Renaissance Man: Clevelander, Golden Apple winner and Fenwick Theology/Film Teacher for the past 12 years, Mr. Paulett also is a writer, musician and theater aficionado.
What is your educational background?
JP: My undergraduate degree was in Linguistics and Classical Languages from Georgetown University. I have a Master’s degree in Theology from Felician University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. During my Golden Apple Sabbatical, I began a doctoral program in religious studies at Northwestern University.
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
JP: I taught for 10 years while I was in my twenties — at Lake Catholic High School in Cleveland and then at Kent State University, where I was doing doctoral work in theater and film. I then left teaching for family reasons and went into business. I had planned to work in business for two years but it turned into 25 years. I had always planned to return to teaching. When my daughter was through college, I had my opportunity and joined Fenwick.
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
JP: I always have several books going at the same time. Right now, I am reading David Brooks’ new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. I am also reading a history of the Second World War in the Aleutian Islands. Rounding that out is Wasn’t That a Time? — the story of the folk singing group The Weavers.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
JP: I am a theater fanatic. In most weeks, I attend two or three performances. I love opera and subscribe to the Lyric Opera. I also subscribe to the Chicago Symphony, the Music of the Baroque and three theater companies. I fill in the other nights with smaller theaters and films at the Gene Siskel Center. I am a writer (I have four books published) and am active writing almost every day. I have a new book in progress that I hope to finish by fall. I play music (guitar, banjo, mandolin) and usually pick up an instrument for a few minutes every day.
To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
JP: When I was in high school [at St. Ignatius in Cleveland], I was a member of the Debate Team and was fortunate to have some success. I was also in the theater. I acted in several plays and, during my senior year, wrote and directed a play. I sang in the choir and played in a rock band. I was a dreadful athlete and got cut from every sport I attempted. I wrote for the school newspaper and, for a while, published an underground newspaper. The teachers caught me running this off on the mimeograph machine and the paper was ended.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
JP: I have moderated a variety of groups at Fenwick. I was the chess coach and the moderator of Touchstone [the student literary magazine] for several years. I directed the spring musical and was music director for Banua. I have been the moderator of the Photography Club for the last few years. Next year, I will guide the new Film Club.
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
JP: Fenwick students generally have a seriousness of purpose that sets them apart. I teach Moral Theology. In that class, we study philosophers such as Kant, Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Most students will not encounter these thinkers until junior year of college. Fenwick students deal with this advanced content with thoughtfulness and diligence.
When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?
JP: I was deeply affected by several teachers in high school, probably none more than my speech teacher Mr. William Murphy. He was an intense, rigorous and sometimes difficult man who drove, excited, demanded and inspired his students. I suppose that my desire to become a teacher started with a hope to be like Murph. I have been very blessed in my life, and I think I have an obligation to give back. Teaching has been the best way I have found to return what I have been given.
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?
JP: Parker Palmer, who writes about teaching and teachers, has said that success in the classroom comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. I was able to study with Parker for two years. One of the things that I learned from him is that teachers need to be authentic and vulnerable. I care deeply about every one of my students. I hope they see that. I try to be creative and innovative. I like using technology to create a more participatory class environment. I also try to bring my sense of humor into the classroom. Most of all, I love my subjects. I try to make my passion for the content material open enough to engage and embrace my students.
What are your favorite classes to teach?
JP: The class I teach most often in Moral Theology. I think this course is both important and interesting because it challenges the way we think. It asks important questions such as, “What is truth?” and “Are some things actually good and bad, or is it just a matter of opinion?” I also teach History and Theory of Film. This is a special joy. Many people watch movies; only a few enter into the beautiful art of cinema. My students are exposed to the classics of film along with the cinema of many different countries. This gives them a chance to expand and increase their ability to enjoy all types of movies at a fuller and deeper level.
What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?
JP: On an external level, the greatest success was being awarded the Golden Apple for Teaching Excellence in 2013. It was a thrill that is difficult to describe. Bigger and more important successes happen every day. When a student says, “I never thought of that before,” I have succeeded. This year, a film student told me that he had been certain he would not like a Japanese film we were studying. After our discussions, he said that it was now his favorite film. Whenever a student is transformed, I count it as one of my greatest successes.
What challenges face students today?
JP: The speed of change is greater than anything experienced in the history of the world. Thomas Friedman claims that the year that changed history is 2007. He cites the iPhone, cloud computing and social media as a few of the substantial changes that happened that year. Our students are facing changes that rival or exceed the Industrial Revolution, but they are seeing them more quickly than any generation before them. I once asked an executive at Google what he was looking for in new employees. He answered, “Creativity and collaboration.” Students need to achieve flexibility and [have] an ability to learn — often to learn skills and information that did not exist just a year or so earlier.
Fenwick instructors have honed developing minds of highly intelligent people over thecourse of 90 school years. From physics and politics to English and French, some of those students
took their passions for learning to the next level by pursuing research,
education and scholarship at some of the world’s most prestigious private and
Princeton, the Ivy League research school with New Jersey roots dating back to
1746, two Fenwick alumni-turned-professors can be found teaching on campus: Thomas Duffy ’78 (geophysics) and John Mulvey ’64 (operations
research/financial engineering). In Boston, Professor William Mayer ’74 has been a political-science guru at Northeastern
University (established in 1898) for the past 28 years. After Fenwick, Mayer
attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from which he also earned
a Ph.D. (in 1989). “I don’t like to move,” he dead-pans, “plus my wife loves
the New England area.”
On the West Coast, one of Prof. Duffy’s
classmates, Larry Cahill ’78, is a
neuroscientist and professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at
the University of California at Irvine. And in the Midwest, Robert Lysak ’72 is professor of
physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis – Saint
Additionally, two members of the Class of 1961 were college professors and are now retired: Terrence Doody (English Literature) at Rice University in Houston and Thomas Kavanagh (French), most recently at Yale University in Connecticut. Another Professor Emeritus isJohn Wendt ’69, who taught Ethics and Business Law at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) for 30 years. (Read more about them.) Spread out geographically across the United States, Fenwick is the common denominator for these seven Ph.D.’s and college professors. Read on for a glimpse at their impressive works.
Computing Love Affair
John Mulvey is a professor within
Princeton’s Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE) Department,
which he founded. He also is a founding member of the interdisciplinary Bendheim
Center for Finance as well as the Statistics and Machine Learning Center at the
university. Mulvey is captivated by the ongoing revolution in information and machine-learning.
The ORFE Department focuses on the foundations of data science, probabilistic
modeling and optimal decision-making under uncertainty. “Our world is a very
uncertain place,” he stresses.
The work Mulvey does has applications
throughout the service sector, including in communications, economics/finance,
energy/the environment, health-care management, physical and biological
sciences, and transportation. In the past, he has worked with
aerospace/defense-technology firm TRW (now part of Northrop Grumman) to help
solve military problems, including developing strategic models for the Joint
Chiefs of Staff (U.S. Department of Defense).
“Today we work with major firms, including
some of the largest investors in the world, which are interested in integrating
their risk,” Mulvey explains. For example, “hedge funds and private-equity
firms need to manage their portfolios over time to protect themselves. When the
crash occurred in 2008, people thought
they were diversified. The banking and finance world refers to systemic risk as
contagion,” which is the spread of market changes or disturbances from one
regional market to others.
Mulvey also analyzes data for supply-chain
management, which he calls a “transformative industry. Production and distribution
models were separate before,” he points out, “but we’ve brought it all together
now. Amazon has built its whole system based on this commerce model.”
Machines running algorithms and computer
optimization became passions for him at a relatively young age. At Fenwick, Mr.
Edward Ludwig helped mathematics to make sense for young John. “He was an
amazing math teacher,” Mulvey says of Ludwig. “His class was fantastic. I didn’t
necessarily want to be an engineer but felt I could go into a technical area.
“In the 1960s we were at the cusp of computing, and the University of Illinois had one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers at the time,” recalls Mulvey, who grew up on the West Side of Chicago and attended the old St. Catherine of Siena Parish. “That’s why I wanted to go there, and I fell in love with computing.”
He next ventured west to study business
administration at the University of Southern California (USC) and the
University of California (Cal), then earned a second master’s degree in management
science in ’72 from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Three years
later Mulvey completed his Ph.D. at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management. His dissertation
topic, “Special Structures in Large Scale Network Models and Associated Applications,”
won the 1976 American Institute of Decision Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Competition.
Mulvey taught for three years at the Harvard
Business School and, 41 years ago, came to Princeton “to have an impact at a
smaller school,” he says. (Princeton has some 5,200 under-grads.) “I came here
to grow the basic, general engineering program for undergraduates.” The 72-year-old
thoroughly enjoys his work: “If you had a job like mine, you wouldn’t want to
Across campus, Tom Duffy is Director of
Princeton’s High-Pressure Mineral Physics & Material Science Laboratory and
Associate Chair of the Geosciences Department. His research focuses on
understanding the large-scale physical and chemical behavior of the Earth and
other planets through experimental study of geological materials under extreme
conditions. He and his colleagues employ high-tech tools, such as laser-heated
diamond anvil cells and optical spectroscopy along with X-rays, to explore
crystal structures, phase relations, elasticity and deformation behavior in a
range of materials at ultra-high pressure and temperature conditions.
“We study the behavior of materials under
extreme conditions – deep inside the Earth, for example, or under meteorite
impact,” Prof. Duffy explains. “We examine how structures and chemistries
change, then try to determine what these changes might mean for Earth and for
other planets, including recently discovered planets orbiting other stars.” One
big question with which he and his research associates grapple: How are these newly discovered planetsfundamentally different from Earth?
The youngest of six children from
Riverside, IL (St. Mary’s), Duffy describes his career pathway as “roundabout.”
He entered Boston College as a physics major. “I then was exposed to real- world
applications through a geology course I took as a senior, then came home and
worked in a food distribution warehouse,” Duffy says. After about one year he
returned to school for his master’s degree at the University of Illinois at
Chicago (UIC) in a new program that blended his interests in physics and
geology. After six years at California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) in
Pasadena, earning a Ph.D., he returned home to pursue a research opportunity at
the University of Chicago. In 1997 Duffy landed at Princeton and has never
Duffy travels “home” to Argonne National
Laboratory in Lemont, IL, about six times per year to conduct research. He
credits Fenwick with developing his self-confidence as a young man who wasn’t
necessarily science oriented. Mr. Andrew Arellano was a newer teacher back
then, and Duffy got involved in speech and debate. “At tournaments we’d go up
against bright, hard-working kids from other schools. You wouldn’t think that
possessing strong writing and speaking skills are important in science, but
they are. I have to write well and explain complex concepts.
“I received a broad-based education at Fenwick — history, literature, math, art,” he continues. He remembers other “great teachers” who were dedicated to their craft: Fr. McGrath for math, Mr. Guerin for physics and Mr. Polka for biology. The late “Mr. Spitznagel was really tough,” Duffy recalls, “but I learned a lot” in his history class.
Differences in the Brain
In high school in the mid-1970s, Larry Cahill
was a self-described “little, smart guy with glasses” who everyone assumed
would grow up to be a physician. “I rode in from Elmhurst with my brothers,” he
recalls of his 12-mile daily commute eastward to Oak Park. Cahill’s father and
uncle also attended Fenwick.
“To show you what a ‘geek’ I was, I took Latin partly to get an advantage regarding medical terminology,” Prof. Cahill admits. Mrs. Mary Ann Spina was his Latin teacher. “She made learning Latin enjoyable,” he says. “As a matter of fact, some Fenwick friends and I started a philosophical group called ‘In Vino Veritas,’ which even had business cards (thanks to my Dad, a printer). I suppose the organization still lives, since philosophy never dies,” Cahill quips.
Despite being on the med-school track, “by
default,” Cahill discovered brain research as an undergraduate student in
Evanston at Northwestern University (NU). “I needed to stay in state to get
Illinois state scholarship money,” he reflects. At NU he continued to study
Latin and spent a semester in Rome his junior year. “Life works out in funny
ways,” he believes. “That [trip] was the benefit of taking Latin back at
While in college, the idea of medical
school faded. After working on memory-enhancing drugs at G.D. Searle in Illinois
for two years, Cahill earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience in 1990 from the
University of California at Irvine. Following post-doctoral research in
Germany, he returned to UC Irvine to extend his research to studies of human subjects,
which in turn led to discoveries about sex influences on emotional memory and revolutionary
findings regarding sex influences on brain function, which he finds quite
For the past 18 years or so Cahill has
been immersed in the differences between the male and female brain. “We used to
believe that men and women were not so different outside of the ‘bikini zone,’”
he says. But research is proving that women and men are very different in other
ways, too: “The female heart, lungs, liver, immune system and brain are not the same as the male’s,” he informs,
adding that medical research has been built disproportionately on studies of
male organs and brains. “Women have not been treated equally because they have
been treated the same,” he asserts.
Cahill is a leading advocate for the need
to study biological sex differences in all of medicine. Adversaries have called
him a “neurosexist.” “There has been enormous resistance,” he admits. His
findings have been featured in the New
York Times, London Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, medium.com
and Quillette, an Australian online magazine focused on science,
technology, news, culture and politics. On television, he has been
interviewed by PBS, CNN and CBS. (Cahill’s “60 Minutes” piece was highlighted
on “The Colbert Report.”) At the lecture podium, he has been recognized as an
Outstanding Professor at UCI’s School of Biological Sciences in 2005-06 and in
Other than playing tennis as a senior,
Cahill says he wasn’t very involved in extra-curricular activities as a Friar.
“But I still know the words to the Fight Song,” he proudly declares. He remembers
Fenwick as “a serious place at all levels. This whole attitude of seriousness
was imbued on high school kids from the top down, including the concept of
discipline – which is much maligned today — and self-discipline. One of the
best things you can teach anyone is to suck it up and make it happen.”
“I learned more at Fenwick than I did at Harvard.”
– Prof. Bill Mayer ’74
Every four years, Bill Mayer’s phone rings
more than usual at Northeastern University in Boston. Members of the media seek
out his expert commentary during U.S. presidential election years. “I’ve done a
lot of research and writing on that topic,” he admits. Reporters from the Boston Herald, Newsweek and the Christian Science Monitor have quoted
Mayer. You can see him on videos aired by C-SPAN (the Cable-Satellite Public
Affairs Network), too.
Fielding such calls is a natural for Mayer,
whose forte is American politics. After graduating from Fenwick in 1974, Mayer
earned a B.A. in government in ’79 from Harvard, where he finished up his Ph.D.
in political science 10 years later. Prof. Mayer’s tenure at Northeastern began
in 1991. Under his American government specialty, he has taught introductory
classes as well as courses in “American Political Thought,” “Public Opinion,
Voting and Elections” and “Politics and the Mass Media.” Next spring, leading
up to the 2020 election, he again will teach his favorite course while the U.S.
presidential nomination process is taking place.
“I’m grateful for the teachers I had at
Fenwick,” says Mayer, a native of River Forest, IL, and St. Luke Parish &
School. His older brother, Joseph Mayer
’73 (both were valedictorians), paved the way to Fenwick. “Joe helped me so
much, especially with math,” says Bill. “I really owe a lot to him.” (The older
Mayer brother became a medical doctor and presently is a neurologist with
DuPage Medical Group.)
Young Bill served as editor of The Wick student newspaper for one semester and was on the Debate Team all four years as a Friar student. “I did well in debate,” he reports. “We advanced to the semi-finals of Catholic Nationals my senior year.” His debate partner was a junior, John McSweeney ’75. “Our coach was Father Motl for my first three years, then Mr. Arellano took over.”
In addition to teaching, Mayer is an accomplished author as well. He has published two of his own books, co-authored two other books, and edited and wrote chapters for seven other publications. He also has contributed some 50 scholarly articles to academic publications. (See “Alumni Authors.”) In the “Acknowledgements” section of his first book, The Changing American Mind (1992), Mayer thanks three of his teachers at Fenwick:
late Fr. Jordan McGrath, O.P., who passed away last August at age 86, was his
math teacher “for three of my four years. He taught me how to think
rigorously,” says Mayer, who points out that he taught statistics earlier in
John Heneghan “was a wonderful history teacher who taught [us]… how to take raw
materials and try to interpret how they fit into the larger sweep of American
English Teacher Mr. James Kucienski was “really good at passing along ideas
about the teaching of literature,” Mayer says. “I had him my senior year.”
Additionally, Mayer is grateful for taking
four years of Latin (two were required at the time). “Latin is a great way to
learn about language,” he contends, “because it is constructed in a different
way than English, where meaning is determined by word endings rather than
position in the sentence. It, therefore, makes you much more conscious of noun
cases and verb tenses.”
With the benefit of hindsight, he also now
realizes how important freshman English class was to a youthful, 14-year-old
Friar. “Our grammar textbook was thick, and the study could be tedious: subject-verb
agreement, dangling participles and so forth. These disciplines are not terribly
popular today, but I hope they still do it at Fenwick.
“I’ve always been regarded as a good
writer,” he adds, attributing that reputation to his high school grammar
instruction. “Trust me: There are some poor writers among political
scientists!” Truth be told, “I learned more at Fenwick than I did at Harvard,”
Northern Lights Man
Bob Lysak, a professor of physics and
astronomy, is interested in Theoretical Space Plasma Physics, especially
magnetospheric physics, auroral particle acceleration, the dynamics of
ultra-low-frequency (ULF) waves in the magnetosphere, magnetosphere-ionosphere
coupling, and the dynamics of field-aligned currents. He is fascinated by aurorae: the natural light displayed in
the Earth’s sky; the phenomenon also is referred to as polar lights or northern
lights (aurora borealis).
This infatuation is, perhaps, part of the
reason why he has been located for the past 37 years at the University of
Minnesota in the Twin Cities, which are four latitudinal degrees north of his
hometown of Westchester, IL. “I’m a glutton for winters,” jokes Lysak, who
attended Divine Infant Parish as a child. This past semester he was on
sabbatical in Australia, collaborating on southern lights (aurora australis) research around the Antarctic and designing
computer models of the Earth’s magnetic-field oscillations.
After graduating from Fenwick in 1972,
Lysak enrolled at Michigan State (earning a B.S. degree in three years) and
then at the University of California at Berkeley, where he received his Ph.D.
in physics in 1980. His post-doctoral studies, conducted near Munich, Germany,
focused on extraterrestrial physics.
Recognized among his peers for making
significant scientific contributions to society, the professor was selected the
by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) as a 2011 Fellow, a designation conferred
upon fewer than 0.1% of all AGU members in any given year. The European
Geosciences Union also awarded Lysak the Hannes Alfvén Medal, which honors
scientists who have achieved exceptional international standing in
When he reflects on his time at Fenwick
some 50 years ago, Lysak points to two non-scientific events that positively
affected his illustrious career:
Serving as editor-in-chief of The Wick student newspaper, where “I learned to write to a deadline.” (English Teacher and alumnus Mr. George Wendt ’65 was the moderator.)
Participating in stage plays as part of the Blackfriars Guild, where “I was in front of people and talking.” Lysak, who has been lecturing for nearly four decades, adds that he took part in Debate & Forensics, run by Fr. James Motl, O.P. “but I wasn’t very good.”
Lysak and his Honors Math classmates were
taught all four years by the aforementioned Mr. Ludwig, who had a reputation
among students as a somewhat stern disciplinarian. “It was early-1970’s
turmoil,” he laughs. “We had our issues, but we developed a good relationship. During
our senior year we worked on problems and asked a lot of questions. Mr. Ludwig
encouraged us to go at our own pace and [to] explore.” Also influential was
Science Teacher Fr. Dave Delich, O.P., who would “let us hang around the lab
after school and ‘play’ with the equipment.”
All of these experiences taught Lysak
valuable lessons and skills, as did commuting: “I got used to taking public
transportation and buses,” he says. “St. Joe’s was less than a mile from our
house, but I had a pretty good academic record in grade school and wanted to go
to Fenwick. It was worth it.”
Oops, Did We Miss Someone?
The seven professors highlighted here only scratches the surface of Fenwick alumni in academia. If you know of an alumnus or alumna who has a Ph.D. and/or is a college professor, tell us about him or her!
19 of Coach Hogan’s boys are running the bases at the next level.
FENWICK FACT: 19 Friars’ alumni student-athletes are playing baseball collegiately this spring. Ian Crowell ’16 (not pictured) is a pitcher from Elmhurst who plays for the Boston University Terriers’ Club Team. Three others also are not pictured:
Oak Parker Zack Pacer ’17, an outfielder for the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Scarlet Hawks.
Owen Wauun ’18, a catcher from Western Springs who plays for the DePauw University Tigers out of Greencastle, Indiana.
KJ Slepicka ’18 (River Forest), is a pitcher/outfielder for the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Fightin’ Engineers in Terre Haute, Indiana.Here are the other former Friars players still playing:
Rich Borsch has been Fenwick’s lead college counselor for 47 years. What changes has he seen over five decades?
By Mark Vruno
Let the matriculation process commence for the Class of 2019! Now is the frenetic season for Fenwick’s college-counseling duo of Rich Borsch and Laura Docherty. Busy is an under-statement. Between early application and essay preparations leading up to January 1st, the two guidance gurus are up to their elbows in paper and student e-documentation.
It’s an annual rite at Fenwick and at high schools across the country, but few counselors have been immersed in the process as long as Mr. Borsch, who wouldn’t want it any other way. This school year marks his 51st at Fenwick, and he has been a college counselor for all but the first four.
In a typical, six-week period this fall – comprising 30 school days – representatives from 77 different colleges and universities, including the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Yale, came to Fenwick. A representative sampling of 11 other visiting schools (by date) during that time frame:
Lafayette College (Easton, PA)
Central Michigan University
University of Notre Dame
Juniata College (Huntingdon, PA)
University of Cincinnati
“These schools came from all areas of the country,” Borsch reports. “Ten of the top 50 colleges and universities were here; seven from the Big Ten came. We try to give our students exposure to all kinds of college options: from huge schools like Indiana University, with 43,000 students enrolled in the Bloomington campus, to tiny King’s College in Manhattan, New York, which has only 500 students.”
For Borsch, who says he loves working with the kids, it’s all about the right fit for each student. “We try to pick schools based on their individual needs,” he explains, which can be time-consuming. Graduates from the Friars’ Class of 2018 are attending 109 different colleges or universities in 32 states, Washington, DC and overseas in Scotland.
“When I started doing this in the early 1970s, that number was 60 [schools],” Borsch notes. “We’ve had kids go away to Canada, Ireland and Italy, too.” Such international institutions as Trinity College Dublin and the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) “weren’t even a thought a generation ago,” he says.
TOP FIVE COLLEGES FOR THE CLASS OF ’18
37 Friars are studying at the University of Illinois (Urbana)
16 Friars are at Loyola University Chicago
15 are at Marquette University (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
12 are at Indiana University (Bloomington, IN)
11 are at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana)
Besides the expanded geographic range of college choice, what other changes has Borsch seen during his 47 years of student-college matchmaking? “It certainly has evolved,” he observes. One big difference is the number of Fenwick students going out of state for school. “In 1975, about 70% of our students stayed within Illinois. By 2016, that number had dropped to 22%,” he reports. Thirty-two percent of the Class of ’18 (98 students) stayed in state.
Lately, there has been a trend toward test-optional college admissions — and not judging prospective students based on a three-hour exam. “The University of Chicago is one of hundreds of schools doing this now,” Borsch confirms. “But the fact remains that 75% [of schools] still require either the ACT or SAT, so our students will continue to be prepared. Fenwick is the only school I know of where freshmen take the PSAT exam,” Borsch adds.
Snapshot of Rich Borsch
Graduate of Leo High School, Chicago.
B.A. in English and history from DePaul University, Chicago
M.A. in counseling and psychological services, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota
Fenwick High School, Oak Park, IL, 1968 – Present (started as English Teacher)
Head Coach of the Friars’ freshman football team for 41 years (through 2015)
Three Fenwick Friars are among the teams selected for the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments this year.
By Mark Vruno
The 2018 edition of March Madness commences today as the NCAA Basketball Tournament play-in games tip off. There’s still a buzz coming from Rogers Park on the North Side of Chicago, where the Loyola University men’s team is in the “Big Dance” for the first time in more than 30 years (since 1985). Presently, there are 17 Friars enrolled at Loyola, including Kevin Latz ’16, who exclaims, “Students are more excited about Loyola basketball than ever before! I know some students who are even flying to Texas for their first game. A lot of students are talking about watching their basketball games for the first time, which is great for school spirit.” Latz and his classmates are cheering loudly for the 11th-seeded Ramblers, which take on the 6th-seeded Miami Hurricanes on Thursday afternoon at 2:10 p.m. in Dallas.
Fenwick’s own math-teaching whiz Roger Finnell ’59 was a student on campus in the early 1960s, when the Ramblers won the National Championship. Mr. Finnell’s memories of that special time:
“1963 was my senior year at Loyola. I remember everyone being amazed at all of the really good teams we were beating, including Ohio State early in the season — sort of like how Loyola first got noticed this season when they upset Florida, ranked top 5 at the time.
“First semester I was in a tough Political Science class with two basketball bench players. They did not survive to be eligible second semester!
“I remember the night of the championship game. It was a Saturday night, and the game was only on the radio with a television replay that night at around 10:00. Certainly nothing like the coverage these days.
“I remember the famous story of when we were going to play Mississippi or Mississippi State in an early tournament game. The Mississippi governor was threatening not to let the team play us because we had African-Americans on the team (four of five starters). Their coach literally snuck the team out of the state a day early to prevent the governor from blocking their travel to the game site.
“The championship game was very exciting to listen to and very close all the way. I remember the play-by-play announcer (Red Rush?) going wild when we won in overtime.
“I believe the present Loyola team is only one victory shy of matching the 1963 win total. Go Ramblers!”
The Friars of Providence College punched their ticket to the 2018 NCAA Division I Tournament by beating Creighton in overtime in the Big East Tourney quarter-finals last Thursday. Fenwick double-Friar Tom Planek ’14,a 6’7″ senior forward on Provie’s men’s basketball team in Rhode Island, walked on and subsequently earned a scholarship. Those Friars have posted a win-loss record of 21-13 and lost an exciting overtime game to Villanova on Saturday night in the Big East Tournament. On Friday, their 10th-seeded team will play Texas A&M (#7 seed) at 11:15 a.m. in Charlotte, North Carolina (so-called West Region). Planek, who has seen action in 12 games to date this season, earned his bachelor’s degree in three years and will graduate this spring with an M.B.A. He is from Oak Park.
Danny Dwyer is the second of seven members of FHS’s Class of 2014 who played college basketball in the 2017-18 season. Dwyer is a 6’8” senior forward for the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), which won the Ivy league conference tourney on Sunday with a 68-65 victory over Harvard. In the Midwest bracket, the 16th-seeded Quakers will take on the mighty Kansas Jayhawks in the first round on Thursday at 1 p.m. in Wichita. Originally from River Forest, Dwyer has faced some health-related challenges this season but still is on the team.
Jamal Nixon is a 6’4” freshman guard for the Minnesota State Mavericks (Mankato) in the Northern Sun Conference; hometown: Plainfield. The 24-9 Mavs earned an at-large berth in the Division II NCAA Tournament and are seeded 8th in the Central Region. On Saturday they upset defending national champion Northwest Missouri State, then defeated Southwest Minnesota State 74-70 in the semifinal game on Sunday to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Next, they face Northern State (from South Dakota) for the region championship and a berth in the final eight. Tipoff is 7 p.m. on Tuesday night in Maryville, Missouri.
Nixon, Dwyer and Planek join these other Friars who hooped it up at the next level this season:
Fenwick alumnus Ray Bandziulis says he has spent his entire, 28-year career in the biotech field.
By Mark Vruno
Courses related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are some of the more popular classes among Fenwick’s student body. Several members of the Class of 2021, for example, are enrolled in Freshman AP (Advanced Placement) and Honors Biology taught by Ms. Amy Christophell ’06. They, along with upper-classmen and women, were treated last semester to a visit by a distinguished Friar alumnus and biotechnology expert Ray Bandziulis, PhD.,’76.
Dr. Bandziulis is Vice President of Quality Assurance & Regulatory Affairs at Lucigen Corp. in Middleton, WI, near Madison, where he helps to design and manufacture reagent tools for DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid) research as well as molecular diagnostic devices for infectious diseases. With annual sales of approximately $15 million, the 20-year-old company now sells internationally. Bandziulis defines the biotech industry as “an interesting blend of science business and engineering skills – working together to solve problems in the life sciences and in human medicine by the application of DNA technology.”
A scientist at work in the Lucigen lab near Madison, Wisconsin.
Essentially every cell within each person’s body contains the same hereditary DNA – and this is where the differences begin to emerge. “Our unique ‘DNA signature’ identifies us as individuals,” Bandziulis explained to four groups of about 150 curious Fenwick students assembled in the school’s Auditorium in mid-November. He returned to visit his alma mater and reconnect with John Polka, his former biology teacher who retired last June after 52 years at Fenwick. Continue reading “STEM Studies Can Lead to Biotech Careers”
Fenwick High School periodically profiles people affiliated with our community who have since passed on …
Dan O’Brien ’34 (1917-2003)
Remembering DOB, “the Dobber:” a coaching/training legend affiliated with Fenwick for seven decades.
By Mark Vruno
In the basement of Fenwick High School sets the Dan O’Brien Natatorium. Our swimming Friars will host the 30th Annual Dan O’Brien Relays this coming January. Younger alumni and present-day students may wonder: Who was this O’Brien guy and why is he a such a legend at Fenwick?
Dan O’Brien was more than a stellar swim/dive guru; he was versatile. DOB was a FHS student (Class of 1934) who then served as a physical education teacher at his alma mater. “Dan’s first Fenwick paycheck predated the Social Security system and had no social security withholding,” deadpans Jerry Lordan, PhD., who teaches social studies at Fenwick and wrote the preface for O’Brien’s oral history, a hardcover book entitled Fenwick Over the Years.
In 1937 Football Coach Tony Lawless hired O’Brien to lead his freshman team. Football was O’Brien’s first love in sports. In the fall of 1930, seven years earlier, Fenwick was only one year old. Dan was a scrawny, 128-pound freshman who showed up for tryouts at the new school, only to be snickered at by burly classmates and upper-classmen. “Sorry, son,” said Lawless, according to a 1972 Oak Leaves article. “I can’t use you. You’ve come out for the wrong team.”
O’Brien, however, was determined and refused to give up easily. Here’s how reporter Ted Londos recounted the story 42 years later:
“The kid faced the wise, young coach and replied firmly, ‘Mr. Lawless, I’ve come out for the team. You’ve asked for candidates. Here I am. You’ve got to give me a chance to show you what I can do.’ And so, to get rid of that reckless kid, Tony put him into a scrimmage – just for laughs. But on the first play, Coach Lawless’s eyes popped when he saw the tiny freshman bring a varsity giant down with a devastating tackle. Again he tried him out, and another regular bit the dust. Young Lawless shrugged his shoulders and decided to let the gutsy little guy hang around. ‘What’s your name?’ asked the coach.”
But the feisty O’Brien’s gridiron career with the Fighting Friars was short-lived. As a sophomore he suffered severe medical complications from the surgical removal of a kidney, which kept 15-year-old Daniel out of school for an extended period of time in 1931-32. “His surgeon warned him that the procedure may either fail and/or kill him,” Lordan later learned. “Dan outlived the surgeon and saw the surgeon’s grandchildren (twin boys) attend Fenwick.”
Dan O’Brien circa 1954.
Fast-forward 45 years, to when two of his former swimmers-turned-doctors came to O’Brien’s aid. “I had come back to Chicago in 1977,” recalls Leonard Vertuno ’57, M.D., a Loyola-educated nephrologist (kidney specialist), “and Pete Geis knocked on my door.” Dr. Peter Geis ’60 was a transplant surgeon and an All-State swimmer three years ahead of Vertuno at Fenwick. “Pete said, ‘Dan needs a doctor, and you’re it.’”
So began a reuniting of player and coach – and an adult friendship that would span more than a quarter-century. It was Dr. Vertuno who would give the eulogy at Dan O’Brien’s funeral in 2003. “He was an amazing man,” the retired doc said in early November from Sarasota, FL. “Dan was renowned nationally and internationally. He chose to stay at Fenwick and work with Tony [Lawless].”