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.”
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.
“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
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.
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.
Fenwick High School has ushered in
its 91st academic year with a new Engineering & Innovation Laboratory.
At the Open House in late September, prospective students and their families
had an opportunity to see the modular classroom (Room 57), which features 25
new drafting and programming laptop computers, six 3D printers and five interactive,
“smart” monitors. These technology equipment upgrades are a major part of the
more than $70,000 investment in the refurbished lab space.
“We are teaching in the lab to packed computer-science classes,” Science Dept. Co-chair Dave Kleinhans reports. In an effort to prepare students for business and STEM (science/technology/engineering/math) degrees in college, he adds, many of these courses were co-developed with a University of Illinois, student-run consulting organization. At professional-development sessions in mid-September, faculty members received training on the three-dimensional (additive-manufacturing) printers.
Principal Peter Groom adds, “The
development of our Computer Science curriculum has been a collaborative
effort. We put a lot of faith in our faculty, and they really ran with
it. In some cases, our teachers took existing courses and tailored them to
the 21st-century world,” Mr. Groom explains. “In other cases, we
started brand new courses. The opening of the new lab is just the
beginning of a facilities transformation that will allow our excellent
CS/Physics faculty to maximize the student experience.”
Fenwick’s Engineering &
Innovation Lab “is what software labs look like at some of the companies I
still communicate with in the private sector,” notes Kleinhans, who started up
three software firms over two decades before embarking on a career change to become
a teacher. IBM
(Cognos) acquired one of his companies, but Kleinhans insists that teaching and
mentoring young people bring him far more satisfaction and joy “than any bonus
check for selling a company or being a CEO.”
Joining the Fenwick faculty for this
school year is Donald Nelson, who is “taking over a lot of our CS [computer
science] classes,” according to Kleinhans. “Principal Groom made a great,
strategic new hire in Nelson,” Kleinhans believes. “Don is a 30-year business
person/nuclear engineer who wants to be involved with students as a second
career.” Nelson, who previously has taught at the Illinois Institute of
Technology and DePaul Prep, holds a B.S. in engineering from the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.S. in computer science engineering
from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Student input and involvement
“It was inspiring to watch Dave Kleinhans empower recent graduates and current Friars to be project managers for the new lab,” adds Math Teacher and alumnus Kevin Roche ’05. “Kevin Brosnan ’20, Spencer Gallagher ’19 and Jack Vomacka ’18 [helped] make it all happen. They met with architects, researched the best equipment, presented to the Board and even were present for the painting and carpeting subcontractors to ensure the job got done. That was my favorite part of it all: those three gain valuable project-management experience thanks to Dave.
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.
And yet another differentiator that makes Fenwick special is that six administrators also teach courses to students.
This last point of differentiation is akin to the difference at universities and colleges where actual professors teach under-graduate classes (as opposed to those taught by teaching assistants enrolled in graduate school). The six Fenwick administrators in the classroom are (from left in the above photo):
Director of Scheduling & Student Data Mickey Collins ’03 – Accelerated Anatomy
Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton – Orchestra Director
Principal Peter Groom – Foreign Policy (History)
President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P., PhD – Dominican Spirituality (Theology)
Assistant Principal Eleanor Comiskey ’06 – Algebra
Student Services/Enrollment Director James Quaid, PhD – Advanced Placement U.S. History
Every weekday afternoon for 45 minutes, you won’t find Fenwick President Fr. Richard Peddicord, O.P. in his office or on the phone. Instead, he’s in a classroom teaching Theology (Dominican Spiritualty) to senior students. Principal Peter Groom, who teaches History (Foreign Policy), has said that teaching and interacting with students in the classroom is the highlight of his work day. What is it that they enjoy about the teaching portion of their day-to-day responsibilities?
“Teaching is a way for me to be connected to the students on a personal level,” explains alumnus Michael “Mickey” Collins ’03, who teaches a science course in Accelerated Anatomy when he’s not overseeing the scheduling and data of Fenwick students. “I spend most of my time seeing names, test scores, course requests and schedules of students, but not as much face-to-face [time] with those students,” Mr. Collins adds.
“I think the fact that our administrators still teach keeps them more connected than most administrators at other schools.” – Assistant Principal/Orchestra Director Laura Pendleton
Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton notes, “The unique thing about being an education administrator is that none of us chose this profession. We all chose to be teachers first and then ended up in administration for a variety of reasons and circumstances. To be able to work in administration and continue to teach, which was my first passion, is a gift,” says Ms. Pendleton, who also is Fenwick’s Orchestra Director. “It takes you back to your early career, and I enjoy having the time working with the students vs. the adults. They keep you close to the pulse of the school.”
Why They Teach
“I think the fact that our administrators still teach keeps them more connected than most administrators at other schools,” Pendleton continues. “Also, most days teaching my class is a stress reliever!
“It is important for school leaders to stay connected with the student body because,” she says, “first and foremost, we are here for them. I can imagine that if you are not in front of students every day you might start to get a little disconnected. Teaching my own class is very beneficial for me when supervising teachers. Being in their classroom becomes more than just an isolated event and more of a collaboration: I’m also in a classroom with these students every day; I have the same issues. It gives us a very up-to-date understanding of what our teachers are going through. We have a unique student body here at Fenwick, and it’s important to know their needs specifically.”
Dr. James Quaid, former Fenwick Principal and current Director of Student Services & Enrollment, returned to Fenwick this school year. “I began my career as a teacher and always loved working with students as a teacher, coach and/or moderator,” Dr. Quaid shares. “Administrative work involves planning and finding ways to help students, teachers and parents/guardians. It also involves a lot of reaction to issues in which people are frustrated or upset. When I am in a classroom, I get to work in a very positive environment and enjoy watching students learn and grow. If you plan, communicate and react properly, there really are not that many negative things that happen. For one period each day I can just enjoy the experience.”
Last week a group of Fenwick “snowbird” alumni gathered in the Arizona desert on March 15 to watch the Chicago Cubs defeat the White Sox under partly sunny skies and 71-degree temperatures. The school’s baseball and softball teams have caught the warmer-weather bug, too, as the annual spring athlete migration is set to begin.
The evening before the crosstown-classic rivalry at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ, a handful of faithful fans braved howling winds and biting, 43-degree temps to watch the Friar boys’ baseball team demolish Ridgewood’s Rebels from Norridge/Harwood Heights by a score of 15-2. It was 2019 opening night under the lights at Triton College.
The highlight was senior Lucas Kolovitz (above, in Florida last year), a D1 recruit committed to Purdue University – Fort Wayne, blasting a towering homerun that, with Mother Nature’s assistance, traveled nearly 400 feet into the angry, River Grove sky. (Junior Will Hendricks also smashed a triple, while fellow junior Greyson Cone’s cannon-like arm was on display at third base.) The windy win marked number 817 for Varsity Baseball Coach Dave Hogan, who is entering his 39th season as the Friars’ skipper. Coach Hogan has tallied the second most baseball victories at one school in Illinois, dating back to 1980.
“We have eight games scheduled in Florida, three of them in the Atlanta Braves’ spring training big-league stadium,” reports Assistant Varsity Coach and baseball alumnus Kyle Kmiecik ’00. On Monday, March 25, the top end of a double-header features the cousins Groom on the mound: Fenwick senior pitcher Jimmy Groom will try to match heat with his younger, flame-throwing cousin Tommy: a right-handed junior who hurls 90-mph fastballs for Bishop Moore out of Orlando. (Tommy’s father, Chris, taught Spanish at Fenwick in 1994-96, Principal Groom says of his brother. “He also coached sophomore baseball,” reports Mr. Groom.)
The projected high temperature for game day is a balmy 82 degrees at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The nightcap pits the Friars against the Lions of Orange High School from Pepper Pike, Ohio, near Cleveland.
The following evening Fenwick faces the Quakers of Sidwell Friends, a selective, private school in the Washington, D.C.- Bethesda, Maryland area. Next up on Wednesday is another Quaker team from Philadelphia: the William Penn Charter School; on Thursday it’s the “Fords” from the all-boys Haveford School, also in Pennsylvania (near Philadelphia).
Our Chicago-area boys close out their trip in the sun with a mid-day double-header on Friday, March 29: Game 1 (10:30 a.m.) brings competition from the Patriots of Germantown Academy (Washington, PA), originally called the Union School and dating back to 1759. Game 2 (first pitch at 1 p.m.) is against the Bears of Landon School, a 90-year-old, college-prep school situated in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.
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)
Why is it that such a surprisingly high number of former students return to Fenwick to teach future alumni?
By Mark Vruno
Presently, there are approximately 140 teachers, administrators and staff members at Fenwick High School, and 38 of them have walked the hallowed halls in Oak Park as students. Over the course of the school’s nine decades in existence, many more former pupils have returned to work and serve. “People come back to Fenwick because of the impact the school had on their lives,” believes Social Studies/History Department Chair Alex Holmberg ’05. “Whether that impact was inside or outside the classrooms, Fenwick leaves a powerful impression on everyone,” says Mr./Coach Holmberg, who triples as the school’s clubs/activities director and the defensive coordinator of the varsity football team.
“The opportunity to shape how future students approach the rest of their lives is incredibly powerful,” he notes, “and that potential draws so many people back into the building. Thinking about that opportunity to help prepare and motivate future Friars is what brought me back to Fenwick, and that thought is what motivates me to continue to help the school in whatever way I can.”
Principal Peter Groom, who has taught Friars since the 1980s, reports that many of the Fenwick graduates he has hired, he had in the classroom. “We get to know our students during their time here,” Mr. Groom explains. “We get to know their intelligence, their values, their passion and their work ethic. Typically, our graduates are also committed to our mission. When we hire people who are committed to our mission, we hire people who want to remain a part of our community for a long time. One of the keys to building a mission-based school is to have teachers who are committed and who demonstrate the aforementioned values.”
Roger Finnell ’59, a Fenwick mathematics instructor for more than five decades, concurs with fellow alumnus Holmberg: “Many alumni teach here because they remember their experience at Fenwick as being something special and want to contribute towards continuing the traditions here,” reflects Mr. Finnell, who is Math Department Chair.
“I knew I wanted to teach math when I started college,” shares Finnell, who also is the man behind the scenes of Black Friars Guild stage productions. “In my senior year at Loyola, after I finished student teaching at Lane Tech in Chicago, I heard about an opening at St. Ignatius, so I made an appointment for an interview. But then I thought I might as well also inquire at Fenwick. I did my Fenwick interview and was offered a position here, so, seeing this as a great opportunity, I quickly cancelled my St. Ignatius interview and the rest is history!”
Representing the Classes of 1959 to 2012
Holmberg and math/computer science teacher Kevin Roche ’05 are two of thousands of Friars taught by Mr. Finnell over the past 55 years. “I think that there are a large amount of Friars returning because they had a great experience at the school, believe in what the school does, and want to be a part of ‘steering the ship’ for future generations,” chimes in Mr. Roche, who also coaches cross country. “We have Friars in different aspects of the school (operations, administration, faculty and development) who all had different experiences here yet all want to give back. I believe that this influx of alumni teachers is also a sign of our generation: millennials have a great desire to find meaning and purpose in their work. That is their highest motivator and education is a career that offers immense purpose and validation for the work through strong relationships.”
Grace Lilek ’08, who is in her third year of teaching social studies at Fenwick, captures the sentiment of many of her colleagues who also are alumni: “I was inspired to pursue a career in education based on my experiences at Fenwick,” says Ms. Lilek, who also is a learning resource coordinator. “I think experience is the first reason so many of us have come back to Fenwick to teach. You will not meet two Fenwick graduates who had the exact same experience. You can be an athlete or a thespian or participate in academic competitions, and always find your niche. You can also take on all three of those roles and thrive. It is an honor to come back to Fenwick as a teacher and share these experiences with our students.” Lilek continues:
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.
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.
“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
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’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.
Mary Marcotte, Barb Shanahan and Lucy White leave big shoes to fill.
New retirees (from left): Lucy White, Mary Marcotte and Barb Shanahan.
Some 80 former students, parents and colleagues past and present gathered in the Fenwick Courtyard on Tuesday evening, June 19th, to share stories and bid a heart-felt farewell to a trio of retiring female faculty and staff members:
English Teacher Mary Marcotte has spent her 44-year career educating youth and sharing a passion for literature and writing. Colleague John Schoeph ’95 was a student in one of Ms. Marcotte’s first classes at Fenwick and later would succeed her as Chair of the English Department. Mr. Schoeph fondly remembers his mentor stressing not to take her tough editing and rewriting suggestions personally. “She would say, ‘You are not what you write,’” he recalls. “The best teachers are the most critical,” Schoeph believes.
She administered her last final exam earlier this month, after 23 years of teaching Friars’ students. Marcotte, who has worked in private and public-school settings during her 44-year teaching career, came to Fenwick in 1994 when the once all-boys institution went co-ed and began admitting female students.
“Mary Marcotte is among Fenwick’s greatest teachers both past and present,” praises Fenwick Principal Peter Groom. “Mary has excellent communication skills and cares deeply about her students. She has taught English at multiple levels, most notably English II Honors, English IV Honors and AP Literature. Countless students were inspired by Ms. Marcotte to continue their love of all things related to English and were also inspired to become better people. She will be missed.”
In addition to teaching in the classroom, for more than two decades Marcotte also has worked with the Fenwick Speech and Debate Teams and served as a Write Place Advisor, Yearbook Moderator and Director for Student Publications. She also has been an excellent mentor for new teachers over the years, Mr. Groom points out.
Schoeph adds: “Mary launched Touchstone, which hadn’t existed prior to our class’s founding it under her leadership,” he recalls. Touchstone is an annual magazine that features student writing and artwork, including poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and drama as well as multimedia forms of creative expression. “She has been a valuable resource for teachers new to Fenwick,” Schoeph adds, “cheerfully handing over file folders of her materials, not to copy but to use as springboards for original assignments.”
Marcotte also has been instrumental in fostering superior writing skills among Fenwick’s students. “She often helped out in the Write Place, at one time working with a few others to bring our writing center’s program to the attention of other schools,” Schoeph notes.
Of her students at Fenwick, “I am constantly in awe of their potential,” says Marcotte, who resides in Elmhurst with her husband Paul, an attorney. “I have been privileged to help them realize that potential. I like to think that I’ve taught with my students. Lively discourse and enlightened essays ensue when they become confident in their opinions. It truly is gratifying to hear about their successes at and beyond Fenwick.”
She is particularly proud of the work she has done with numerous juniors and seniors while constructing their college essays. “This has been such an enriching personal experience, from the drafting to the final copy,” Marcotte notes, “whether the essay is just part of the college application or for awarding scholarship monies. I got to see and appreciate the core values of many of our Friars, and I am humbled to have had these experiences. We truly have remarkable young men and women among us!”
Marcotte also takes pride in her other teaching awards, which include:
Innovation and Creativity in Teaching Award from the Archdiocese of Chicago (2006)
Golden Apple Finalist (2001)
Rev. George Conway, O.P. Outstanding Teacher Award (1997) – voted on by peers
Interestingly, Marcotte was not a natural-born teacher. “I actually wanted to be a nurse, but life takes mysterious turns,” she explains. “In the summer before college, I was in a car accident and suffered several broken vertebrae. I could not meet my college commitment for nursing, so I became friends with a wonderful librarian who kept giving me lists of literary classics. Along with my mother, this librarian inspired me to major in English, particularly World and British Literature. I also have certifications in World Religions and Church History.
“Today one of the influences I want to have on my grandchildren is to value the opportunities presented by local libraries,” she continues. “We are so fortunate to live in a country where these services are provided, and we can never take them for granted.” She also frequently attends Shakespeare plays at Navy Pier in Chicago and enjoys traveling to Canada for the Stratford Festival, an internationally recognized annual repertory theater festival that runs annually (April through October) in the city of Stratford, Ontario. At home, Marcotte is an avid gardener. “When I’m not outside in the yard, I love growing orchids,” she shares.
More than 225 years of combined education experience is represented by these six Fenwick Friars. Each cupcake candle represents 38 years!
Theology Teacher Lucy White also is retiring. “Lucy has given her heart and soul to Catholic education for decades,” says Groom. “At Fenwick, she has taught thousands of our freshmen scripture in a comprehensive way. Through her approach the students have gained a real depth of understanding. As the Director of the Kairos program our students were able to explore the role that spirituality played in their lives while bringing them closer to both their family and God. She has been a role model and friend to so many.”
Of Ms. White, Brother Joseph Trout, O.P., Theology Department Chair, says: “Lucy came to Fenwick because of her love for God. She taught her students to know the God who is love. Generously, she shared with everyone the depth of her love. She directed Kairos because she helps others experience God’s own love. She is retiring because she made a vow to, in sickness and in health, give herself to Phil [her husband] in love. Lucy has earned her accolades and awards over the years, but it pales in comparison to one fact: Lucy White is a living, breathing lesson in love. If you want to understand Jesus’ words, ‘love one another as I have loved you,’ you need simply look to her.”
Theology colleague Mr. Patrick Mulcahy adds: “Lucy is fond of saying, ‘I want kids to fall in love with God.’ She was much known and loved by her students and the seniors she led on Kairos. When she took over the Kairos program she really refocused it in a positive way. My fondest memory of Lucy’s class was the practice she had of selecting individual students and praying over them with the rest of the class in a very personal way. She really knew her students. It was truly something to witness. As a senior teacher I saw, year after year, how her students were some of the best prepared in their knowledge of Scripture. As in the case of all great teachers, ‘Lucy the Person’ was the true teacher. She has had many challenges in her life and her faith is a model to all of us in how she has coped with those challenges. She will be greatly missed.”
Friend and Social Studies Teacher Mary Beth Logas: “Lucy is someone who understands unconditional love like perhaps no one else I know. The courage with which she has faced a great many challenges and problems in her life, even before her husband’s illness, is inspiring to anyone who knows her story — and she has been generous with it to the many Fenwick students who have heard it on Kairos. The depth and constancy of her faith are a magnificent legacy to our kids in a world where faith is questioned, its value to the human spirit derided and, increasingly, Christians are persecuted in ways almost reminiscent of the trials of the early church.
“I will miss her friendship and support more than I can express. My overwhelming feeling is that this can’t be happening. I know Lucy does not feel like she has done all she can at Fenwick, but there is another great trial of love before her, and if there was ever anyone with their priorities straight, it’s Lucy. The best thing her Fenwick family can do is to keep in touch with her, for in its very nature the task that lies before her is isolating, even were she not leaving a community where she and her husband have had roots for so many years. I plan on putting some miles on my car between here and Madison in future.”
Student Services Administrative Assistant Barbara Shanahan joins White and Marcotte on the retirement path. Ms. Shanahan has been at Fenwick for 32 years, spending most of her time as the right-hand lady for Rich Borsch and the other counselors. Diana Caponigri, former Director of Scheduling and Records at Fenwick, pays tribute to Barb:
“When I think of Barb, I think of someone who is intensely loyal; someone who is willing to help even though she has a million things on her own desk; someone who has a keen sense of humor; who has much patience; and someone who is able to handle those million things on her desk efficiently and humbly. I could go on and on. She is one of the core people at Fenwick who do so much behind the scenes and don’t get much credit for their work. As a matter of fact, much of what she does enables other people to shine. She is able to anticipate, to keep herself organized, and to get the job done. Did I mention that I think very highly of her? She wants little credit for what she does, believing that if you have a job to do, you just do it and do it as best you can.
“Some of my own cherished memories of Fenwick involve Barb. If I needed numbers about some scheduling situation, such as verification of the number of requests for a certain course, she would be on the phone quickly to respond. If I needed some information about who was not coming back so I could delete some course requests, she would get to a counselor if she didn’t know the information and then get back to me quickly. I depended on her, and knew she would never let me down. Many years ago we had a student who was confined to a wheelchair and, between Barb and myself, we made sure that this boy could access his classes, which sometimes meant moving the class with its teacher to a different floor so this could happen. Being that Fenwick does what it can to accommodate special situations, some of these situations have to be handled by a person rather than a machine, and Barb was often that person. If I didn’t remember a special situation, Barb would be there to remind me or make the change herself and tell me about it. I trusted her. She would constantly update me on her progress doing whatever she was doing when we were scheduling. I always thought we made a good team whether it was working on a scheduling item or something else.
“Another memory I have is her kindness and concern to accommodate me when I would help proctor the many tests we give on Saturdays, such as an ACT, SAT or some other test. She would try to get me in a room with a computer so I could do some work while administering the test and would give me the extended-time students, which meant I would have a smaller number of students to watch. I truly appreciated this.
“In years long since gone by, we would celebrate office birthdays and she would include me when a birthday was celebrated in the Student Services area. She felt I was part of the group because of the work I did with counselors concerning scheduling, grades and other issues. She is very thoughtful.
“She and I had several opportunities to go for training for the student database, and I have some very nice memories of those too. It was so nice to spend some time with her away from the school environment and to see her relax and enjoy herself.
“I wish her the best of rest, relaxation and peace in her retirement years. These are years she so well deserves. Thank you, Barb, for all you have done for me. Thank you for your support, your help and for being you.
200 Combined Years!
Celebrating his 85th birthday is Father LaPata (center) flanked by Mr. Finnell (left) and Mr. Borsch, who both have more than 50 years of dedicated service to Fenwick.
Also feted were the 50 year service anniversaries of Associate Principal/Student Services Director Richard Borsch and alumnus/Math Teacher Roger Finnell ’59! This quintet of Fenwick teachers and administrators has more than 200 years of combined experience!
Mr. Borsch, while not yet retiring, is marking his 50th school year at Fenwick. “Mr. Borsch started at Fenwick as both a teacher and coach,” Groom points out. “Early on he demonstrated excellent interpersonal skills which lead him to be quickly moved into a leadership position in our counseling office. Rich transformed our counseling office into what we have today. As a college counselor, Mr. Borsch has been one of the greats. I have personally witnessed his ability to connect with the students and parents to help them find the best fit. His knowledge of colleges and their specific admissions offices is unparalleled.”
Last but most certainly not least, those in attendance also celebrated the 85th birthday of President EmeritusFr. Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50 (on May 22nd). Listen in as Fenwick’s 1,200-member student body sings to the “birthday boy” last month.