Inaugural program to debut with A Raisin in the Sun.
This year, as part of its Summer Reading Program, Fenwick High School debuts “One Book, One Fenwick.” For the first time since formal, summer reading began at Fenwick, the Catholic high school is announcing one shared book to read among all students – as well as those within the greater Fenwick community who wish to participate. The selection, A Raisin in the Sun, actually is a play written by the late Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965).
“We tip our hats to Chicago Public Library’s ‘One Book, One Chicago’ for the inspiration,” said John Schoeph, English Department Chair and a 1995 alumnus of Fenwick. The “One Book, One Fenwick” program seeks to unite all students and members of the Fenwick community through a shared book, Schoeph and his English Dept. colleagues explained. “We envision the program offering platforms and avenues for book-related information, discussions and learning.”
While activities are taking place across disciplines in Fenwick classrooms, Fenwick’s English Dept. hopes to see parents, alumni and friends of the school get involved through a variety of offerings related to the book. “It is our hope that a common text can foster intellectual interaction and friendly discourse between and among the many groups that make up Fenwick’s vast family and network,” the committee proclaimed. A few of the experiences in the works include multiple book chats open to the wider Fenwick family, in-class discussions across the subjects, performances of passages by Theater Fundamentals students, and an all-school assembly celebrating “One Book” in late September.
Committee member and fellow English Teacher Kyle Perry, a 2001 Fenwick graduate, noted: “We look forward to the opportunity of improving students’ literacy while also building a stronger sense of community here at Fenwick.”
Inaugural title choice
Poet Langston Hughes penned what has now become a celebrated question in his 1951 poem, “Harlem:” “What happens to a dream deferred?” Among the possible answers is that it might dry up “like a raisin in the sun.” Hansberry’s 1959 play follows the Youngers, an African-American family, as they seek the American Dream in Chicago. When the Youngers inherit a $10,000 insurance check (equivalent to more than $90,000 today), they pursue wishes for entrepreneurship, education and, especially, a house of their own in Clybourne Park, a white neighborhood. Through A Raisin in the Sun’s engagement with topics and themes from across the American literary canon, including assimilation, class, race, gender, hope, pride and family relationships, the play addresses Hughes’ question: “What happens to a dream deferred?”
“We have enjoyed an incredibly successful summer reading program for years,” Schoeph continued. “Our students read and tend to enjoy the selections. We didn’t want to grow complacent with our success but sought to find a way to bolster the program, to inject it with something exciting and unifying. After exchanging several ideas, we decided on the ‘One Book, One Fenwick’ model. Witnessing the entire English Department enthusiastic about this new dimension to our summer reading program warmed my heart as chair.”
Students can find full details on their summer reading assignments, including course-specific texts assigned in addition to A Raisin in the Sun, here on the Fenwick website.
A former class president and Oak Parker writes about trading his orange-and-blue colors of the Youth Huskies football program for the Friars’ black and white in 2011 – and never looking back. But what about that other “black-and-white” issue?
By Aaron Garland ’15
Growing up, I hated Fenwick as a kid. I believe it was because I always imagined myself in an orange and blue uniform at OPRF High School. Playing under the lights on Lake Street was a dream of mine.
I remember in grade school, I went to watch OPRF play Fenwick in a basketball game. The energy was crazy! It was standing room only at the field house. Iman Shumpert [now with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets] was the star at the time, and I felt like he embodied what OPRF was about. Another reason I was attached to OPRF was because I played for the Oak Park Youth Huskies and looked forward to continuing the sport together. A few guys who were a part of that team were Lloyd Yates [OPRF & NU, see below], Christopher Hawthorne [Fenwick ’15] and Antonio Cannon [OPRF & Augustana College].
My journey to Fenwick began with my Mom. Around sixth grade, she would always say, “You’re going to Fenwick.” I didn’t think she was serious until she made me take the Fenwick entrance exam. I didn’t want to do it but, in my heart, I knew it was the best thing for me. The academic expectation at Fenwick scared me. Growing up, when Fenwick High School came up in conversation, the academic prestige was mentioned. I knew Fenwick would challenge me academically. A piece of me wanted to take the easy way out and leave the exam blank on test day. That wasn’t my style, though. I liked challenges!
When it came to test day, I remember it was early on a Saturday morning. I had a basketball practice shortly after, so my plan was to take the exam as quickly as possible so I could go hoop! As I took the test, I hoped that Fenwick would not accept me.
While waiting on my results, I continued my regular routine playing sports and hanging out with friends. Growing up in the Oak Park-River Forest area was special. For the bulk of my childhood, I hung out with mostly white guys and girls with a sprinkling of blacks and Latinos.
I finally got my test results, and I was in! Two of my close friends received letters of acceptance as well. So the three of us were headed to Fenwick. During our first assembly, Mr. Borsch told us to look to our left and right. He went on to say that the person next to us would not be here in four years. I was shocked that he said that and wondered why people didn’t finish. Was it the tough academics? The dress code? Or the rules? As I looked around at the freshman class, I was hoping that I would be one of the few to remain. Sadly, after one and a half years, both my friends were gone. I won’t go into detail on why they didn’t remain; let’s just say Fenwick was not the right fit for them.
I had a couple close calls at Fenwick myself that could have gotten me kicked out. I am grateful for the mercy that was shown by Wallace Pendleton [Fenwick Class of 2005], our Dean of Students at the time. Wallace was a former Division 1 athlete [Akron football] and he is African American. I believe being black in that situation actually helped me and he saw something in me. Thank you, Wallace. At this point, I was tested to expand my friendships beyond the friends I came in with. That same year, my sister transferred to Fenwick from Trinity, so that was a plus. [BONUS BLOG: Read how alumni Maya Garland ’14, Aaron’s sister, defied the odds.]
I played basketball, football and baseball my first year at Fenwick. I later switched to only playing football. I always believed I was a great baseball player, but I knew football was going to be the sport that sent me to college for free. I later switched to only playing football. The summer before my junior year, I received a full-ride scholarship to play at the University of Connecticut.
Playing sports at Fenwick made it easy to be accepted by others. I had some good teammates like Keshaun Smith [Class of 2014], Robert Spillane [’14], Chris Hawthorne ’15 and Richard Schoen ’14, but the list goes on and on. Along with good teammates, I had some great coaches: Gene Nudo (football), Mark Laudadio ’84 (basketball) and Titcus Pettigrew (football). However, I felt bad for the minorities who were not connected with others through sports.
I would be lying if I said racism did not exist at Fenwick. I also wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said everyone there was racist. There was definitely a disconnect between minorities and whites.
‘East Kids’ and ‘West Kids’
I mentioned earlier that I grew up with mostly white guys and girls and a sprinkle of blacks and Latinos. So attending Fenwick, a majority white school, was not new to me. No matter what school I attended growing up, minorities always stuck together.
Naturally, we all feel more comfort when we are around the same race. However, I never wanted to put limits on friendships based on race, so I made an effort to be friends will all races. Personally, I can’t remember anytime that someone called me the ‘N word’ or was openly racist towards me while at Fenwick. I was the class president my junior year, so I guess I had won the hearts of my classmates the first two years. I would have been class president two years in row if I had decided to run my senior year, but I wanted to give someone else the opportunity to add the position to their high school resume. I enjoyed being class president, it gave me a sense of purpose outside of sports. It also helped me get rid of the stereotype that blacks attended Fenwick only for sports. I am not sure if I was the first black class president at Fenwick, but I’m sure I was one of the few.
Racism has been talked about for centuries. Here is my take on it: I believe it starts at home. Kids do outside what they are taught at home. In Fenwick’s situation, a lot of kids come from the western suburbs, such as Burr Ridge, Western Springs and Hinsdale. We called these people “west kids.”
Those neighborhoods lack diversity. So, due to the lack of diversity in those neighborhoods, it leads to kids being awkward around minorities. I remember going to parties in the west suburbs and feeling like I was being “watched” by the parents a little more closely than others. I am not saying everyone from the west suburbs is racist. I believe the interaction is just different with them. It’s not their fault that they grew up in a neighborhood that lacks diversity.
At Fenwick, you had two types of white kids — those who fit in with the minorities and those who didn’t. The kids who fit in seemed to have grown up in the Oak Park, Elmwood Park and Chicago area. Also known as the “east kids,” these students seemed to be more familiar with minorities due to their environment. So, it was not a problem of race but rather with environment.
I am grateful for the experiences I had at Fenwick. My classmates and teachers all made it a unique experience. Of course, academically we learned a lot and were challenged. Fenwick prepared me for college courses at UConn. Honestly, I felt like Fenwick was harder than college academically. I believe this is the reason I was able to graduate from college in three years and serve on the leadership board of the college of liberal arts and sciences.
Aside from the books, it was the people I appreciated learning from, especially Gene Nudo and Rena [Ciancio ’00] McMahon. Coach Nudo told me to be the kind of guy that colleges want to put on the front page of their advertisements. Nudo was my favorite coach throughout my sports career. He loved his players. Ms. McMahon was my counselor. She always believe in me and knew how to listen when I needed someone to talk to. If I wasn’t in class or practicing, I was talking to Rena or Nudo in their offices.
I learned how to be a young man at Fenwick, how to speak, how to treat people and, most importantly, how to keep God in your life. One of the statements we heard at Fenwick was “Everything in moderation,” which has stuck with me until this day!
My first job when I came back from college was with state senator Don Harmon, who is now the president of the Illinois Senate. This job came from the help of Fenwick alumnus Sean Harmon [Class of 2004], Don’s cousin. While working with Senator Harmon, I started coaching freshman football at Fenwick. I am currently working at the Cook County Board of Review as an appeals analyst. I say this to show that Fenwick opened up doors for me when it was time to join the “real world.” I am confident that the prestige of Fenwick will continue to do that. Moving forward, I am going to be a helping hand in bringing diversity, equity and inclusion to Fenwick so that more minorities will have the opportunity to attend one of the best schools in the state.
I encourage students to love one another and find things in common with people who don’t look like you. Whether it be academics, hobbies or sports, we all can relate somehow. Also, make time to have conversations with the adults in the building. There are many great minds in that building, whether it is the lunch ladies or those working in administration, from whom you can learn something.
I want to give thanks to the following people who were not mentioned above. Mrs. Nowicki (math teacher); Mr. Arellano (retired speech teacher); Tony McCormick [’78] and Becky (athletic trainers); Mr. Ruffino (friend, former coach and facilities director); Mr. Ori (admissions director, ’03) and Mrs. (Morris) Ori (English teacher, ’06); Mr. Schoeph (English teacher, ’95); the ladies in Student Services, Ms. Rowe and Ms. Shanahan; Kita (lunch lady); Mark Vruno (football coach); Mrs. Carraher (Spanish teacher, ’96); Mrs. Megall (retired Spanish teacher); and Coach Heldmann (RIP). Lastly, thank you to my Mom and Dad for sending me to Fenwick. I am sure a left a few out … thank you all!
IN ADDITION TO INTERCEPTIONS, HARD-HITTING TACKLES AND ACROBATIC PASS BREAK-UPS, AG’S SENIOR HIGHLIGHTS FROM FENWICK FOOTBALL FEATURE SOME ELECRIFYING KICK RETURNS, TOO!
BONUS BLOG by Maya Garland ’14 (Aaron’s sister):
Read why “west kid” Jack Henrichs ’22 thinks his commute from La Grange, IL, to Fenwick was worth the adjustment his freshman year.
Math Teacher Mrs. Toni Dactilidis, who recentlycompleted her 12th year at Fenwick, is entering her 23rd year as an educator.
What is your educational background?
TD: I was educated in the City of Steel and Stone: Joliet, Illinois. From preschool at the Little Red Schoolhouse to my Master’s Degree at the University of St. Francis, I feel so fortunate that I grew up in a diverse city with valuable lessons surrounding me at every turn. I am reminded of a beautiful quote from the Greek philosopher Diogenes that I saw every day in high school proudly displayed in the building, ‘the foundation of every state is the education of its youth.’ I love my hometown and, as I grow older, I search for ways to give back to show appreciation for all the education I received in that city. I relish all the lessons learned – from sports to dance, music to the Greek language – my education began at a very young age thanks to my mother, Mary Ann, and all the resources she found for me in Joliet.
If you have never visited Joliet, please do! My high school alma mater, Joliet Central, is one of the most beautiful schools I have ever seen – Forever the Steelmen! I tell my students that the reason I teach high school students is because I loved my high school experience so much. Thank you to all my teachers, both in the classroom and beyond, in Joliet throughout the years!
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
TD: I will begin my 23rd year of teaching in August. Next month will definitely look different than other school year beginnings; but, I am excited to connect with a new group of Friars. I started teaching young people right out of college. I have taught students from the grade school level up to the college level for the past 22 years at Gompers Junior High School to Joliet Junior College. I completed my student teaching at Joliet Catholic Academy, where I truly witnessed the power of a Catholic high school education for young people. Prior to Fenwick, I taught at Rich Central High School [Olympia Fields, IL], where I really fell in love with teaching high school students. As a novice teacher, I was surrounded by amazing mentors who supported and guided me. My students there were wonderful, strong, smart young people that worked hard toward all their goals. I loved my time at Rich Central. But my experience at JCA inspired me to teach at a Catholic institution one day; luckily, I found Fenwick in 2008 in search of an AP Statistics teacher and a crew moderator for theater productions, all of which, I had experience with at Rich Central. Needless to say, the stars aligned for me perfectly.
As I reflect back on my 22 years in education, I think about all the wonderful mentors from whom I have learned. Anna White, the Gompers principal, comes to mind. She taught me so many great lessons on being an effective educator. She created a school climate where students felt loved and had a safe environment to learn. Ms. White showed me daily that loving your students must still involve having good structure and discipline – a priceless lesson indeed! I thoroughly believe love is the foundation of every classroom where learning and supporting each other will then fill the room. From the very beginning of the year, I show my students that I love and care for them as people with hopes, desires, dreams and ambitions. I start the year with a project no matter what the class is and incorporate our mathematical concepts into the project. My students feel loved and appreciated right from the onset because I create a supportive environment where we all feel comfortable to learn together. The ‘T-Shirt’ project is one of my favorites – come by my room during the year; I love to hang the “T-Shirts” up so we are reminded each day of the strong community we have together.
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
TD: Shout out to my book club – we just finished reading and then discussing Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips: a beautifully written book with themes and experiences that speak to all of us in America even though the book’s setting is the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia. I have wonderful colleagues at Fenwick that are dear friends and we share a passion for reading and continuing to learn and grow in all we do. We love to gather as well: community!
I am currently reading Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning; I enjoy reading about history, and this book is challenging me to think so very differently from the historical stories I usually read. Next on my list is Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell; this has been on my reading list since Dr. Tracy Gau recommended it to me in January. Gladwell’s books have always been favorites of mine.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
TD: I have so many interests and now [summer] is the time when I can really enjoy so many of them. I love being outside all year round but the summertime allows me to do that more than ever. In the summer, one will usually find me around the yard playing in the dirt. I have a big garden filled with delicious vegetables – lettuce, spinach, onions, beets, herbs, peas and beans are some of the veggies that I have enjoyed up to this point in the summer. My zucchini are close to harvest and then cucumbers will be coming in. I cannot wait for the peppers and tomatoes to start exploding as well! My husband and I start everything from seed and it is truly a labor of love to tend to a thriving garden. Each year, I become more enamored with my perennial flowers – I love the ability to transplant them and separate them to expand my garden or share with family and friends. I relish the quiet time in my veggie or flower garden in the morning as the warmth of the summer sun rises over me. It is precious quiet time that is so appreciated after a long school year. It is a time to rejuvenate mind, body and spirit.
Besides my yard, another favorite location of mine is Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. I enjoy hiking, biking and cross country skiing through the preserve, which is a short walk from my backyard – nature at your doorstep!
My family jokes that I sponsor ‘Camp Toni’ at my house as well during the summer. I teach my youngest family members how to swim, explore nature and be active just as kids are meant to be! These are some of my favorite summertime endeavors. Time is the most meaningful thing we can give one another. I love that I am able to spend so much time with them during the summer.
In the spring of
2011, on the verge of graduation from my MFA poetry program, I applied for
every high school English and Spanish opening in Chicagoland, from Waukegan to
Wheaton to Orland Park. I grew up in south Oak Park, and my husband and I had
just purchased a house here. On a lark, I submitted my resume to Fenwick, even
though no job was posted. So, why am I here? To start with, I figured it would
be cool to live seven blocks from school.
Having attended OPRF, I was minimally familiar with Fenwick, aware of it as the local Catholic school that went co-ed while I was in high school. Kathy Curtin called to set up an interview. At the time, one of my mom’s best friends, Kathy Miller, had a sister who taught at Fenwick and agreed to meet with me in the teacher cafe before my interview. So my introduction to Fenwick was coffee with the unforgettable Mariana Curtin, who charmed me with her sincerity, warmth, wisdom, humor and occasional curse words.
To my great fortune,
it turned out that Fenwick did have a need for one more English teacher, in a
year that saw 17 new Fenwick teachers, several of them in the English
department. I walked home from the interview, not quite a mile, and when Pete
Groom called to say yes, it felt like providence.
That year marked a
huge transition for me. I had taught and coached for 10 years before taking a
break for my MFA, but for the past three years I had been paid to attend a few
classes and write poetry. I read for hours every day and wrote hundreds of
poems. I played basketball every week and even watched TV. It was dreamy. Then,
I graduated, moved back to Chicago, bought a house, got married, got a dog, got
a new job, and — yep, got pregnant. You know, just a few small changes.
I had long been told
by doctors that it might be hard for me to get pregnant or to carry a pregnancy
to term due to my unusual womb that has an extra wall in the middle, like a
valentine heart. So Gabriel, our wedding-night baby, came as a bit of a
surprise. In August before school started, I walked over to Fenwick and found
Pete Groom shooting baskets with one of his kids in the gym. I sheepishly
informed him that I hoped I would
need a maternity sub in March, and in the meantime I would need to back out on
coaching volleyball and basketball due to the high-risk nature of the
pregnancy. I was more than a little nervous to be such a ‘problem child’ right
out of the gates, but Pete met the news with a resigned but affable, nodding,
red-faced smile that seemed to say, ‘Ah. Of course you do.’ (You all know that
look.) I then apologetically explained the situation to Trish [Grigg in Human
Resources], who just smiled and said, ‘That’s what God wanted.’ Somewhere else
I might have been at risk of a pink slip, but not at Fenwick.
That first year, so many people helped me to find my way — both figuratively and, indeed, literally (as in the time I was assigned to sub in, uh, Room 46??). Andy Arellano, Jerry Lordan, Mary Marcotte, and John Schoeph shepherded me through. And a quick shout-out to Rick O’Connor, too, whose camaraderie in our first year meant the world.
respect and blessings
The first and most compelling reason that I have stayed at Fenwick is the people. I both like and respect all the people I answer to, and I have never before at another school been able to say that so uniformly. And my colleagues, all of you, are amazing. Truly. I am wowed by your dedication, expertise and enthusiasm every day. If I’m having a tough time, Pete Gallo will both crack me up and pray for me. When I need to respond to a tricky email, John Schoeph will sit down and talk it through with me. Coach [Kevin] Roche sets the bar so high that he makes us all better people. Arthur [Wickiewicz] greets me with an exploding fist bump daily. Hope [(Feist) Zelmer] gives me Hope. Maria Nowicki gives me hugs and pumpkin bread. Theresa Steinmeyer tells everyone, ‘You’re my favorite and sincerely means it every, single time. When I suffered my second of three miscarriages, Brigid Esposito brought me two roses and made me feel seen. Time and again, we lift each other up.
I am also here because I have a deep and abiding love for grading. KIDDING. NO. Like all of you, I am primarily here because of my students. Because my students are motivated, engaged, prepared, respectful and helpful, I am able to do my best work in the classroom. I can manage serious discipline issues, but here I mostly don’t have to. My students are allies in learning, and their intellectual curiosity propels us forward. With students so ready and eager to learn, I am free to show them what more is possible, to acquaint them with new ideas and engage in closer readings. Beyond their high level of academic accomplishment, my students’ decency, kindness, creativity and insight daily show me what more is possible. I’m here because Nate Jakaitis [Class of 2016] still sends me the latest cool thing he wrote in college; because Abbey Nowicki [also ’16] also sends me pumpkin bread; and because Robert Metaxatos [’17] takes the time to write me a letter by hand because he is reading Crime and Punishment and I first introduced him to Dostoevsky years ago in our Brothers Karamavoz reading group. My students are incredible people. They are incredible blessings.
I have been fortunate to teach subjects here that speak to my own intellectual passions — American literature and creative writing. And I think it’s an open secret that I sneak in 12 chapters of Moby-Dick when everyone else does two. I’m at Fenwick because six years ago my AP students were jealous of the Honors classes who got to read those 12 chapters and asked me to stay after school with them on Mondays to discuss the entire book. I’m here because every year since then, my Moby-Dick readers have recruited the next year’s crew. I’m here because when I brought our lunatic notion of Moby-Con to Pete Groom and Jerry Ruffino, they didn’t say no. They came aboard, as did dozens of you. I’m here because you tolerate (or dare I say even enjoy?) my whaling and sailing puns. It made my heart full that so many colleagues stepped up to chaperone and read at Moby-Con, that Father Peddicord was game to play Father Mapple, that Ernesto screened four film versions, that Rick O’Connor live-streamed the whole event with his Broadcasting club. Those students will never forget our marathon voyage, and I don’t know whether it would have happened at another school.
All of this adds up
to true community, and people filled with genuine affection and compassion for
their coworkers and students. People say teaching is a thankless job, but at
least at Fenwick, I disagree. My students depart class daily with a parade of
thank-yous — I mean, even in study hall! Seriously!
‘God wants me to be here’
One thing that makes Fenwick special is that we treat our work here as a vocation, a ministry. We are called to this work, and we are here to shape more than minds. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our Kairos program and the teachers and student leaders who work tirelessly to offer that spiritual experience to our students.
As a Protestant, I
had no idea what to expect in coming here. Would I be out of place? How would
people here treat the non-Catholic minority? Would even the statues give me the
side-eye? I could not have imagined that Lucy White would ask me to speak at
Kairos about the Christian Family or that Maria and Mary Beth would invite me
to speak today at a Dominican spiritual retreat.
I am here because God
wants me to be here. (Please write this down and look up when you have
finished: I am here because — sorry, Kairos humor — but that is why I’m here.) As a religious
institution, we are a community of learning and also a community of prayer. We
celebrate God in our service to one another. And when you’re in need you can
always be sure that Pete Gallo is not the only one praying for you.
To wrap up, I’d like
to just tell a few anecdotes that speak to my time at Fenwick:
At the Faculty Retreat in early
March, an alumnus and English Chairperson (who also teaches French and Italian and directs the fall play) shared with
colleagues two reasons why he hasn’t left the Friars.
One of the things for which I’m most grateful is that I work in an environment that fosters scholarship. I can recall from Dr. Lordan’s class the importance of scholasticism as a facet of Thomism, as an important component to Dominicans’ approach to education. That approach continued when I attended a Dominican university. I feel blessed to work in, of all Catholic environments, a Dominican one that prizes scholarship.
We don’t try to keep up with
teaching trends. We aim to be innovative within fields our teachers know
well and continue to advance in. English teachers here don’t
‘kind of’ know English; they know it. Continued learning in our fields is
important to us. So a personnel of scholars has
tended to abound here, and I love being in that company and in a place that
As department chair, how blessed am
I to observe other teachers and get to witness the high level of preparation
through conscientious and attentive research in varied aspects of English:
Shana Wang’s research on the reportage of Isabel Allende and its effect on her fictionalization of the televised death of Omaira Sanchez.
Theresa Steinmeyer’s [Class of 2012 alumna] research on revolutions throughout Central and South America as reflected through Magical Realism.
Kyle Perry’s [Class of 2001 alumnus] research on Said’s Orientalism, its reactions, and observations of both in art and literature.
This is an environment I want to be
At Fenwick, I can teach up! At
Fenwick, I have to be on my A-game; I wouldn’t want to be at a place where I
can get away with winging it, where students wouldn’t be sharp enough or smart
enough to call me out on a misspeak or a gap in knowledge. My primary goal
here is not to motivate students because, by and large, they come to class
excited and willing to learn.
I can recall a group of students
who used to spend their lunch period in my class so that they could take notes
on my lessons when I wasn’t their teacher that year; I can recall discussing a
picture book on words that have no translation in other languages, or at least
no direct translation to English, and three students stopping after class to
ask me for the title and author of the book so that they could buy their own;
one of my talking points at Open House is the time the football team called me
over to their lunch table to weigh in on whether or not I thought Willie Loman
was a tragic hero in Death of a Salesman because they were
duking it out — at lunch!
I can recall when Mr. Finnell assigned me A Midsummer Night’s Dream for my directorial debut [in 2009] after eight years paying my dues as his assistant director. After working with the students on Shakespearean language, delivery and pacing, sitting through the first off-book rehearsal, which was all of Shakespeare’s ACT I — unabridged — I was smiling from ear to ear because no one called for a line — not even once. They had worked that hard on it.
Best students in the land
And let’s face it, whether they’re
the brightest scholar or lover of academics or not, they’re the best students
in the land. I have many friends who are teachers at many schools, and when I’m
out with them, it’s inevitable that I will run into my students. Every
time I do, my friends are flabbergasted by my students’ comportment and
interaction with me. Every time, my students run over to me and greet me,
excited to see me.
One time, I walked into Chipotle
where about 12 Fenwick students, juniors at the time, had formed one long
table. I had taught only one of them as a freshman and didn’t know the
others. I got my food and was heading to the counter when they waved me
over to join them. I didn’t want to intrude, but they all immediately made room
for me, welcomed me, and brought me over to eat — again, I had taught only one
Another time, I was with my friends at the Oak Brook Mall when a group of students ran up to me. My friends were blown away that my students didn’t see me and walk the other way. Instead, they respectfully greeted my friends, chatted with me, and then suddenly darted away —because across the mall, they spotted Mrs. Megall and wanted to go say hi to her! And I know the same goes for so many of you. We could take this for granted — the academic caliber of our gifted and talented students, and the welcoming and warmth of our kind-hearted students — but knowing what other teachers experience helps me realize this gift. And I haven’t even talked about how great our students’ families are!
COVID-19 global outreach project employs video app technology called Flipgrid.
Earlier this month, students in Level I Italian completed an Italy Outreach Project through the video app Flipgrid. “They recorded themselves praying for Italy in Italian and reading a letter they wrote to Italy in Italian,” explains Fenwick Italian Teacher and alumnus Mr. John Schoeph ’95. “Each student submitted a prayer and a letter as a video recording.”
Mr. Schoeph then compiled them into what Flipgrid calls a mixtape. “This mixtape plays them all as a video and also presents each video individually in a grid. Italy was struck so severely and early [by the Coronavirus pandemic] that it was important for our students to reach out,” he notes.
“In the meantime, one
student drafted a letter in Italian ‘to Italy,’” Mr. Schoeph continues, “while
every student was required to find the e-mail address of one high school and
one church in their assigned town or city in Italy.” Freshmen
Angelina Squeo ’23 (Elmwood Park,
IL) and Cate Krema ’23 (Western
Springs, IL) compiled the e-mail lists of churches and high schools that every
student was required to look up and submit.
With the e-mail lists
ready to go and the letter drafted, their teacher inserted the mixtape link and
sent off the e-mails. “We wanted to let Italy know that a group of beginner
Italian students is praying for them and sending them our best,” Mr. Schoeph
To Italy, with love
The letter was drafted in Italian by fellow freshman
Angelina Woods ’23
(Elmwood Park, IL):
I nostri carissimi in Italia,
Noi siamo una classe d’italiano al
livello il più base a Fenwick High School. Fenwick è un liceo negli Stati
Uniti. Le priorità di Fenwick sono le preghiere, la studia, il ministero/il
volontariato, e la comunità. Mandiamo le nostre preghiere a voi virtualmente e
spiritualmente. Anche, mandiamo qualche lettere che offrono la nostra speranza
e positività. Se potete, per favore condividete queste lettere e preghiere con
la facoltà e gli studenti del liceo o con i parrocchiani della chiesa. Da una
piccola scuola di Chicago viene molto amore per Italia.
(La freccia blu e bianca della mano destra
dello schermo mette in funzione il video.)
Da una piccola scuola di Chicago a un’altra
Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?
By Mark Vruno
Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 38 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr./Coach Holmberg, who triples as the school’s clubs/activities director and the defensive coordinator of the varsity football team.
“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”
Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”
Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for more than five decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg: “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Chair.
“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Black Friars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”
Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012
Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 55 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”
Grace Lilek ’08, who is in her third year of teaching social studies at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Ms. Lilek, who also is a learning resource coordinator. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.” Lilek continues:
Mary Marcotte, Barb Shanahan and Lucy White leave big shoes to fill.
New retirees (from left): Lucy White, Mary Marcotte and Barb Shanahan.
Some 80 former students, parents and colleagues past and present gathered in the Fenwick Courtyard on Tuesday evening, June 19th, to share stories and bid a heart-felt farewell to a trio of retiring female faculty and staff members:
English Teacher Mary Marcotte has spent her 44-year career educating youth and sharing a passion for literature and writing. Colleague John Schoeph ’95 was a student in one of Ms. Marcotte’s first classes at Fenwick and later would succeed her as Chair of the English Department. Mr. Schoeph fondly remembers his mentor stressing not to take her tough editing and rewriting suggestions personally. “She would say, ‘You are not what you write,’” he recalls. “The best teachers are the most critical,” Schoeph believes.
She administered her last final exam earlier this month, after 23 years of teaching Friars’ students. Marcotte, who has worked in private and public-school settings during her 44-year teaching career, came to Fenwick in 1994 when the once all-boys institution went co-ed and began admitting female students.
“Mary Marcotte is among Fenwick’s greatest teachers both past and present,” praises Fenwick Principal Peter Groom. “Mary has excellent communication skills and cares deeply about her students. She has taught English at multiple levels, most notably English II Honors, English IV Honors and AP Literature. Countless students were inspired by Ms. Marcotte to continue their love of all things related to English and were also inspired to become better people. She will be missed.”
In addition to teaching in the classroom, for more than two decades Marcotte also has worked with the Fenwick Speech and Debate Teams and served as a Write Place Advisor, Yearbook Moderator and Director for Student Publications. She also has been an excellent mentor for new teachers over the years, Mr. Groom points out.
Schoeph adds: “Mary launched Touchstone, which hadn’t existed prior to our class’s founding it under her leadership,” he recalls. Touchstone is an annual magazine that features student writing and artwork, including poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and drama as well as multimedia forms of creative expression. “She has been a valuable resource for teachers new to Fenwick,” Schoeph adds, “cheerfully handing over file folders of her materials, not to copy but to use as springboards for original assignments.”
Marcotte also has been instrumental in fostering superior writing skills among Fenwick’s students. “She often helped out in the Write Place, at one time working with a few others to bring our writing center’s program to the attention of other schools,” Schoeph notes.
Of her students at Fenwick, “I am constantly in awe of their potential,” says Marcotte, who resides in Elmhurst with her husband Paul, an attorney. “I have been privileged to help them realize that potential. I like to think that I’ve taught with my students. Lively discourse and enlightened essays ensue when they become confident in their opinions. It truly is gratifying to hear about their successes at and beyond Fenwick.”
She is particularly proud of the work she has done with numerous juniors and seniors while constructing their college essays. “This has been such an enriching personal experience, from the drafting to the final copy,” Marcotte notes, “whether the essay is just part of the college application or for awarding scholarship monies. I got to see and appreciate the core values of many of our Friars, and I am humbled to have had these experiences. We truly have remarkable young men and women among us!”
Marcotte also takes pride in her other teaching awards, which include:
Innovation and Creativity in Teaching Award from the Archdiocese of Chicago (2006)
Golden Apple Finalist (2001)
Rev. George Conway, O.P. Outstanding Teacher Award (1997) – voted on by peers
Interestingly, Marcotte was not a natural-born teacher. “I actually wanted to be a nurse, but life takes mysterious turns,” she explains. “In the summer before college, I was in a car accident and suffered several broken vertebrae. I could not meet my college commitment for nursing, so I became friends with a wonderful librarian who kept giving me lists of literary classics. Along with my mother, this librarian inspired me to major in English, particularly World and British Literature. I also have certifications in World Religions and Church History.
“Today one of the influences I want to have on my grandchildren is to value the opportunities presented by local libraries,” she continues. “We are so fortunate to live in a country where these services are provided, and we can never take them for granted.” She also frequently attends Shakespeare plays at Navy Pier in Chicago and enjoys traveling to Canada for the Stratford Festival, an internationally recognized annual repertory theater festival that runs annually (April through October) in the city of Stratford, Ontario. At home, Marcotte is an avid gardener. “When I’m not outside in the yard, I love growing orchids,” she shares.
More than 225 years of combined education experience is represented by these six Fenwick Friars. Each cupcake candle represents 38 years!
Theology Teacher Lucy White also is retiring. “Lucy has given her heart and soul to Catholic education for decades,” says Groom. “At Fenwick, she has taught thousands of our freshmen scripture in a comprehensive way. Through her approach the students have gained a real depth of understanding. As the Director of the Kairos program our students were able to explore the role that spirituality played in their lives while bringing them closer to both their family and God. She has been a role model and friend to so many.”
Of Ms. White, Brother Joseph Trout, O.P., Theology Department Chair, says: “Lucy came to Fenwick because of her love for God. She taught her students to know the God who is love. Generously, she shared with everyone the depth of her love. She directed Kairos because she helps others experience God’s own love. She is retiring because she made a vow to, in sickness and in health, give herself to Phil [her husband] in love. Lucy has earned her accolades and awards over the years, but it pales in comparison to one fact: Lucy White is a living, breathing lesson in love. If you want to understand Jesus’ words, ‘love one another as I have loved you,’ you need simply look to her.”
Theology colleague Mr. Patrick Mulcahy adds: “Lucy is fond of saying, ‘I want kids to fall in love with God.’ She was much known and loved by her students and the seniors she led on Kairos. When she took over the Kairos program she really refocused it in a positive way. My fondest memory of Lucy’s class was the practice she had of selecting individual students and praying over them with the rest of the class in a very personal way. She really knew her students. It was truly something to witness. As a senior teacher I saw, year after year, how her students were some of the best prepared in their knowledge of Scripture. As in the case of all great teachers, ‘Lucy the Person’ was the true teacher. She has had many challenges in her life and her faith is a model to all of us in how she has coped with those challenges. She will be greatly missed.”
Friend and Social Studies Teacher Mary Beth Logas: “Lucy is someone who understands unconditional love like perhaps no one else I know. The courage with which she has faced a great many challenges and problems in her life, even before her husband’s illness, is inspiring to anyone who knows her story — and she has been generous with it to the many Fenwick students who have heard it on Kairos. The depth and constancy of her faith are a magnificent legacy to our kids in a world where faith is questioned, its value to the human spirit derided and, increasingly, Christians are persecuted in ways almost reminiscent of the trials of the early church.
“I will miss her friendship and support more than I can express. My overwhelming feeling is that this can’t be happening. I know Lucy does not feel like she has done all she can at Fenwick, but there is another great trial of love before her, and if there was ever anyone with their priorities straight, it’s Lucy. The best thing her Fenwick family can do is to keep in touch with her, for in its very nature the task that lies before her is isolating, even were she not leaving a community where she and her husband have had roots for so many years. I plan on putting some miles on my car between here and Madison in future.”
Student Services Administrative Assistant Barbara Shanahan joins White and Marcotte on the retirement path. Ms. Shanahan has been at Fenwick for 32 years, spending most of her time as the right-hand lady for Rich Borsch and the other counselors. Diana Caponigri, former Director of Scheduling and Records at Fenwick, pays tribute to Barb:
“When I think of Barb, I think of someone who is intensely loyal; someone who is willing to help even though she has a million things on her own desk; someone who has a keen sense of humor; who has much patience; and someone who is able to handle those million things on her desk efficiently and humbly. I could go on and on. She is one of the core people at Fenwick who do so much behind the scenes and don’t get much credit for their work. As a matter of fact, much of what she does enables other people to shine. She is able to anticipate, to keep herself organized, and to get the job done. Did I mention that I think very highly of her? She wants little credit for what she does, believing that if you have a job to do, you just do it and do it as best you can.
“Some of my own cherished memories of Fenwick involve Barb. If I needed numbers about some scheduling situation, such as verification of the number of requests for a certain course, she would be on the phone quickly to respond. If I needed some information about who was not coming back so I could delete some course requests, she would get to a counselor if she didn’t know the information and then get back to me quickly. I depended on her, and knew she would never let me down. Many years ago we had a student who was confined to a wheelchair and, between Barb and myself, we made sure that this boy could access his classes, which sometimes meant moving the class with its teacher to a different floor so this could happen. Being that Fenwick does what it can to accommodate special situations, some of these situations have to be handled by a person rather than a machine, and Barb was often that person. If I didn’t remember a special situation, Barb would be there to remind me or make the change herself and tell me about it. I trusted her. She would constantly update me on her progress doing whatever she was doing when we were scheduling. I always thought we made a good team whether it was working on a scheduling item or something else.
“Another memory I have is her kindness and concern to accommodate me when I would help proctor the many tests we give on Saturdays, such as an ACT, SAT or some other test. She would try to get me in a room with a computer so I could do some work while administering the test and would give me the extended-time students, which meant I would have a smaller number of students to watch. I truly appreciated this.
“In years long since gone by, we would celebrate office birthdays and she would include me when a birthday was celebrated in the Student Services area. She felt I was part of the group because of the work I did with counselors concerning scheduling, grades and other issues. She is very thoughtful.
“She and I had several opportunities to go for training for the student database, and I have some very nice memories of those too. It was so nice to spend some time with her away from the school environment and to see her relax and enjoy herself.
“I wish her the best of rest, relaxation and peace in her retirement years. These are years she so well deserves. Thank you, Barb, for all you have done for me. Thank you for your support, your help and for being you.
200 Combined Years!
Celebrating his 85th birthday is Father LaPata (center) flanked by Mr. Finnell (left) and Mr. Borsch, who both have more than 50 years of dedicated service to Fenwick.
Also feted were the 50 year service anniversaries of Associate Principal/Student Services Director Richard Borsch and alumnus/Math Teacher Roger Finnell ’59! This quintet of Fenwick teachers and administrators has more than 200 years of combined experience!
Mr. Borsch, while not yet retiring, is marking his 50th school year at Fenwick. “Mr. Borsch started at Fenwick as both a teacher and coach,” Groom points out. “Early on he demonstrated excellent interpersonal skills which lead him to be quickly moved into a leadership position in our counseling office. Rich transformed our counseling office into what we have today. As a college counselor, Mr. Borsch has been one of the greats. I have personally witnessed his ability to connect with the students and parents to help them find the best fit. His knowledge of colleges and their specific admissions offices is unparalleled.”
Last but most certainly not least, those in attendance also celebrated the 85th birthday of President EmeritusFr. Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50 (on May 22nd). Listen in as Fenwick’s 1,200-member student body sings to the “birthday boy” last month.
Meet English Department Chair, French Teacher, Fall Play Director and Alumnus John Schoeph ’95.
What is your educational background?
JS: I am an alumnus of Fenwick with an undergraduate degree from Dominican University in English and education and a postgraduate degree from DePaul in English (literature).
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
JS: I enjoy music and writing quite a bit. From listening to almost all genres of music, including techno, indie, and opera, to playing piano, I find such enjoyment in music. And I like writing poems, stories, and plays for fun these days. Crafting a poem or a story helps keep my eye critical when it comes to literary analysis in class. Above all else, though, I love to pray and laugh.
What did you do to prepare for becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
JS: Both prior to and during my first few years, I studied and researched. I researched extensively to ensure a strong command of the subjects, skills, and topics I was teaching in both English and French. I did the same with theater. I can picture myself taking notes from stacks of books and organizing lectures and designing lessons. I know Fenwick students. I need to know the material well and present it well. Back then, I relied on only certain persons for advice and ideas, and, with their blessing, ran with their ideas in my own way. I never borrowed a lesson plan. With the exception of keeping some Fenwick traditions alive and making sure Mr. DePaldo’s vocabulary notebook lived on, I never asked for someone’s quiz, test, vocabulary list, or assignment to use. At the most, I relied on others’ good lessons as springboards to design my own.
Among the “certain people” I relied on for sound advice in preparing were my parents and grandparents, Mr. DePaldo, Frau Barr, Madame Schnabel, Mr. Arellano, Dr. Lordan, Mrs. Marcotte and the Dominican University Sisters. Mr. Finnell was incredibly helpful in preparing me for directing.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
JS: The hats I currently wear outside teaching include serving as director of the fall plays and as the English coach for WYSE. I truly enjoy both because I see our students’ excellence at pursuits and passions outside the classroom. Our fall plays are not typical high school quality — they are exceptional. Our WYSE team wins State. It’s so neat to be a part of two such special groups of students and moderators. The energy in the theater program is contagious, and we work to touch patrons’ souls through our craft. The scholarship in the English WYSE sessions is admirable and showcases a concern for the mastery of our language. What’s more is that these are extra-curricular activities, and students don’t have to do extra when they work as hard as they do on coursework alone. They take these on because they enjoy them and want to grow in the skills each activity offers. That’s dedication! And I love being a part of that!
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
JS: While they may develop over time, the qualities that mark a Fenwick student include striving for excellence in all pursuits, a strong constitution — Friars are “of steel” — and well-rounded, fun-to-be-around personalities. We have some of the best students in the world. I love that our students see the teachers as persons to work with, not against. I love that they not only don’t mind being nudged to step it up, but request that extra push when they know they need one. If most Fenwick students think they have done mediocre work, no one will be harder on those students than those students themselves. Despite this tendency, they are fun-loving, well-balanced, and virtuous individuals.
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?