Fenwick’s Staying Power Is Its People, says 9-year Friar Teaching Veteran

Fellowship among fellow teachers and their students is a key factor as to why faculty members stay with the Friars.

By Laura (Dixon) Gallinari, English Teacher

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.

Mutual 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.

Faculty and staff members read chapters of Moby-Dick at “Moby-Con” in January 2019.

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:

Continue reading “Fenwick’s Staying Power Is Its People, says 9-year Friar Teaching Veteran”

Why Commute to Fenwick?

Leading into Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1), a sophomore student shares his Fenwick story – and explains why traveling from La Grange to Oak Park is worth it.

By Jack Henrichs ’22

Standing 6′ 4″ tall, the “Stork” cast a long, lean shadow during his freshman football season for the Friars in 2018. (This past season, his sophomore team posted an impressive 6-1-1 record.)

On a warm spring day at the end of 7th grade, I received a text message from my mom: “We are going to Fenwick’s Open House tomorrow.” Why would I be going there? I live within walking distance between two high school campuses where ALL of my friends would attend.

I argued with my parents until it was pointless. We attended the Open House and, of course, they loved Fenwick. They mentioned strong academics, Catholic values, small class sizes. I don’t remember much about that night, but I did pass the entrance exam that fall. My life was ruined. Or so I thought.

I didn’t even know how to tie a tie on the first day of school. I kept thinking about how my friends were walking to school, wearing shorts and T-shirts and excited about high school. I was one of the only kids from my junior high school at Fenwick. When my dad drove a neighbor and me to the train station, we passed the public school. I took a car, train and bus to school. This seemed absurd. But I had been practicing football since the end of June with my new team, so I was excited about seeing my football friends in my classes.

Jack heads out for his first day of sophomore year this past August. (His mom, Michelle, made him pose!)

Joining the football team made my transition to Fenwick so much easier. The first few days of freshman football summer camp were difficult though. I was nervous because I didn’t know a single person on my team. There were kids who were already friends with former elementary and middle school classmates, but there were also kids like me who knew no one around them for the first few practices. After several days of learning plays and running drills, we were all becoming friends. We knew we were going to be with each other for the next four years, and we were excited to prepare for our first high school season.

“Joining the football team made my transition to Fenwick so much easier.”

Ted Hendricks, the original “Stork” (and NFL Hall of Famer), prowled the gridiron for the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s.

I entered the school year with a new nickname —“Stork.” Head Freshman Football Coach, Mr. Vruno, approached me before a drill and asked if I knew who “The Stork” was. I had never heard of him, but he explained that Ted Hendricks was a 6’7” outside linebacker (and one of the best NFL players of all time), with my similar height and name. When a football coach gives you a nickname, it sticks. Teammates, classmates and teachers often call me Stork. A mom even called my mom “Mrs. Stork” last year. Joining a team had impacted my experience in ways I never thought it would, and it made my high school experience much easier.

School started and although I didn’t have many of my football friends in my classes, I saw them in the hallways, and we’d hang out before school. By the end of the first month of school, I was doing more work than I had done in my entire middle school life! I adjusted well to new teachers and classes, and even attending Mass (which was new for me since I attended a public school). I actually liked the prayers before classes and Mass was a reminder for me to keep God in my life.

The Henrichs family resides in La Grange, Illinois.

My English teacher, Mr. Schoeph, made the class fun and interesting. He hopped up on desks and acted out stories for us. The grammar lessons were not as entertaining, but I knew they were important. Freshman year is said to be the hardest. And to me, it was. First semester was a challenge, but it prepared me for second semester, which went much smoother. I’m also glad I didn’t have many football friends in my classes because I met so many new people. The school days were busy and exhausting, with football and then basketball after school every day and heavy homework every night. So when the weekend came, it was like a summer day. I felt like I deserved a break because of how hard I had worked.

‘Do you want to transfer?’

At the end of the year my parents asked me if I was happy at Fenwick or if I wanted to transfer. They insisted I give it a try freshman year and said we would reevaluate the decision in June. Several friends took the train home with me on the last day of school, and I couldn’t imagine going to school anywhere else. I still had my neighborhood grade school friends, and I had my high school friends. It’s the best of both worlds.

Sophomore year has been much easier than freshman year. My workload may seem less, but it’s about the same because I’ve adjusted to the academics and expectations. I played football again this year and am still called “Stork” everywhere I go. I am also looking forward to our football team playing in Dublin [Ireland] in August.

Continue reading “Why Commute to Fenwick?”

Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values

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

By Jack Spatafora, PhD. ’49

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

Everyone agrees that a good education is good for the nation. It gets thornier when it comes to defining a ‘good education.’ For 90 years, Fenwick High School has been addressing this issue the best way it knows how: by graduating hundreds of students each year equipped with both the academic and moral gifts needed to become the kind of citizens our complex times’ need.

From Aristotle to Aquinas to Jefferson, the ideal citizen is one who knows not only what to think but also how to think: clearly, logically, passionately. I experienced this at Fenwick, first as a student and then as a teacher. The day General MacArthur was accepting the surrender of Japan in September 1945, I was entering the old Scoville Avenue entrance as a freshman. Seven years later, I returned to teach U.S. History. That is experiencing Fenwick from both ends of the classroom!

Jack Spatafora as a Fenwick junior in 1948.

Fenwick was much smaller and less equipped during the 1950s, and yet it was already sending some of the best and brightest into post-World War II America. Young men equipped and motivated with three of the academic tools most required for good citizenship: 1) facts, 2) ideas and 3) values:

  1. As a faculty, we had this funny notion that there were facts, not alternative facts, be it science, math or history. Facts are stubborn, objective things that the student needs to confront, process and use in reaching conclusions. 
  2. When properly assessed and connected, facts become the essence of ideas. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
  3. There is a third feature to good citizenship: values. If facts and ideas are essential as a foundation, values are the super-structure to the edifice — including respect for truth, honor, country and God. The ideal citizen embraces each, both profoundly and efficaciously. For as Alexander Hamilton put it: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Mr. Spatafora’s Fenwick Faculty photo from 1957.

Gazing back over these last 70 years, this is some of what I proudly remember. Both as a member of the Fenwick student body and later the Fenwick faculty. You might say I was twice blessed. Frankly, I say it all the time.

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

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

By Mark Vruno

Fenwick AP students study together diligently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freshmen in AP

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

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

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

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

Alumni Spotlight: John Giannini, PhD., Class of 1980

Coach G. taught and motivated players on basketball’s big stage for 22 years, including one special season when his La Salle U. team ‘danced’ to the Sweet 16.

By Mark Vruno

As basketball season draws nearer, Fenwick alumnus John Giannini ’80 gets antsy. He hears the echo of his whistle and the orange, leather balls bouncing in the gym, but those sounds now are memories thumping in his head. It’s only natural because this past year marked the first time in 30 seasons that he was not coaching a college basketball team.

For 14 years (2004-18), Giannini, who was raised in Elmwood Park, IL, was head coach of the La Salle University men’s basketball team, an NCAA Division I program in Philadelphia. Giannini quickly turned the program around when, in his second year, the 2005-06 Explorers set a school record for Atlantic 10 Conference wins and tallied their first winning season in 13 years. Coach G. was named as a candidate for the National Coach of the Year. In 2011-12, La Salle won 21 games and was asked to participate in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).

A year later, the Explorers punched a ticket to the lauded NCAA Tournament, where they were seeded 13th in their region. They defeated Boise State in the opening round, and then beat Kansas State and Ole Miss. The run ended in the Sweet 16, where La Salle fell to Wichita State. The team finished with a No. 24 national ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

Before La Salle, Coach Giannini built up the program at Rowan University in New Jersey. He led the team to a pair of Division III Final Four appearances, in 1993 and 1995, before the “Profs,” as they are known, won the small-college national championship in ’96. Coach G. came to the NJ school in 1989 by way of the University of Illinois, where he served for two seasons as a graduate assistant on Lou Henson’s coaching staff. (The 1988-89 Fighting Illini (31-5) danced their way through the NCAA Tournament, past Syracuse and all the way to the Final 4 in Seattle.)

Following his success at Rowan, Giannini accepted the head coaching position at the University of Maine, where he stayed for eight years. Under him on the hardwood, the Black Bears enjoyed a 20-win season, which never had before happened, and then another. Giannini achieved the best career winning percentage in school history. Over the course of his 29-year collegiate head coaching career, he compiled an overall record of 508 victories and 375 defeats.

Coaching path

Giannini (right) looks to pass to a Friar teammate.

Coach and his wife, Donna, have two daughters, but Giannini grew up with boys. The oldest of four brothers, he is a “Double Friar,” playing football and basketball at St. Vincent Ferrer in River Forest before enrolling at Fenwick in 1976. “I looked up to Fenwick’s coaches and athletes,” Giannini recalls. As a 13-year-old, the late coach “George Badke met with me, and I felt like I was meeting George Halas.” (“Papa Bear” was, of course, coach/owner of the Chicago Bears.)

“People thought Fenwick was the best school academically in the area, but I was not a motivated student at all in grade school,” Giannini admits. Even in high school, he says, he was “clearly in the bottom half of my class. But I was far more prepared for college and life after than I ever realized.” Why? The coach points to two primary factors:

  1. “I had wonderful, passionate teachers at Fenwick.”
  2. “I also had really motivated, smart classmates, so I had to keep up!”

Most importantly, though, he believes, “Fenwick taught me how to live. We were encouraged to leave Fenwick with a philosophy of life at age 18. I knew what was important to me.”

Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight: John Giannini, PhD., Class of 1980”

As Fenwick Turns 90, ‘We Give Thanks to You,’ Oak Parkers!

The Catholic high school’s spiritual leader does not take for granted the partnership forged with the greater, local community over nine decades.

By Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P., President of Fenwick High School

Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P.

Ninety years ago next week, the Dominican Order established a college-preparatory secondary school on Washington Blvd., bordered by East Ave., Scoville Ave. and Madison St. When Fenwick High School opened on September 9, 1929, some 200 boys ventured through its wooden, church-like doors. Many of them walked to school from their homes in Oak Park and on the West Side, while others coming from farther away in Chicago took streetcars.

Over these many years, Fenwick has survived and thrived, despite the Great Depression (which started six weeks after the school opened!), world wars and changing times, including enrolling female students in the early 1990s. However, the mission at the outset has stood the test of time: Guided by Dominican Catholic values, our priests, instructors, coaches, administrators and staff members inspire excellence and educate each student to lead, achieve and serve.

Fenwick today has a co-educational enrollment of nearly 1,150 students as well as two Golden Apple-winning teachers on its esteemed faculty. Our school’s impressive list of alumni includes a Skylab astronaut, Rhodes Scholars, Pulitzer Prize winners, a Heisman Trophy recipient and other leaders making a positive influence locally and internationally.

Great neighbors

From our beginning, Fenwick and Oak Park always have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. “Fenwick and the Village of Oak Park have a long history of working together,” Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb has stated. “From its inception, our fortunes and our futures have been intertwined.”

As an investment in our future in Oak Park, last month we began construction on a six-story parking structure seeded with generous funding by former McDonald’s CEO and alumnus Michael R. Quinlan, Class of 1962. By next summer, some 325 cars will be taken off the streets, so to speak.

“With this new garage, Fenwick will be taking a major step toward reducing its impact on the neighborhood,” Mr. Abu-Talen noted at the August 13 garage groundbreaking ceremony. The private school “has always worked to be a great neighbor …,” and “also is a key partner in the development of the Madison corridor.

“Fenwick has been a great contributor to Oak Park in many ways,” the Mayor continued: “first, as an educational institution of national reputation; second, as a Catholic school filling the needs of a diverse and inclusive community.”

We are, indeed, proud of our racial and socio-economic diversity. More than 30% of our talented student body identifies as something other than Caucasian, and we provide nearly $2.5 million in need-based financial aid annually to our students through the generosity of many benefactors.

They come to Oak Park

As Mayor Abu-Taleb notes, “Fenwick always has been a reason why many families choose to live in Oak Park — and the reason many others visit the Village and support our local economy.” Last school year, our students came from more than 60 cities, towns and municipalities, including these top 20:

Continue reading “As Fenwick Turns 90, ‘We Give Thanks to You,’ Oak Parkers!”

Alumni Spotlight: Steve Twomey ’69

With his 50th Fenwick Reunion one month away, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author reflects on his days as a Friar.

By Mark Vruno

(Photo by Steve Hockstein/ HarvardStudio.com.)

Friar alumnus Steve Twomey ’69 is busy researching and writing, again — this time, for another book about World War II. And, he’s thinking. Twomey thinks a lot about, well, thought. Blame all that insight and thoughtfulness on Fenwick, he says.

“I took a course in high school that I loved. I think it was a religion class. Its premise was logic and explaining the rational processes by which we think,” recalls Twomey, a retired reporter/journalist and present author/freelance writer who has taught journalism at New York University. “At Fenwick we discussed the fallacies of logic and the traps that people get into with their thinking,” he relates. “This information was imparted on my brain forever.” (He also remembers classmates throwing fetal pigs on Scoville Ave. from the top window of a science classroom, while young Biology Teacher John Polka tried to remain calm. However, that’s a story for another article!)

Twomey began his career in journalism as a weekend copyboy at the Chicago Tribune as a 16-year-old kid. An uncle worked in the business office there and helped him land the summer job. “I loved being in a newsroom where people were finding out things,” he admits. Young Steve was hooked.

“I’ve distributed words for 30 years,” Twomey declared 15 years ago, upon occasion of Fenwick’s 75th anniversary. “You might not like journalism — so many folks don’t, be they of the political Left or Right,” he added then, somewhat prophetically. “But ever since Fenwick, being a newspaper guy has seemed the perfect way to sate a lust to know stuff, to see my name in black-and-white and to get paid for both.” 

Over the course of a 27-year media career Twomey traveled extensively and:

  • shook hands with Queen Elizabeth II aboard her yacht;
  • drank tea with Polish labor activist/politician Lech Walesa in his Warsaw apartment;
  • took cover in the Sahara Desert from shellfire from Polisario rebels.

In 2016 he published Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The 12 Days to the Attack (365 pages; Simon & Schuster), which traces the miscommunications, faulty assumptions and foul-ups that led to the ill-fated “day which will live in infamy” 78 years ago this December.

A critical thinker

A sweet 16 years have passed since Fenwick inducted Twomey into the its Hall of Fame. His prestigious Pulitzer recognition in journalism (feature writing/reporting category for the Philadelphia Inquirer while in Paris, France) came in 1987 for his illuminating profile of life aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. America, which had launched planes that took part in a United States’ attack on Libya in mid-1986. Twomey, who was 35 years old when he won his Pulitzer Prize, wrote about daily life for the mega ship’s personnel. He also questioned the strategic value of the U.S. military/government spending $500,000 a day (at the time, 32 years ago) to operate the massive vessel.

Continue reading “Alumni Spotlight: Steve Twomey ’69”

Fenwick Fathers’ Club: 2019 Dr. Gerald Lordan Freshman Family Picnic

The recently retired faculty mentor addressed new Friar parents at the annual event renamed in his honor.

By Dr. Gerald Lordan, O.P.

Welcome to Pleasant Home for the 28th Fenwick Fathers’ Club Frosh Family Picnic. We started his event in 1992 to welcome Fenwick’s first coeducational class. Three of the members of that Class of 1996 now serve on the Fenwick faculty. Pleasant Home, like Fenwick, is located in St. Edmund’s Parish. The first Catholic Mass celebrated in Oak Park was held in the barn that serviced this building. 

Fenwick is the only high school in the United States sponsored by Dominican Friars. Dominicans lead lives of virtue. Humility is the greatest of all the virtues. We are humbled by the confidence families place in us by sending us their adolescents for formation. It is a teacher’s greatest joy to be surpassed by his students. We are pleased to see so many of our former students here today as parents of students in the class of 2023. We are pleased to welcome our first fourth generation Friar! We have a member of the class of 2023 with us today who follows in the footsteps of a great grandfather, grandfather and father. 

Every high school in the United States has a legal obligation to the state legislature, which charters it to train patriotic citizens and literate workers. As a Dominican school, Fenwick follows the Thomist educational philosophy. A Thomist school has an obligation to our Creator, the Supreme Being to train moral, servant-leaders of society. The late Ed Brennan, a Fenwick alumnus and CEO of Sears, was once asked what course he studied in his graduate school of business that best prepared him to be the chief executive of a Fortune 500 Corporation. Mr. Brennan replied, “Nothing I studied in business school prepared me for my job. The only class that prepared me was Moral Theology during my junior year at Fenwick High School.”

Training moral, servant-leaders

Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. (front center) joined Dr. Lordan (left) and Fenwick Fathers’ Club President Frank Sullivan ’86 at the Freshman Family Picnic.

Our freshman students will learn this year in history class that we are in an Axial Age. Everything changes in an Axial Age. We have had an Agricultural Revolution, which made us farmers. We have had an Industrial Revolution, which made us factory workers. We are entering an Information Revolution, which will make us computer scientists. We study the past to understand the present to shape the future. We do not know what challenges beyond our present comprehension the future may bring. We must be prepared to be the moral, servant-leaders of our society so we can enable others to meet these challenges. Therefore, Moral Theology is the most important subject that our students study.

The Dominicans are the Order of Preachers and have the initials, O.P., after their names. All of our students will study speech as sophomores.

The lessons we learn in class are important or we would not bother to teach them. Even more important, however, are the lessons we learn inside our building but outside of the classroom.  Three of the Dominican Pillars are Prayer, Community and Study. Once a month we assemble in our Auditorium to celebrate Mass. It is appropriate that we meet in community to pray before we study. 

The most important lessons we learn at Fenwick are taught outside of the building. All of our students will make a Kairos religious retreat during their senior year. This is the most important thing we do at Fenwick.

3 takeways

I am going to identify three activities that will enhance our Fenwick Experience. The first is for adults. The second is for adolescents. The third is for families. These suggestions are based on educational research. They are neither my opinions nor intuitive thoughts. Pedagogy is the science of education. These suggestions come from empirical pedagogical research and enjoy a measure of scientific certitude.

  1. Adults should be active in parent associations. Vibrant parent associations are in indicator of excellence for a school. Do not just join. Do not just pay dues. Get active. Make a difference.
  2. Adolescents should participate in student activities. This does not mean just sports. It includes all manner of student clubs such as speech, drama, student government, art and music.
  3. Families should eat dinner together. They should shut off the television. They should put down the smart phone. They should talk with one another. 
Continue reading “Fenwick Fathers’ Club: 2019 Dr. Gerald Lordan Freshman Family Picnic”

Collegiate Friars: August 2019

Catching up with two young alumni from the Class of 2017: Rachel McCarthy, recently back from Japan, and Ellis Taylor, an American footballer in NYC.

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Rachel McCarthy (shown here in Tokyo) will be a junior at Illinois Wesleyan University in downstate Bloomington.

Fenwick Graduation: 2017

Hometown: Riverside

Grade School: St. Mary School

Current School:  Illinois Wesleyan University

Current Major: English Literature and Psychology

Summer Internship: This summer I was a teaching assistant at Technos College, where I spent an unforgettable seven weeks living in Tokyo and helping English students practice conversations/interviews with a native speaker. I also did a lot of behind-the-scenes planning for the college’s annual cultural exchange event with 10 other sister universities from around the world. 

Career aspirations: I’ve looked at a few different career options in the past two years, but right now I’m exploring the possibility of being an English professor. I’ve always had an interest in academia, and my experience at Technos College taught me the joys of working one-on-one with students to help them blossom. 

Fenwick Achievements/Activities: Lawless Scholar, Illinois State Scholar, Girls Cross Country, Blackfriars Guild and Novel Writing Club co-founder.

Fenwick teacher who had the most influence on you: A better question might be who didn’t inspire me, but one teacher I do think of on a regular basis is Mr. Arellano. Though his speech class was tough, the way he cared for each and every one of his students was readily apparent, and I still think of his encouraging feedback whenever I have to give a major presentation.

Fenwick class that had the most influence on you: My junior year AP Language and Composition class was pivotal in shaping me as a writer. That class pushed me to write critically about a wide range of fascinating, real-world topics, and I loved the freedom we were given to pursue our own interests. As I prepare to spend a year studying English as a visiting student at Oxford University, my heavily annotated APLAC textbook remains a valuable guide to this day.

Continue reading “Collegiate Friars: August 2019”

Worldly Sophomore to Study in Germany for 11 Months

Fenwick student Jack Kornowske ’22 takes part in the Rotary International’s Youth Exchange Program.

By Mark Vruno

Fenwick student Jack Kornowske (Oak Park) is headed to Germany for his sophomore year.

Fenwick parents Diane Ellsworth and Pete Kornowske have four children, including twin boys Eric and Jack, who will be sophomores this coming school year. (Older sibling Will is a senior Friar.) Of the twins, “Jack is the more independent one,” their mother says. She is about to find out just how self-sufficient her 15-year-old son is, as he embarks in mid-August on an 11-month study opportunity near Berlin, Germany, as part of the Rotary Club of Oak Park – River Forest’s Youth Exchange Program. The cultural experience will feature several host families, not just one.

“We host two [Rotary] students per year,” explains Mrs. Ellsworth, who hails from nearby Norridge and became familiar with the program from a friend who is a Rotarian host. “My friend once ran a school in France and had great experiences hosting,” adds Diane. Ellsworth-Kornowske’s Oak Park house was the U.S. home of a junior student from Brazil attending Oak Park-River Forest High School this past spring. Last fall they hosted a student from Italy who was a guest at St. Patrick High School in Chicago. The family also has hosted other foreign-exchange students, from France and Japan, in the past.

As for Jack spending almost a year away from home in Germany, his mother admits to being a little “freaked out” by the prospect of her young, teenage son traveling, by himself, across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. “I was preparing for my oldest to go to college,” she explains. And now, this! Kornowske is one of eight students sponsored by the Rotary district to study abroad for the 2019-20 school year. Rotary International handles the logistics; each participating family is responsible for their child’s airfare and travel insurance. 

Visiting an English-speaking country is not an option for students participating the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, Jack notes. “I was asked to rank my top 12 countries,” he recalls. At first he thought he was heading to Lithuania, number 7 on his list. However, in May, Outbound Coordinator Sue DeBolt (Rotary District 6450) and Youth Exchange Officer Lesley Gottlinger notified the family that his destination had changed to Germany. Soon, passport in hand, he will be on his way to board an airplane at O’Hare’s International Terminal. 

Sprechen Sie Deutsche?

Young Kornowske does not speak fluent German, so to get ready for his 4,400-mile journey he has been working with a language tutor this summer. “Rotary helps with the language skills — they expect Jack to be fluent after three months,” his mom reports. He will attend a language camp his first week in Germany. And he won’t be allowed to text or FaceTime his family in Oak Park; at least not at first. As part of the Rotary program’s deeply immersive strategy, Jack cannot communicate with his parents or siblings at all for those first 90 days, which makes his mother even more anxious. 

Continue reading “Worldly Sophomore to Study in Germany for 11 Months”