mother of God. Thank you.

November 17

Rozlyn Plazas ’24 provided the Student Reflection at Mass on Friday, November 17, 2023.

Good Morning Friars. My name is Rozlyn Plazas, from the class of 2024, and it is an honor to welcome you all to today’s school-wide mass. As we gather, the profound words of our reading resonate with the remarkable life of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, an inspiration who devoted herself to establishing hospices for the impoverished and ailing.

Born into royal privilege, St. Elizabeth felt a divine calling to use her status for the betterment of the less fortunate. Rather than turning a blind eye to the struggles around her, she actively sought ways to assist those in need, ultimately renouncing her royal ties to wholeheartedly dedicate herself to helping the impoverished. St. Elizabeth’s unwavering devotion to love and care for the less fortunate established her as a substantial symbol of Christian Charity. 

Today’s reading from the book of Wisdom has a striking quote: “For they indeed have gone astray perhaps, though they seek God and wish to find Him.” This line illustrates St. Elizabeth’s unwavering faith. Surrounded by her environment, she had the opportunity to fall back on her status, yet she devoted herself to the service of others. This notion intersects with a pivotal moment in my own life. At the beginning of high school, my great grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, a painful journey witnessing her decline alongside the effects of old age. In moments of deterring faith, especially when caring for her during her illness, I discovered strength within, sensing the love and presence of God. Despite grappling with doubts about the morality of her suffering, my great grandmother’s commitment to her faith became my guiding light. Every Sunday, I would spend precious moments with her, providing the care she needed. This connection prompted me to care for her until her passing. I cherished the shared memories and felt grateful for the time I could support her. Today I am grateful to God for allowing me to imitate St. Elizabeth in being a source of comfort for my great grandmother until the end of her life. 

As we gather here today, I encourage each one of you to reflect upon the enduring legacy of St. Elizabeth. In the face of personal or others’ adversities, we can draw strength from our faith, trusting that with God’s love, we can overcome. We can support loved ones confronting challenges, embodying St. Elizabeth’s message of genuine Christian charity. Let her be an example to inspire us to reach out and assist others, a fundamental tenet of Christianity. May we continue to act in accordance with extending our hands to support those in need, whether they be a friend, a loved one, or even the person seated next to you today. I encourage you to emulate St. Elizabeth, becoming genuine role models of Christian charity within our community. 

November 1

Matthew Brown ’24 provided the Student Reflection at Mass on Wednesday, November 1, 2023. 

Good morning everyone. My name is Matthew Brown from the Class of 2024 and I would like to welcome you to today’s Mass. 

Today is the Solemnity of All Saints Day. All Saints Day originated in the year 609 A.D. during May, when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Later, Pope Gregory III changed the date to November 1 and shortly thereafter Pope Gregory the fourth extended this celebration to the universal church. Catholics view saints as anyone who makes it to Heaven. Today we celebrate all saints, whether they were formally canonized Saints (with a capital “S”) within the Church, or simply those who made it to Heaven.

In Theology class this year when learning about the world’s different religions, we discuss who the exemplars are for the various faiths we study. Exemplars are people who serve as role models. For Catholics, saints are our exemplars. Saints lead by example and show us how we should devote our lives to God. Yet, we also oftentimes have exemplars who aren’t saints that still lead by example and show us how we can worship God.

I am a devout Catholic, but even devout Catholics struggle with their faith in many different ways. Whether it is struggling with praying, attending Mass, or believing in God, each and every person has struggled with their faith at least once. I am no different. High school has not been easy for me, and I think it’s safe to say that each of us has felt that way at some point or another. Personally, I had a very tough sophomore year, oftentimes feeling very alone, and as a result my relationship with God struggled. I didn’t understand why these bad things were happening to me and it felt like God was punishing me for reasons I didn’t understand. But throughout this entire time, my older brothers kept showing me how to remain faithful and grow in my relationship with God. We’d go to church together, pray together, and talk about our faith together. They encouraged me to pray and to ask for the saints to intercede for me and help me with the struggles I was going through. My brothers were the perfect exemplars that I needed to remind me that God is always with us and that He deeply loves and cares for us.

As my brothers were exemplars for me, there are people in your life that are exemplars for you, people who hope to help you grow in your faith. I encourage all of you to consider who your exemplar is. It could be one of your siblings, parents, grandparents, or even your friends.

And if you truly believe that you do not have an exemplar, someone who will show you the way, then the saints are perfect for you. I can guarantee that each and every one of you will relate to at least one saint in some way shape or form. There are an estimated 11,000 saints, so there are plenty to choose from when considering who your exemplar will be. As we enter into this Mass, I encourage you to ask God for the strength to go out and set a good example; to be an exemplar. We are called to imitate the lives of saints and lead by example with our worship of God. Now I leave you with one parting question that I’d like you to think about. How can you go out and be an exemplar for those around you?

October 20

Anna Androsyuk ’24 provided the Student Reflection at Mass on Friday, October 20, 2023. 

Good morning everyone. My name is Anna Androsyuk from the class of 2024 and I want to welcome you to today’s mass.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul discusses Abraham, the founding father of the first covenant between God and His people. Paul explains that according to Scripture, Abraham’s belief  was the reason he was credited as righteous, not because of his work. Despite the fact that Abraham had done countless good deeds and had a profound impact, he was chosen by God solely because of his steadfast faith. 

There are many ways to attain the spiritual gift God offers us. At times you may doubt yourself and wonder: am I doing this right? Do I really live as Jesus taught? But all God asks is for you to put your faith into Him. 

There are multiple ways we, as students, can exhibit our steadfast faith. Following the four Dominican pillars is a path that will lead you to righteousness, but more importantly also grows and solidifies your relationship with God. Through prayer,  community, study, and preaching we can learn how God wants us to live out our lives. However, these pillars cannot simply produce righteousness. Our actions are fruitless if not fueled by faith — belief in God and His promise. These pillars help us to embody our faith and connect it through our heart, mind, and soul — only then can God give us this spiritual gift.

My faith has not always been steadfast. I, too, have had low moments when I didn’t feel the presence of God. In middle school, I didn’t understand the importance of having a relationship with God. Just like most of my peers, I was preoccupied with other things like when I would spend time with my friends, what grade I got on a test, or what my plans were the following weekend. But regardless of whether I was focused on God, He was there even when I was too blind to see it. Especially when you feel an absence of God, Jesus reminds us, “Do not be afraid.” Looking back now, I realize that He was there to guide me every step of the way. Even when we stray from God and good deeds, God still wants us to return to him. We don’t need to be afraid of God if we have made mistakes. God was there through all my triumphs and my failures. He was there then just as He is now. He was there for me and He is there for each of you. God offers salvation as a gift to each and every one of us. He is forgiving, sins can be cured, and there is always a path to God.

October 13

Catherine Quinn ’25 provided the Student Reflection at the Votive Mass for the Most Holy Rosary on Friday, October 13, 2023.

Good morning. My name is Catherine Quinn of the Class of 2025.

When I was younger, my extended family and I spent our summers at my aunt and uncle’s house in Michigan. I created some of my fondest memories there, from being dunked in the water by my older cousins to staying up past my bedtime to enjoy s’mores. The lake was where I first learned to shuffle cards, where I first heard stories about my grandparents, where I first began to understand the blessings of family. It was my haven and my happy place. Eventually, during COVID, my aunt and uncle decided to sell their house. I was stunned and devastated, feeling that the sale marked the end of an era.

The First Reading from the Prophet Joel today explains how God’s people prepared for the end of something- the end of the world. The advice from Joel can provide us with guidance on dealing with the end of things. The People of God were advised to approach the alleged end of time with prayer, fasting, and acts of gratitude.

Every end presents its challenges, some small, like the trivial disappointment of finishing an ice cream cone or a favorite TV show, or the sale of a beach house that wasn’t even my own, and some large, like the heartbreaking anguish that accompanies the loss of a loved one.

Although we can never be fully prepared for something that abruptly comes to an end, we can try to view these experiences a little differently. We can attempt to live more fully in each moment to better treasure the various experiences that life has to offer. We can remember to give thanks for our blessings each and every day. Through God, we can recognize and appreciate the beauty of our past adventures and the people and memories we will forever hold. And, with His guiding hand, God can help us to remember that with every end comes a new beginning.

Oftentimes it is difficult to appreciate what is right in front of us when we expect it to always be there. But as a Fenwick community, we can work to embrace the occasions that bring us joy and express our gratitude towards God for gifting us these moments and opportunities.

In giving God our prayers and trust, , we can further cultivate our relationship with God and those around us so that when our own “end times” approach, we are prepared to be united with God.

During this month of October, when we celebrate the rosary, we can remember the power of prayer. Through the prayers of the rosary and Mary, the Mother of God, we can find the guidance to grow closer with our Creator and the strength to understand that some experiences are fleeting, so we must cherish them as they come.

September 29

Anna Schloss ’24 provided the Student Reflection at the Feast of the Archangels Mass on Friday, September 29, 2023.

Good Morning Friars! My name is Anna Schloss of the class of 2024 and I’d like to take a moment to welcome you to mass this Friday morning.

Today we celebrate the feast of the archangels, Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. The archangels are often viewed as heroic messengers and protectors of the Church. St. Michael’s greatest feat was defeating Satan in dragon form in the Book of Revelation, St. Gabriel’s appearing to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus, and St. Raphael’s healing Tobit and Sarah when they both prayed for death. The archangels are symbols of strength, courage, and heavenly power and, while this is important, it can also seem daunting. How are we supposed to follow the example of the archangels when we aren’t powerful, divine creatures but mere humans?

When I was in kindergarten, my grade school matched us up with eighth-grade students that would be our mentors for the entire school year. These eighth graders were called our “guardian angels.” As guardian angels, they were meant to be role models of faith and goodness for the youngest students in the school. We had a special mass and ceremony, sang songs with our “guardian angels,” and received angel pins. The school made a big deal out of this as it had been a tradition for what seemed like forever. Truthfully, as a kindergartener, I didn’t understand this tradition’s importance. I never talked to my eighth grader outside of our scheduled activities and didn’t understand what it meant to have a guardian angel. My eighth grader wasn’t there to constantly protect me or teach me so the whole idea seemed pointless. However, when I entered eighth grade and finally got to be a guardian angel to a kindergartener, I began to understand the tradition’s significance. 

Eighth grade was the year I was confirmed and happened to be the year I began to take hold of my faith and actively work to grow in my relationship with God. As I spent more time focusing on my faith and my role in the church, I realized how important my mentorship was to the youngest students in our school and our parish community. As an eighth-grade guardian angel, it wasn’t my job to fight dragons. It wasn’t my job to perform miracles or be a divinely powerful being. I was called to be a symbol of God’s strength and courage in humanity by showing the kindergarteners how to participate in mass and by doing acts of service with them. This guardian angel tradition shows us that the angels and archangels are there to protect us and that we can model their values in our own lives. This doesn’t need to be done in a matter of grandeur but rather by having the courage to practice our faith when it is challenged and by having the strength to continually reach out to God even when we don’t feel close to Him. The angels and archangels are symbols of God’s love and serve as our guides as we navigate both our lives on earth and our spiritual lives.

I would like to leave you with the lyrics of the guardian angel song we’d always sing during the ceremony. I invite you to open your hearts to feel the presence of God and the angels. I invite you to open your minds so that we can imitate their values of strength and courage. And now we pray:

“Angels before me, guide and direct me. Angels behind me, guard and protect me. Angels above me, keep watching over me. Angels beside me, care for and comfort me. Amen.”

September 15

Xahil Gonzalez ’24 provided the Student Reflection at the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows Mass on Friday, September 15, 2023.

Good Morning. My name is Xahil Gonzalez from the class of 2024. I would like to welcome all of you to this Mass celebrating the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. The name “Our Lady of Sorrows” was given to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Often depicted mourning the loss of her son, this name was meant to exemplify the immense pain and suffering she had gone through during the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Full of the sorrow and grief that comes along with the loss of a son, through the hurt she rejoiced his death as she knew what was to come of it. Our Lord sent his only son to be born from the Blessed Mary, only to suffer and die for our sins. She knew his suffering was necessary for Salvation. She knew he was our inheritance.

When we hear the word inheritance, we may find ourselves imagining a distant relative we may have never met, or even heard of, who might leave us an estate or castle in a foreign country. We might imagine hearing the news of a great uncle or aunt leaving us a sizable amount of money that would allow us a lavish existence for the rest of our lives. But that is not the definition I mean as today’s responsorial psalm says, “you are my inheritance, O Lord.” When he died for us, we were given an undeserved favor in the form of Grace, something not earned but given freely. We were forgiven from our sins and granted mercy in order to achieve salvation. Sometimes it may seem as if we do not deserve the infinite love and mercy of Our God, but that is the thing about inheritances: one receives it regardless of their worthiness.

Sometimes it can feel as if we are isolated in life, but I can assure you that we are never alone because the Lord is always with us. There have been times where I have felt that I was alone, hopelessly walking, feeling as if there was no actual light at the end of the tunnel; however, I could not have been more wrong.

Last year I lost someone who I was very close to and I was deeply affected by it. The pain of knowing I’d never see them again caused me to lash out and just feel angry all the time. I felt unworthy of any forgiveness and kept pushing away my faith. But I knew that in those moments, I had to remember that His undying love and mercy was my inheritance, whether I felt I deserved it or not. I remembered that through my baptism I had placed my faith and my heart in the hands of God as I knew to trust whatever he had planned for me. I knew he would lead me to the light. As the psalmist says, we are to turn to the Lord for answers, and He will provide them. 

Our Lady stood by her son while he suffered and died for our sins. Even when faced with his death, He was not alone. Our Lady suffered alongside Him. She was mourning her son just like anyone would for someone they loved. We must remember to take refuge in the Lord, as she did, for he is our shelter. We must learn to seek counsel from Him, for he is our teacher. He is always with us and in our presence, for he is the path to life. It is important to remember that no matter what we may be going through, He will always be with us to guide us, teach us, console us for the Lord is our inheritance. 

And now, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and Our Lady, if you know it and would like to, please join me in saying the “Dios te salve, Maria.”

“Dios te salve, María,
Llena eres de gracia, 
el Señor está contigo. 
Bendita tú eres entre todas las mujeres, 
y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesús. 
Santa María, Madre de Dios, 
ruega por nosotros, pecadores, 
ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.
Amen”

Who Was Saint Agnes of Montepulciano?

In medieval Tuscany, the Dominican Prioress (1268-1317) was known as a miracle worker.

By Student Preacher Rozlyn Plazas ’24 (Elmwood Park, IL)

Good Morning, fellow Friars. My name is Rozlyn Plazas from the Class of 2024, and it is an honor to address you all at today’s school-wide mass. Today, as we commemorate the life of St. Agnes of Montepulciano, I invite us to reflect on her legacy and how it can inspire us to deepen our relationship with God.

St. Agnes, a revered Dominican foundress, led a life of profound faith and devotion to God, and was a significant source of inspiration for St. Catherine of Siena, one of the Church’s most esteemed saints. St. Catherine, a Doctor of the Church, who was a great teacher, a prophetic witness to God’s Grace in the world, and an example of compassion and service, found her Dominican vocation after visiting the shrine where St Agnes lies. Like St. Agnes, St. Catherine lived vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and dedicated herself to a life of prayer, penance, and works of charity. The unwavering commitment to these virtues, coupled with the graces of wisdom and prudence given to both Sts. Agnes and Catherine, had a profound impact on the Church and is an inspiring example for all. 

As students and Friars, we may encounter challenges and hardships that test our faith and make us question the presence of God in our lives. I know this feeling all too well, as last year I grieved the loss of two family members to illness within the span of six months. I was angry, filled with rage, blaming the world, and even exerted this anger towards God. When I reflect on my own personal experience, I realized that God never left my side during my time of grief.

A quote by St. Agnes describes this feeling. “I am already promised to the Lord of the Universe. He is more splendid than the sun and the stars, and He has said He will never leave me.” Like St. Agnes, I too was able to deepen my relationship with God and find solace in his love and presence. In the midst of my pain, I felt the presence of God, just as St. Agnes had described. He never left my side, and slowly but surely, I began to find peace and healing. I realized that God was not the cause of my suffering but rather a source of comfort and strength. St. Agnes’ message of unwavering faith and devotion to God can serve as inspiration to us all. In our lives, we will face trials and tribulations, and it can be easy to feel lost and alone.

And just like St. Agnes, we can turn to God for guidance and comfort. God is always present in our lives, even in the darkest moments. St. Agnes’ unwavering commitment to prayer and devotion to God serves as a motivation for us all. As students, we can each find our own unique way to strengthen our faith and rely on God in our daily lives. Through our own personal experiences and the faith-filled witness of Sts. Agnes and Catherine, we can learn to trust in God’s plan for our lives and find comfort in his unconditional love and grace.

 As we move through the remaining weeks of the school year, each of us can strive to deepen our relationship with God in our own way. Whether it be preparing to go off to college, start a summer job, or embark on the new opportunities to come. We can do this all through prayer, meditation on the Word of God, and receiving the sacraments with devotion. We can draw strength from St. Agnes’ example and allow our hearts to be transformed to love like Christ.

Do the Math and Share God’s Good News

By Student Preacher Grant Schleiter ’23 (Elmhurst, IL)

In today’s gospel Jesus lays out the connection between him and God the father. Jesus describes  himself as a reflection of God, stating that “for what he does, the Son will also do.” God showed his love for us by creating us and then taking on human flesh as Jesus. Our goal as Christians is to mimic the life of Christ, and walk the way of our Savior. 

I am not saying we all have to go sit in a desert for 40 days, or get nailed to a cross. I am saying we must do what Jesus did the most: preach. Share the Good News of God with others.

Let’s do some simple math. What is 2 to the power of 1?  2. What about 2 to the power of 2? 4. 2 to the power of 3 is eight. Now does anyone know what 2 to the power of 2000? Toby? Quinn? Mr. Finnell? Let’s just say it is far larger than the current world population of 7.8 billion. If we say that Jesus entered the world sometime before the “year 0” and began his teaching a few decades after that, by the end of the third decade CE there would be at least one Christian in the world. And if this Christian inspired someone else through sharing the teachings of Jesus, so now we are at 2 followers at the end of that year. If every succeeding year, every Christian made one disciple, what would happen after 2000 years?

Referencing my math earlier, if every Christian were to share the Good News to one person a year, the number of Christians would be well over our world population. But instead the number of Christians is declining. From 1976 to 2022 the United States has declined from 91% Christian, to 64%. To follow in the footsteps of God, we need to share the good news and inspire others. 

I can assume most people in this auditorium right now cannot just pull out a Bible verse for every situation in life, but once again this is not necessary for effective preaching. All you need is a common understanding of the scripture, and to learn how Jesus acted. The easiest way to do this is the Gospel. There are 8,760 hours in a year, and God only asks you for 52 of those. If Jesus sacrificed His whole life for you on the cross, you can sacrifice .59% of your year for Him. And if you worry that you have not been going to Mass enough, now is the time to start. Jesus will never leave you. Like a lighthouse, His light will always project in your darkness. The closer you are to the light, the closer you are to the safety of shore. 

Brothers and sisters, we have such a great gift in our faith, and the best thing we can do is give it to others. Procrastination of our faith impacts others and may contribute to the decline in Christianity. God did not put us on this world to effortlessly cruise through life expecting to make it into Heaven. God expects us to take the stairs instead of the escalator when it comes to our faith. Putting in that extra work to not only focus on yourself, but also to focus on others. Going to Mass, learning about the Gospel, turning the other cheek, and following the golden rule are all simple ways we can take the extra step in our Faith. Faith can make a tremendous impact on someone’s life, so the best thing we can do for others is let them also enjoy the gifts of God’s love. 

As Lent starts to come to a close and the Easter season begins, let us think about the sacrifices Jesus made, and think about what we can do to spread the Love of God shown through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Embrace God’s love and spread that to others; in doing so, you will be a true reflection of Jesus. We are all very fortunate enough to receive education on Theology here at Fenwick, so use that knowledge and spread it to others that are not as fortunate. I know each and every one of you are great people, because you are all God’s children, and to mimic Jesus we must also be fishers of men and bring more people into our faith.

Fenwick “Mathletes” Place 1st at Illinois Regionals!

The Friars out-performed staunch competition from Latin School of Chicago and north suburban Lake Forest Academy.

On Saturday, February 25, at the Niles West State Math RegionalsFenwick took first place and — for the 30th consecutive year — qualified all 33 members of its Math Team for the State Math Finals. The finals will be held at Illinois State University in Normal, IL, in April. The top three Math Teams (with their scores):

  1. Fenwick  845
  2. Lake Forest Academy  832
  3. Latin School  661

The Friars finished first in five of the ten events:

  • Algebra 2 Team
  • Calculator Team
  • Oral Math Topic Team
  • Two-person Junior/Senior Team
  • Eight-person Freshman/Sophomore Team


In individual events, for the first time in the 43 years of the State Contest, Fenwick had two perfect scores: by Kyra Miller ’25 (Riverside, IL) in Geometry and TuoyuToby” Yang ’24 (Oak Park, IL) in Algebra 2. Quinn Hynes ’23 (Western Springs, IL) also placed first in Pre-Calculus.

Congratulations to the entire team and their six coaches/moderators: Mrs. Brigid Esposito ’96, Mr. Roger Finnell ’59, Mrs. Bozena Kopf, Mrs. Maria Nowicki, Mr. Andrew Reuland ’94 and Ms. Diane Sabbia!


PHOTO GALLERY

Slow Down on Ash Wednesday and During Lent

Ashes fade, but our faith remains,” senior student reminds her Fenwick classmates.

By Preaching Team Member Natalie Poleszak ’23 (Burr Ridge, IL)

Did you leave your car running this morning? Did you take a second to remember you locked it? During this season, we are often so occupied with giving up a favorite soda or candy that we forget to slow down. So excited for Easter, we lose focus on what’s important. 

Today, I ask each one of you to for a moment forget about the Spanish test you have or what you will be doing this weekend to slow down

Natalie Poleszak ’23

I know Fenwick students are sometimes unable to do this because I see it in the parking lot everyday. In a rush to get to their favorite parking spot or to even make it past the light, we often forget to look around. Similarly, how often do we think about an intention before we mindlessly pray with our peers before class. How often do we check up on our friends or tell our parents thank you? I am guilty of not doing these things myself.

Today I challenge you to practice patience. I challenge you to park within the lines. For even though your awareness fades, the impact remains.

You may be asking yourself, ‘Natalie why are you talking about the parking garage on Ash Wednesday?’ Driving is something we all experience in our lives. Likewise, everyone at Fenwick has to learn about faith in their theology classes. Why not incorporate it into the simple moments in your life?

Even with all of this preparation and growth in our personal lives, it’s not important unless we get out and actually do it. So today we are challenged to consider the other person in the car next to us. To not cut them off, or honk the horn, or to let them in front of us. Let the ash on your forehead serve as a reminder in your busy lives. For even as the cross on your forehead fades, our faith remains.

How to Live Lent Radically in 2023

By Father Christopher Johnson, O.P.

As we once again enter the beginning of another Lenten season, the all-important question of “what should I do for Lent this year?” more than likely has come to mind. Before you or I decide to once again abstain from cookies, candies, carbonated drinks, or coffee beverages for the season of Lent, it is worthwhile considering the purpose of the season of Lent. In doing so, we can gain a better sense of the purpose of these resolutions, and what they can do to help us with our spiritual journeys. 

The season of Lent has its origins in the catechumenate preparation period for their entrance into the Christian Church at Easter Vigil. In the early Church (2nd-4th centuries), initiated Christians were encouraged to join in this time of prayer and fasting- recalling their own baptism, but also those preparing to join the Church.  For catechumens, Lent was a long and rigorous period of examination, catechesis, and ascetical cleansing of body and soul during the forty days leading up to Easter.  

As infant baptism became the norm, the number of new initiates decreased, but the practice of forty days of fasting continued. 

Fr. Christpher Johnson, O.P. is a Fenwick campus minister and chaplain.

It is worth noting that early on, Lent required the abstention from meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, wine, and oil.  In other words, only fruits, vegetables, bread, salt, and water were allowed to be consumed during this time period.  Likewise, only one full meal was allowed to be consumed during the day.  As time went on, allowances for one to two small snacks (collations) for laborers was added. This time of fasting was seen as an opportunity to cleanse oneself of attachments to food and drink, but also to reflect upon one’s own baptism and need for continual repentance.

Following the Second Vatican Council, the requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays, to only take one full meal during the season of Lent and other ascetical actions were lessened. (Please see the bottom of this reflection for the list of guidelines provided by the USCCB for days of fasting and abstinence in the Latin Catholic Church).

This lessening of expectations over time is not true for many of our Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters who still begin Lent with a three week period of gradually removing certain dietary items from their meals in preparation for the Lenten abstention from meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, added sugar products, chocolate, alcohol, and vegetable oils for the full duration of Lent (including Sundays). 

The practice of truly abstaining from food such as Orthodox Christian or our pre-Vatican II predecessors would be a very difficult task for me.  It would make me uncomfortable, and mindful of my attachment to my favorite foods and beverages, and other things of this world. Our goal for Lent should be to replicate that experience today- seeking to make ourselves uncomfortable, and mindful of the need for conversion, and God’s help. This will make for a truly radical and transformative Lent.

If we choose to give up a certain food or drink during Lent, our call is to pray for God’s assistance when our stomach growls, or eyes see a desirable treat in front of us.  We should pray for God’s help in growing more detached from physical goods so that we might be able to live a simpler life, one more dependent upon Him, and His generosity. As well it is a reminder to pray for those whom a meager diet like this is not a seasonal thing, but an everyday reality.  

To assist us in better using Lent as a period of cleansing in anticipation of Easter, the Church calls her members to live out the prophetic call to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during the season of Lent.

How can we best embrace one or more of these facets? 

Some questions to consider when planning out your Lenten practices:

  1. What is it that you need to do in your life to grow in your awareness of your attachments to this world? 
  1. What are those things that distract you from being present to God and your neighbor? 
  1. What practices or actions should you undertake to better center yourself on what is truly important?

This Lent, Perhaps Consider Committing To:

Fasting: Don’t just give up candy, or junk food, but instead consider:

  • Fast from distractions use your phone or other electronic device less, and instead use that time:
    • for prayer
    • Chatting with a relative, or other loved one.
    • Visiting an elderly neighbor to talk or help with chores.
    • Educate yourself about the challenges that many face across the globe:
      • Learn about the plight of Christians in Nigeria, Myanmar, Central America, China, and the Middle East.
      • Become aware of the challenges that refugees face throughout the world.
      • Learn more about the reality of hunger for many children throughout the world and in the US.
  • Fast from luxury goods: Don’t purchase fancy coffee drinks, or fast food once a week, and donate the money to a cause that is important to you.
    • Support Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl campaign.
  • Fasting from sleeping in: Don’t snooze your alarm clock for the season of Lent, and use this time to say some prayers for your loved ones, or do chores/kind acts for those you live with..
  • Fast from harsh words: Get off social media, or make the choice not to respond to the hurtful comments someone may have said to you, or wrote about you on social media, but instead offer a prayer for them.
  • Fast from apathy and complaining: Pick up trash that you might see around you, instead of walking by it, or do those little things that need to be done instead of complaining.
  • Fast from griping about those things outside your control:  Don’t complain about what is wrong with the world, but instead give thanks for what is going well, and seek to encounter others with gratitude for those little things they do to help you. As well, offer your complaints as a prayer of supplication to God.
Continue reading “How to Live Lent Radically in 2023”

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Alumnus Fr. Tom Logue ’11, who grew up in the Hinsdale, IL parish of StIsaac Jogues, returned to Fenwick on January — to preach as a priest!

By Father Thomas Logue

My name is Fr. Thomas Logue, and I graduated from this school some 12 years ago now, and I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ just this past May.

It’s great being back in this way to celebrate this Mass. I was on Kairos with a couple of the alumni here who are my age, and many of my teachers from my time as a student are still here, which is awesome.
If I recall correctly, I think in Latin class, Dr. Porter told us we wouldn’t use Latin all the much.

So, I’ve just got to say, Dr. Porter, as a priest I get to use Latin all the time: checkmate.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Conversion of St Paul. And you might be wondering, “Okay, that’s cool, Father, but what’s with the gold thing you processed in with?”

Well, I’m glad you asked! My doctor happens to be a fellow alumn, and we have worked together in healing ministry; he lent me this relic of St. Paul — I believe it is a fragment of his bone. So we’re incredibly blessed that this real man will be with us as we come to worship the real Jesus together with him.

Alumnus Fr. Tom Logue, Fenwick Class of 2011.

Now, as we look at what this man experienced, coming face-to-face with God the Son in resurrected human flesh, and who was struck blind for three days thence — all these amazing things — we have to remember that Luke — the guy who wrote this down — didn’t write it down for Paul:

“Hey, Paul, want to hear the story you told me again?”
“Um, no.”

God, the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to write this down for me and for you, so that we might believe. It was all written for you ….

So, that begs the question: All this crazy stuff happened to this man that fundamentally changed him from a murderer of Christians into the greatest Christian witness the world has ever seen — okay.

But, what’s the import for me?

It all centers on the one question Paul asks of Jesus: “Who are You, Lord?” . . . “Who are You, Lord?

Because, for Paul up to this point, before encountering Christ, if someone asked him, “Have you ever heard of Jesus? Who is He?” he’d ultimately say something like: “Jesus is just some dead nobody who’s keeping my life and my culture, even my worship, from what I want it to be. Just some dead nobody who’s caused me a lot of trouble.

But the genuine revelation of the Catholic faith says something quite different, otherwise this school wouldn’t exist; the Catholic faith wouldn’t exist.

A miraculous image from the 1st century, believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus.

Who is Jesus?

Jesus is the God who holds us in existence.

He is God the Son who took on my broken human flesh, calling first the Jewish people, and through them the whole world — me and you — back into relationship with the True and Living God, Himself. And, to do this, from our lowly human flesh, as God and as a Man, He made a perfect act of love to God the Father when He consecrated Himself a sacrifice for me and for you, and then died a torturous death by suffocation in crucifixion, and rose three days later.

“Who are You, Lord?”

But even from 13 years of Catholic schooling growing up, I feel like many, many of my peers, and even a few of my teachers, and me especially, if asked, not just on a theology test, but through the way you can really tell what someone believes — by how we live — if you asked us, “Who is Jesus?” and looked at how we live, our answers might correspond to something like:

  • “He’s just a good moral teacher, or maybe a revolutionary.”
  • Or, “He just asked us to be nice or something; He died, but He didn’t rise from the dead — He’d have to be like, God or something, lol.”
  • Or, “He was just a made up idea that helps people be kind.”

In our culture, and in a culture like this, when we reject Christ, we don’t usually reject Christ outright. We make a new Christ that fits my view of things. And, as a priest who I know says, “that is a very effective way of murdering Jesus Christ, to change Him to suit our own desires.” It’s not the real Jesus we talk about when we do this. We are just making up our own.

And what I felt — and some of you might know what I’m talking about, though I hope you don’t know what I’m talking about — I felt like, ironically, the Catholic culture for me growing up, and the apathy I experienced towards the faith and towards our Lord in it, which seemed louder than the Gospel — that it almost vaccinated me against Catholicism.

You might be thinking, “Vaccinated?” You know, with old school vaccines (not the new mRNA stuff) if you want to make someone immune to something that is very contagious, what you do is you take the contagious thing, you isolate it, you kill it, and then you inject the dead thing into the person, so that when they encounter the real thing out in the world, their system just says, “Oh, I know what that is, and it’s not for me.”

But what have we done the past few generations with our Catholic faith but this very thing? We isolate the fullness of the faith and the real Jesus, we give to our young people a dead, seriously deficient version of the faith, and we’re surprised they don’t practice it — when in fact we’ve vaccinated them against it.

We do this to our Catholic faith, and this has happened to many of us here. C.S. Lewis says, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately
important.”

Well, this was the message I got — that it’s moderately important: like basketball or a TV show. And since this, sadly, is how many of us were raised, when confronted with Christianity and the real Jesus who calls us to repent, who calls us to change — when, in fact, we don’t want to repent; when we don’t want to change — what do we do but try and invent our own Christ.

A painting of the Apostle Paul from 1600s.

But, tragically, we know that when we invent our own Christ, that our own “Jesus” is totally impotent; that “my Jesus” is powerless to save or forgive me; that when I erect my own “Jesus,” in my own image, the
only person I worship is me. And, if I’m honest, I am powerless to save myself … and so I lock myself within my own heart.

But the real Jesus, who comes knocking on the door of our locked hearts — the One who appeared to Paul — we know and believe that He can actually do something about my life. This Man who conquered death and is alive right now, with real Blood flowing through real veins as He sits at the right hand of the Father — that He can heal me; He can save me. He comes full of mercy, full of peace, forgiveness, with genuine meaning (not the futile self-fabricated kind) — real, genuine, objective meaning from the Person who is Truth Incarnate Himself — He offers this for those who will receive Him as Lord, as Master and as Savior.

Ask Him, “Who are you, Lord?”

In my own practice of the faith, my parents went to Mass, and though I felt an affection for the Lord, the liturgy and prayer in childhood (I was even considering priesthood non-stop since I was 5), as I got into junior high and the sort of vaccination I received against Catholicism began to take effect, along with my difficulties with some of my peers and distance from my family, I began to, like Paul, frame Jesus as someone else than who He really is:

“Maybe he’s just a good teacher, probably not God,” I pondered. But this was just a cover for the fact that, even though I was interested in Jesus, I doubted that He could really be interested in me. I felt rather unloved and unwanted, and began to paint the lies on my heart over the face of God.

By the time I got into high school here at Fenwick, I was pretty convinced I was an atheist, and that Christianity was some weird scheme or money grab; it was just something I had to just endure and
put up with until I graduated. But through the testimony of the priest who taught me freshman year, I began just to crack open the door of my heart, and a little bit of light began to shine into my darkness. I was beginning to believe. And, at the time, although I was dead scared of going to confession, I felt tugged towards it, and it terrified me.

Saul is knocked from his horse and blinded on the road to Damascus.

My sophomore year, I was sitting next to my atheist friend up in the front row of the nosebleed seats here in the Auditorium when all-school confessions were being heard, and I finally overcame that fear and, by the grace of God, returned to confession for the first time in 9 years. It was incredible.

But I was still clinging to sin in my life, and it was slowly eating away at me. It wasn’t until my senior year about this time of year, actually — that things came to a head.

I went on the Kairos retreat and had such a profound encounter with the real Jesus that all I could do was weep on the floor in my bedroom, overwhelmed by this love I hadn’t known before, but was utterly familiar, and had been present all my life, in all of my pain. And laying prostrate before the crucifix in my room (like I saw one of the Dominicans do at his ordination), I looked up at the cross through tear-blurred eyes and said, “I will do whatever You want me to do, Jesus, just tell me what it is.”

Well, spoiler — He made that pretty clear.

Needing the Lord

Fr. Tom as a Fenwick senior in 2010-11.

But, due to my surrounding myself with less than quality friends, the following week (again, about this time of the year), I got in some very big trouble in pretty much every aspect of my life. Got 15 detentions
and demerits. I was in trouble in school and out of school; it was a huge mess. I bet you didn’t think a priest alum would say something like that!

I realized through the experience of my big mess up that some ofthe friends I thought were my best friends that I had invested in for 6+ years were in fact just using me. And in my hunger for acceptance, after naming the serious wounds of rejection I’d felt for years, I found myself drifting further and further from the Lord.

Continue reading “Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul”

Notes from War-torn Ukraine

Fr. Jarosław Krawiec, O.P. wrote this Christmas greeting on December 22, 2022. It is a humbling tale of the struggles and incredible faith of the people of Ukraine through the eyes of a Dominican friar.

Translated from Polish:

Dear sisters, dear brothers, I never thought that one could long for lights. When I got off the Kyiv train in Warsaw, I was surprised by the festival of brightly lit streets, buildings, and, above all, colorful Christmas decorations. When you add to it the snow that just fell in Poland in abundant supply, it all looked like a New Year’s fairytale. In Ukraine, the last couple months have been getting colder and darker. The longer this lasts, the more I squint my eyes in disbelief when looking at the bright streets and storefronts as well as entering warm houses and priories abroad.

On the day of Saint Nicholas — which in Ukraine is celebrated on December 19 following the Eastern calendar — a new Christmas tree was officially unveiled in the center of Kyiv. It was placed, as in previous years, on the square in front of the Saint Sophia Cathedral, the oldest and most important Christian church in Ukraine. The Christmas tree is much more modest and 60 feet shorter than last year. There is no market place surrounding it, which  in Ukraine used to be a necessary element of the “New Year holiday,” as Christmas is frequently called here.

Over the last couple weeks, a great discussion has been taking place in Ukraine on the subject of whether Christmas decorations and trees should be displayed in public places during the time when so many millions of people suffer daily because of war and lack of power. The opinion is divided. The mayor of Chortkiv, a small city in western Ukraine where the Dominicans have been present for over 400 years, had already announced in mid-November that: “This year, the Christmas tree and New Year celebration in the city center will be canceled!” To avoid misunderstandings, he immediately added that the most important thing is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the decorations and loud festivities can wait until the war is over. Many people think similarly.

The capitol decided differently. “We must have the Christmas tree!” stated the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko. “Our children should be able to have festivities! Despite the fact that the Russian barbarians are trying to rob Ukrainians from the joy of Christmas and New Year.” I understand the opponents of Christmas trees, but my position is decisively closer to the attitude of the mayor of Kyiv. I heard the opinion of a frontline soldier who was unhappy that his children would be deprived of Christmas. “But this is exactly what we are fighting for, a normal life for our families!” he argued.

Near the Kyiv Christmas tree, I spotted a strange contraption. Cement blocks that until recently had been positioned across the street as a barricade were now painted red, and large eyes were attached to them. It’s part of an artistic project called “Children shouldn’t see the war,” whose authors want to spare the youngest inhabitants of the city the painful experience of seeing a landscape of war during the holidays. This is important since Kyiv now hosts a couple hundred thousand people who have escaped from destroyed cities and villages. This is also the way in which the initiators of this project want to raise funds to help children who have lost one of both parents as a result of the war. Sadly, this number is also growing daily.

Amid war, doves replaced lights on Ukraine Christmas tree.

This year’s Christmas Eve will mark exactly the tenth month of war. On February 24 we all woke up in Ukraine early in the morning to the sound of air raid sirens, explosions, text messages, and phone calls from the terrified friends and family members attempting to find out if we are okay. On the evening of December 24, billions of Christians around the world will begin the celebration of the birth of Christ. This number will include a handful of Roman Catholics in Ukraine, since a majority of the citizens of the country are Christians of eastern traditions and begin celebrations two weeks later. War, however, is causing many of them to demand with increasing intensity the transition to the “Gregorian calendar,” and the bishops of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is independent from Moscow and led by the Metropolitan Epiphanius, are allowing some parishes to celebrate Christmas together with the western world.

This Christmas will be a different one, quieter and wrapped in darkness. Even if we tried to forget for a moment about the hard times and lose ourselves in Christmas shopping, visiting, and decorating, we can’t. Many people have lost their jobs and are in a very difficult economic situation. They will not be able to afford a plentiful Christmas table and gifts. Apart from this, for the last two months there has been a shortage of power and light. Some people have power only periodically; others, like people from Antonivka, don’t have it at all.

Ukraine’s children and the trauma of war.

Antonivka is a village outside of Kherson, with a huge bridge connecting the shores of the Dnieper River that was first attacked by the Ukrainian army and then by the Russians. We delivered humanitarian supplies there two weeks ago. The bus with boxes of food was unloaded very quickly. The village is located right on the bank of the river, and on the other side is the Russian army.

“My friends, don’t stay in groups. Do not create a gathering, so that drones won’t detect us and start shooting,” yelled the ladies coordinating the distribution of humanitarian aid. A couple hours earlier, artillery had destroyed a nearby house, and we helped an older woman get out of her basement and transported her to a safer location. While Father Misha talked with the inhabitants of Antonivka, I saw tears in their eyes. They cried out of disbelief that someone came to them. This is another time that I realized that one of the worst things in war is the feeling of being abandoned. I remember the first days of fighting around Kyiv, when Maryna had asked me to bring supplies to a single mother of a son. When we were leaving the woman had asked, “When it gets really bad, will you help me? Will I be alone?”

Continue reading “Notes from War-torn Ukraine”

“Reflections”

A poem by John O’Neill, Jr. ’75 as published in the 1975 Blackfriars yearbook:

Reflections of my younger days
Are piercing through a web of haze.
A web a string of years has spun
On those I’ve known and things I’ve done.

I’ve loved the times and people here,
And I regret the end is near.
Here they fed me life and laughter
To build me up for what comes after.

From here on in I understand
That no one leads me by the hand.
It’s time to do what I’ve been shown
And try to make it on my own.

There’s something calling; I can’t wait.
The future’s knocking on my fate.
I’m climbing, never asking why,
My spiral staircase to the sky.

Before I go along my way,
There’s something that I have to say.
I wouldn’t change it if and when
I had it all to do again.

Reflections of my future days
Are glowing in a cloud of haze,
Lighting the stage of those I’ve met,
With my hour to strut and fret,
And sing a past I won’t forget,

And sing a past I won’t forget.