At the Faculty Retreat in early
March, an alumnus and English Chairperson (who also teaches French and Italian and directs the fall play) shared with
colleagues two reasons why he hasn’t left the Friars.
One of the things for which I’m most grateful is that I work in an environment that fosters scholarship. I can recall from Dr. Lordan’s class the importance of scholasticism as a facet of Thomism, as an important component to Dominicans’ approach to education. That approach continued when I attended a Dominican university. I feel blessed to work in, of all Catholic environments, a Dominican one that prizes scholarship.
We don’t try to keep up with
teaching trends. We aim to be innovative within fields our teachers know
well and continue to advance in. English teachers here don’t
‘kind of’ know English; they know it. Continued learning in our fields is
important to us. So a personnel of scholars has
tended to abound here, and I love being in that company and in a place that
As department chair, how blessed am
I to observe other teachers and get to witness the high level of preparation
through conscientious and attentive research in varied aspects of English:
Shana Wang’s research on the reportage of Isabel Allende and its effect on her fictionalization of the televised death of Omaira Sanchez.
Theresa Steinmeyer’s [Class of 2012 alumna] research on revolutions throughout Central and South America as reflected through Magical Realism.
Kyle Perry’s [Class of 2001 alumnus] research on Said’s Orientalism, its reactions, and observations of both in art and literature.
This is an environment I want to be
At Fenwick, I can teach up! At
Fenwick, I have to be on my A-game; I wouldn’t want to be at a place where I
can get away with winging it, where students wouldn’t be sharp enough or smart
enough to call me out on a misspeak or a gap in knowledge. My primary goal
here is not to motivate students because, by and large, they come to class
excited and willing to learn.
I can recall a group of students
who used to spend their lunch period in my class so that they could take notes
on my lessons when I wasn’t their teacher that year; I can recall discussing a
picture book on words that have no translation in other languages, or at least
no direct translation to English, and three students stopping after class to
ask me for the title and author of the book so that they could buy their own;
one of my talking points at Open House is the time the football team called me
over to their lunch table to weigh in on whether or not I thought Willie Loman
was a tragic hero in Death of a Salesman because they were
duking it out — at lunch!
I can recall when Mr. Finnell assigned me A Midsummer Night’s Dream for my directorial debut [in 2009] after eight years paying my dues as his assistant director. After working with the students on Shakespearean language, delivery and pacing, sitting through the first off-book rehearsal, which was all of Shakespeare’s ACT I — unabridged — I was smiling from ear to ear because no one called for a line — not even once. They had worked that hard on it.
Best students in the land
And let’s face it, whether they’re
the brightest scholar or lover of academics or not, they’re the best students
in the land. I have many friends who are teachers at many schools, and when I’m
out with them, it’s inevitable that I will run into my students. Every
time I do, my friends are flabbergasted by my students’ comportment and
interaction with me. Every time, my students run over to me and greet me,
excited to see me.
One time, I walked into Chipotle
where about 12 Fenwick students, juniors at the time, had formed one long
table. I had taught only one of them as a freshman and didn’t know the
others. I got my food and was heading to the counter when they waved me
over to join them. I didn’t want to intrude, but they all immediately made room
for me, welcomed me, and brought me over to eat — again, I had taught only one
Another time, I was with my friends at the Oak Brook Mall when a group of students ran up to me. My friends were blown away that my students didn’t see me and walk the other way. Instead, they respectfully greeted my friends, chatted with me, and then suddenly darted away —because across the mall, they spotted Mrs. Megall and wanted to go say hi to her! And I know the same goes for so many of you. We could take this for granted — the academic caliber of our gifted and talented students, and the welcoming and warmth of our kind-hearted students — but knowing what other teachers experience helps me realize this gift. And I haven’t even talked about how great our students’ families are!
Fenwick’s Friar Files blog has reported on an “intelligence community alumnus [who] prays the Rosary every morning at 5 a.m.” This Friar spoke last semester with students at Fenwick, and the U.S. government has cleared the school to share the following, somewhat random facts about this mystery person:
He held a leadership position at U.S. Central Command (Department of Defense) before retiring from the U.S. Army in 2001.
He graduated (general engineering) from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and went on to earn a master’s degree in international relations.
He served his country in Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf War (Iraq, 1991), where he earned a Bronze Star. (See photo.)
He managed crises teams during Rwanda’s civil war in the mid-1990s.
He followed and reported on coup attempts (in Paraguay and Suriname, South America) and refugees (from Cuba and Haiti).
He worked in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and briefed POTUS, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the National Security Council on military matters.
Describing such a vitae
as “impressive” might be considered a gross under-statement. When he visited
Fenwick history and government classes in October 2019 to talk about
counter-terrorism and the U.S. “intelligence” community, the former Army
infantry officer challenged students to a search contest on finding information
about him. “Try to find me on Google. You won’t. I’m off the grid,” he said. “There
are other people with my name, but they’re not me. If you do find me online, please let me know!”
In military and national-security
contexts, so-called “intelligence” is information that provides an
organization with decision support and, possibly, a strategic advantage. The Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines intelligence as “information that has
been analyzed and refined so that it is useful to policymakers in making decisions.”
According to the FBI, intelligence is the information itself as well as the
processes used to collect and analyze it.
“What they teach here at Fenwick sets the foundation for your futures.”
“Our job is to tell truth to power,” the alumnus told Fenwick students in an attempt to explain the role of the United States’ intelligence/ counterterrorism communities. The absence of truth leads to abuses of power, he warned, quickly adding that truth and integrity are moral values which align with Fenwick High School’s mission. “What they teach here at Fenwick sets the foundation for your futures,” he assured them.
Most faithful Friars can recite the four pillars of Dominican
life: 1) prayer, 2) study, 3) community and 4) preaching. Fenwick’s Kairos
retreats blend together three of these pillars (community, preaching and
praying), but it truly personifies prayer most of all. The nationally
recognized Roman Catholic program is a two-and-a-half day, off-campus
experience designed for high school students.
The word Kairos (from the Greek καιρός) “means ‘God’s time,’ ” translates former Theology Teacher Lucy White, who oversaw the senior retreat program at Fenwick for seven years before retiring in spring 2018.
“It is an opportunity for seniors to go apart and experience God,
others and themselves in a new way. Fenwick is unique in that, in keeping with
the Dominican tradition of preaching, the students, with adult supervision, are
the leaders of the retreat,” Mrs. White continues. “We train the student
leaders to give talks, lead small groups and guide the retreat. It is an
opportunity for the students to be honest, open and supportive of each other in
a safe, prayerful environment. Students open up and are supported by their
peers in their struggles, pressures and fears as well as their successes. The
senior class bonds as a whole, making life-long friendships. Many seniors say
that it is their best experience of Fenwick.”
Young alumnus Kyle Gruszka ’17, from Chicago and now a third-class (year) cadet at the United
States Air Force Academy, recounts: “Kairos really opened my eyes and helped me
connect to my classmates in ways I couldn’t even imagine.” A graduate of St.
Giles School in Oak Park, Gruszka is studying astronautical engineering in
Over more than three decades, nearly 10,000 Friar students have embarked on the student-run retreats. “I was on the very first Fenwick Kairos in December of 1985,” recalls former Campus Minister Fr. Dennis Woerter, O.P., D.Min. ’86, adding that fellow alumnus John Quinn ’76 was a faculty team member present at that inaugural retreat. Mr. Quinn remembers Kairos’ roots at Fenwick. “Father Peter Heidenrich, O.P., now deceased, was the driving force/founder of the program [here] ,” reports the long-time history/social studies teacher and former basketball coach.
Spanish Teacher and alumnus Jim Reardon ’86 served as a captain of that first Kairos, which was held at the Dominican House of Studies (Priory) in River Forest. A decade later, ’96 classmates turned Spanish and science teachers, respectively, Samantha Carraher and Brigid Esposito, were among the first female retreatants at Fenwick. Social Studies Teacher Gary Richied ’95 was the rector for that first co-ed Kairos in Fenwick history.
Fr. Heidenrich sought a spiritual component beyond classroom
instruction. “He wanted to create a cutting-edge retreat program,” Mr. Quinn
elaborates, wherein students could serve as living examples for each other. He
traveled around the United States to different Catholic high schools and
conferences, “probing and mining,” according to Quinn. “The vision was to seek
out young people of great leadership and faith potential to be ministers of
With the school being comprised solely of boys during Kairos’
inception, the wise priest thought it was critical to obtain buy-in from
coaches at the time, including Jim Nudera (football and wrestling) and Mike Latz ’81 (wrestling) in addition to theology teachers
such as Br. Carlos Griego. “Young men were being asked to take on very
different roles as faith leaders,” explains Quinn, then the Friars’ head
varsity basketball coach. “Bringing in coaches as part of the Kairos leadership
team was an integral part of Heidenrich’s strategy.” Strong support from the
top down came from then-President Fr. William Bernacki, O.P., notes Quinn,
followed later by Fr. Robert Botthof, O.P. and Fr. Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50.
Adds Athletic Director/alumnus Scott Thies ’99, “Kairos is a great tool for breaking down the barriers that
often exist among different groups of teenagers.”
Fr. Woerter continues: “We all have an inherent desire to be and
feel loved. Despite what may be going on in a student’s life, Kairos is an
opportunity for him or her to simply experience love. Love of God and love of
neighbor are two elements of the Great Commandment,” notes Woerter, who left
Fenwick this past spring to become associate pastor with the St. Paul Catholic
Center (Newman Center) at Indiana University. “Kairos allows the student to
feel loved by both God and neighbor. I have witnessed the life-changing effect
of Kairos, not only for individuals, but for entire classes.”
In mid-October, 51 members of the Class of 2020 — 25 boys and 26
girls — bused to the Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington, IL, some 50
miles northwest of Oak Park and Chicago. Fenwick facilitates six such retreats
each school year, explains Math Teacher Maria Nowicki, who is in her second
year of directing Kairos, which falls under the Campus Ministry umbrella. Two
similar groups had their Kairos this past June and September, and three more
will occur in December and next January and March.
“Our hope is that these young people grow stronger in their faith,
get closer to God and actually feel His love during their time at Kairos,” Mrs.
Nowicki says, emphasizing that the program is run by the students. A core team
of 10 seniors, “who have made their own Kairos,” lead each retreat, she points
out, while two others serve as rectors. “These students put on the retreats for
their peers,” Nowicki notes, “and are assisted by a team of six adults.”
Kairos days and nights are rich in personal, heart-felt
reflections and intimate sharing. More often than not, hearing their peers open
up emotionally forges bonds and strengthens connections between classmates.
What does it mean to Fenwick students chosen to be retreat leaders?
Joe Zawacki ’20, one member of the current senior leadership team, shares: “The
opportunity to be a Kairos leader has to be the blessing for which I am most
grateful in my life right now. The chance you have to preach God’s love and
then witness it in action among the retreatants as they learn to embrace Kairos
is indescribable,” says Zawacki, a musician and soccer player who hails from
Oak Park and is a member of the Fenwick Math Team. “I don’t see anything better
in life than this retreat and its power to bring our grade together, from one
retreat to the next.”
Classmate Kennedy Berschel ’20 adds, “As a Kairos leader, I have never grown more respect or
appreciation for the people I surround myself with every day at Fenwick. The
overwhelming sense of trust, vulnerability and love displayed on every retreat
is something that can only be described as God’s presence.” Berschel plans to
study and play women’s soccer (she is a midfielder) at the University of
Illinois next year.
Fellow senior and soccer defender Joe Sedlacek asserts, “The Kairos retreat has by far been
the highlight of my four years here at Fenwick as I have actively been part of
a life-changing program that unites an entire class into one, loving family. It
taught me that no matter how different we may seem from each other, we are
similar in a multitude of ways and can build lasting relationships.” Sedlacek,
who grew up in La Grange Park and attended Park Junior High School, adds, “I am
eternally grateful for the Kairos experience and hope every student feels the
What recent alumni are saying
Young alumna Meredith Kisla ’15, who graduated from high school four and a half years ago,
relates, “Leading and rectoring Kairos was my greatest experience at Fenwick. I
had the opportunity to deepen my relationships with my classmates, myself and
my faith over the course of three days, and truly believe it has shaped the way
I carry out my life.”
Kisla, who hails from Western Springs (St. Francis Xavier) and
graduated from Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame, IN) added, “Kairos is such a
wonderful experience, and I am forever grateful for the many lessons, friends
and memories I gained from each retreat.” This past spring, she began a career
in public accounting in London, U.K.
Her 2015 classmate Pete Salvino, a former Friar football player and recent neuroscience/electrical
engineering graduate of Johns Hopkins, “was lucky enough to take part in Kairos
twice; the second time as a leader. It really was unlike any other experience I
had at Fenwick and gave me new appreciation for the type of people my classmates
are.” Salvino grew up in River Forest and went to Roosevelt Middle School.
Other recent Fenwick graduates echo Salvino’s praise for the
retreats. Daniela Echiveste
’16 credits Kairos as the
one Fenwick experience that changed her the most. “The experience made me
realize how blessed I am and to always keep in mind what other people are going
through in life,” says the native Chicagoan (John Spry Community School) who is
majoring in advertising management at Michigan State.
“Kairos really helped each person become
closer to those around them and helped us realize that everyone has a story,
and we don’t know what others have been through,” adds Elmhurst native and
fellow alumna Margaret
now a senior nursing student at Saint Louis University. “Showing kindness to
someone who is secretly going through a rough time can make a world of
difference to them. I am going to carry this with me through my nursing career
and offer love and kindness in all that I do.”
Jakarie Gates, their 2016 classmate and a senior at Morehouse College in
Atlanta, notes, “Kairos taught me not to take the important things in life for
granted: love and appreciation. Kairos made me appreciate time more.” Gates,
who aspires to work in public relations/social media after graduation, also
grew up in Chicago and attended St. Malachy Catholic School. He has been active
in the North Lawndale Reads project through the Steans Family Foundation.
Anastasia Velliotis, another ’16 classmate, notes, “I absolutely loved Kairos because
I feel that is when our class really connected the most. Being able to hear
everyone’s story was incredibly inspirational and something that I will truly
cherish and remember forever.” Velliotis, originally from Western Springs (La
Grange Highlands Middle School), now is a senior in the University of Illinois’
Gies College of Business.
Adds Lina, Anastasia’s
mother, “I do believe the Fenwick Mission that inspires excellence and educates
each student to lead, achieve and serve resonates with Friars long after they
graduate. Fenwick should be proud!”
“The Fenwick Mission — that inspires excellence and educates each student to lead, achieve and serve — resonates with Friars long after they graduate.”
— past parent
So what goes on at Kairos?
There is an air of mystery surrounding Kairos. Seniors
sort of know what it is, but they are not truly certain of what happens at the
big retreat. There are wake-up and clean-up logistics, of course. “Kairos is
simply something which needs to be experienced,” stresses Brother Joseph Trout,
O.P., Chair of Fenwick’s Theology Department. “Knowing the sequence of events
does not tell you what Kairos is any more than outlining a married couple’s
daily schedule really tells you what it is like to be married.”
Alumnus Charlie Myers ’17 reflected on
his own retreat experience three years ago. “Kairos was hands down the Fenwick
experience that changed me most,” concludes Myers, a junior marketing major at
Bradley University in Peoria, IL, who was raised in Chicago (Catalyst Circle
Rock Elementary School). “But I won’t say too much — to not spoil it for the
Classmate Lauren Lombard ’17, of Western
Springs (St. John of the Cross), perhaps says it best. “Kairos at the beginning
of my senior year showed me the love that surrounded me at Fenwick and allowed
our grade to unite around each other for the remainder of our time together.”
Now a college junior, Lombard is a chemical engineering major at the University
of Notre Dame.
The environment of Kairos is extraordinarily
supportive, explains Isabelle Bucolo ’20, a senior retreat co-leader for
the 2019-20 school year. “Because of this, most people have found it to be a
comfortable outlet for them to open up to others and to themselves. I am
typically an open book,” admits Bucolo, an Elmhurst resident and accomplished
alto singer (All-District) in the Fenwick Choir, “but Kairos has given me even
more of an opportunity, and a great platform, for me to tell my story in order
to help others. Kairos shows us that we have our own built-in support system. I
think Kairos is incredible for this reason: not only are you helping yourself,
but you are helping others.”
praise for Kairos
“I would love to relive Kairos,” admits alumna Eryn Kulik
’16, a senior advertising major at the University of Illinois in
Champaign-Urbana. “Kairos is a retreat that will bring classmates together to
form life-long friendships. It is also a way for students to get to know God
and themselves. Through Kairos I have learned to love and appreciate everything
and everyone around me in a more positive way!” says Kulik, a double Friar (St.
Vincent Ferrer) from Elmwood Park.
“My Kairos experiences shaped who I am today,” reveals
Vulich ’15, a former college swimmer at Bellarmine University in
Louisville. “I learned something different as a retreatant, leader and rector.
The retreat that stands out the most was my final Kairos and helping Fr. Dennis
navigate the process. I owe that retreat for making me believe in my leadership
skills,” recalls Vulich, a La Grange Park native (Cossitt Elementary and Park
Junior High); she now is a Wellness and Recreation Graduate Assistant at St.
Ambrose University in Iowa.
“The Fenwick experience that changed me was Kairos,”
Blakeney ’18, who plays football with his twin brother, Lorente, at
Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL, where he is majoring in
health science. “Before attending the trip, I had my doubts on whether I would
even enjoy myself. I ended up reconnecting with a lot of people I used to talk
to and meeting people who I’d never had a conversation with before.” The
Blakeney brothers grew up in Chicago and attended Washington Irving Elementary
Rachel McCarthy ’17, an English literature/psychology double major at Illinois Wesleyan University, adds: “To me, Kairos was a powerful experience of acceptance and healing.” Ms. McCarthy grew up in Riverside and attended St. Mary School there.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Families should eat dinner together. They should shut off the television. They should put down the smart phone. They should talk with one another.