High-Tech Education Came to Fenwick a Quarter-Century Ago

Where in the World Wide Web has “FenTech” gone and, more importantly, where is it headed? Answers can be found in the growth of the school’s Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory and CS programs.

By Mark Vruno

In 1993, could we have fathomed high-school educators teaching entire courses to teenagers on tablet computers? iPads weren’t even a tech “thing” 25 years ago, yet this past school year at Fenwick, the “Introduction to Computer Science” (CS) class was taught entirely on Apple iPads, reports Science Department Co-Chair Dave Kleinhans.

Turning Fenwick’s tech visions into realities over the past two-and-a-half decades has been made possible, in large part, by initial, generous funding from alumnus Bernard Brennan ’56, former chief executive (from 1985-96) of the Montgomery Ward department-store chain. Bernie is the younger brother of the late Edward Brennan ’51, former CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Ed and Bernie, the Brennan Bros., are a couple of Friars’ heavy-hitters:  Bernie is a member of the school’s Board of Directors as well as a 1986 Fenwick Hall of Fame inductee; Ed followed him to the school HOF in ’91.

A peek inside Fenwick’s Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory, which officially was dedicated on February 28, 1993.

Twenty-five years ago, the younger Brennan and his family made a major leadership donation to create the Bernard F. Brennan Computer Science Laboratory, which was dedicated in early 1993. Students at the time, as well as members of the Fenwick Mothers’ Club, also contributed financially to the lab’s creation. Now 80 years old, Bernie Brennan’s blue-sky vision of “computerization projects” today partly resides in the virtual “Cloud,” of course. But keep in mind that, in early 1993, while email may have been a mainstream form of communication at most corporations, the Internet was a fledgling technology. Ever so slowly, companies were beginning to launch new, online branding devices called “websites.” The dot-com bubble (1997-2001) was still a few years off.

For Fenwick’s new Brennan Computer Lab, initial purchases in the mid-1990s included hardware, such as AST Bravo workstations and Netstore SCSI CD-ROM subsystems (used for information retrieval long before web browsers and cloud computing became popular), as well as software, electrical upgrades and accessories, including printers and furniture. The lab was designed to be used by the Math and Science Departments as well as the Library and the English Department. Tech-hungry teachers welcomed the new writing-lab segment, which featured desktop publishing systems for the Blackfriars Yearbook, The Wick student newspaper and staff newsletters.

Bernie Brennan’s 1956 yearbook portrait.

“It was clear to me that we were moving into the technology world at that point in time, and I wanted Fenwick to be in the leadership position,” Mr. Brennan reflected recently. “Ironically, I have been heavily involved in the technology sector for the past 20 years! It is easy to give back to Fenwick and our Dominican friends as they have done so much for the Brennan family. Fenwick’s focus on intellectual curiosity, discipline and uncompromising ethics is a beacon for us all.”

“Fenwick’s focus on intellectual curiosity, discipline and uncompromising ethics is a beacon for us all.” -Bernie Brennan ’56

New Millennium’s Web of Tech

Freshman math students in Mr. Andrew Thompson’s class, using their iPads (2017 photo).

It is interesting to note that each of Fenwick’s 1,152 incoming students this fall will have an iPad in her or his backpack. (Members of the outgoing Class of 2018 are the first Friars to have had tablet computers in their collective possession all four years.) With improved anti-cheating security measures in place, some high schools in Illinois already have adopted online final exams. Fenwick teachers have administered online quizzes and tests via their students’ iPads, but most educators in the building are proceeding with caution on that electronic front.

Since 2000, Fenwick has had a Technology Services Department in place that today is staffed by four full-time employees. These high-tech staff members manage the school’s more than 400 computer systems and a highly secure Wi-Fi network as well as some 30 switches and 122 access points — not to mention the telephone and email systems and 92 copy machines/printers! Associate Tech Director Fr. Mike Winkels, O.P. also feeds content to a total of six electronic bulletin boards displayed in the cafeteria, outside the library and elsewhere throughout the school.

Fenwick Technology Director Ernesto Nieto

Fenwick’s students, faculty and staff alike often take this tech group’s behind-the-scenes work for granted. Even those of us old enough to remember slow modems and non-connectivity have come to expect our 21st-century, networked, electronic devices to work – “magically” — with no glitches. “We do a lot of things that people probably don’t think about,” says Director of Technology Services Ernesto Nieto, who came to Fenwick in ’01 by way of St. Ignatius College Prep, the Dominican Conference Center, the Shrine of St. Jude and DePaul University.

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3 Beloved Faculty and Staff Members Are Retiring from Fenwick

Mary Marcotte, Barb Shanahan and Lucy White leave big shoes to fill.

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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.

Mr. Schoeph, a former student, pays tribute to mentor Ms. Marcotte.

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.

Some 80 people gathered in the Fenwick Courtyard to bid farewell to the terrific trio.

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.

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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.”

Ms. Nowicki (left) shares some of the reasons why Ms. White is so special.

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.

Mr. Borsch heaps praise on the ever-shy in public Ms. Shanahan.

“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!

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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.”

Meanwhile, alumnus, Blackfriars Guild moderator and Math Department Chair Roger Mr. Finnell has taught at Fenwick for 55 years, not counting his four years as a student.

Last but most certainly not least, those in attendance also celebrated the 85th birthday of President Emeritus Fr. 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.

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Faculty Focus: April 2017

Meet Fenwick English Teacher Mary Marcotte.

What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?

MM: This is my 43rd year of teaching and my 22nd year at Fenwick. My past teaching experience before Fenwick was both public and private. People often ask me to explain the difference between the catholic and public school environments. In a word, the answer is “atmosphere.” But to explain atmosphere, I would point to the Dominican philosophy. The aura surrounding a Friar is one of developing leadership, seeking discourse in scholarship all the while united in Prayer. As a teacher here at Fenwick, I am constantly in awe of our students’ potential and am privileged to help them realize that potential.

What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?

MM: I am an avid gardener, and my garden was featured on a garden walk in 2002. When I am not outside, I love growing orchids, particularly miniature varieties. Also, I love and frequently attend Shakespeare plays at Navy Pier and at the Stratford Festival in Canada.

Which clubs/Sports/Activities do you run at Fenwick?

MM: My past sponsorships/advisories have included: Speech and Debate, Touchstone Magazine, Yearbook (8 Gallery of excellence awards) and Write Place Advisor. I was also English Department Chair for seven years. Currently, I am Director for Student Publications.
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