“I don’t want to go to anatomy class today,” a Fenwick junior was overheard last month, lamenting in one hallowed hallway of Fenwick. “Why not?” a staff member inquired. “Who’s your teacher?”
“Dr. Riggs,” the student replied. “Her class is so hard! She’s smarter than all of us.”
The 17-year-old has a valid point: Jennifer Riggs was a pediatrician before she embarked on a career change to become a teacher. Riggs earned her M.D. in 1995 from Rush Medical College at Rush University in Chicago. (Her B.S. in psychology came from Indiana University.) For three years, she served as a resident pediatrician at Rush Children’s Hospital on the Near West Side. For the next five years, she commuted northbound to Shriners Children Hospital on Oak Park Ave. In early 2004, Dr. Riggs left the field of medicine to don her “mom hat” and raise her four children.
“My career has transitioned from pediatrician to science teacher: my true calling,” Riggs explains. After deciding to enter the field of education, Riggs went back to school to pursue a master’s degree in teaching, which she earned locally at Dominican University in River Forest almost five years ago. “My decision stemmed from a desire to develop sustained relationships with young people that affords me the opportunity to have a significant impact on their lives.”
After completing her student-teaching assignment at Josephine Locke Elementary School (Chicago), Dr. Riggs taught math, science, technology and religion for one year at St. Edmund Parish School in Oak Park, then moved on to Visitation Catholic School in Elmhurst to teach junior-high life/physical science and religion classes for the next three years. As a sponsor of the Illinois Junior Academy of Science “Science Fair,” she guided more than 100 students in planning, researching and conducting their projects. She also served as the Science Olympiad Head Coach at Visitation.
Dr. Riggs joined the faculty at Fenwick, where she is teaching five classes this academic year: two sections of Accelerated Anatomy & Physiology and three sections of College Prep Anatomy & Physiology. “I am one of the faculty moderators for the Medical Club,” she adds.
A different kind of impact on young lives
As for her decision to become a teacher, “I could not be happier with my career,” Dr. Riggs reports. “Teaching has given me the opportunity to get to know my students on a much deeper level than I knew my patients when I was practicing as a pediatrician. I look forward to coming to school each day because of the energy and enthusiasm shown by the students.
“I see my current position teaching Anatomy and Physiology at Fenwick as the perfect fit for me,” the doctor adds. “From my perspective, the biggest drawback to practicing medicine was the lack of time to really get to know my patients. My appointments tended to be relatively short and I often did not see that child again for a significant period of time (some I never saw again at all). Through teaching at Fenwick, I am able to build meaningful relationships with students. What I find unique about my particular position is that I am able to form those relationships through focusing on a topic I am passionate about: the human body.
“Many of my students are planning careers in the medical field,” Dr. Riggs concludes. “I find nothing more satisfying than sharing my knowledge with them and seeing their enthusiasm about the workings of the human body.”
Fenwick instructors have honed developing minds of highly intelligent people over thecourse of 90 school years. From physics and politics to English and French, some of those students
took their passions for learning to the next level by pursuing research,
education and scholarship at some of the world’s most prestigious private and
Princeton, the Ivy League research school with New Jersey roots dating back to
1746, two Fenwick alumni-turned-professors can be found teaching on campus: Thomas Duffy ’78 (geophysics) and John Mulvey ’64 (operations
research/financial engineering). In Boston, Professor William Mayer ’74 has been a political-science guru at Northeastern
University (established in 1898) for the past 28 years. After Fenwick, Mayer
attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from which he also earned
a Ph.D. (in 1989). “I don’t like to move,” he dead-pans, “plus my wife loves
the New England area.”
On the West Coast, one of Prof. Duffy’s
classmates, Larry Cahill ’78, is a
neuroscientist and professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at
the University of California at Irvine. And in the Midwest, Robert Lysak ’72 is professor of
physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis – Saint
Additionally, two members of the Class of 1961 were college professors and are now retired: Terrence Doody (English Literature) at Rice University in Houston and Thomas Kavanagh (French), most recently at Yale University in Connecticut. Another Professor Emeritus isJohn Wendt ’69, who taught Ethics and Business Law at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) for 30 years. (Read more about them.) Spread out geographically across the United States, Fenwick is the common denominator for these seven Ph.D.’s and college professors. Read on for a glimpse at their impressive works.
Computing Love Affair
John Mulvey is a professor within
Princeton’s Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE) Department,
which he founded. He also is a founding member of the interdisciplinary Bendheim
Center for Finance as well as the Statistics and Machine Learning Center at the
university. Mulvey is captivated by the ongoing revolution in information and machine-learning.
The ORFE Department focuses on the foundations of data science, probabilistic
modeling and optimal decision-making under uncertainty. “Our world is a very
uncertain place,” he stresses.
The work Mulvey does has applications
throughout the service sector, including in communications, economics/finance,
energy/the environment, health-care management, physical and biological
sciences, and transportation. In the past, he has worked with
aerospace/defense-technology firm TRW (now part of Northrop Grumman) to help
solve military problems, including developing strategic models for the Joint
Chiefs of Staff (U.S. Department of Defense).
“Today we work with major firms, including
some of the largest investors in the world, which are interested in integrating
their risk,” Mulvey explains. For example, “hedge funds and private-equity
firms need to manage their portfolios over time to protect themselves. When the
crash occurred in 2008, people thought
they were diversified. The banking and finance world refers to systemic risk as
contagion,” which is the spread of market changes or disturbances from one
regional market to others.
Mulvey also analyzes data for supply-chain
management, which he calls a “transformative industry. Production and distribution
models were separate before,” he points out, “but we’ve brought it all together
now. Amazon has built its whole system based on this commerce model.”
Machines running algorithms and computer
optimization became passions for him at a relatively young age. At Fenwick, Mr.
Edward Ludwig helped mathematics to make sense for young John. “He was an
amazing math teacher,” Mulvey says of Ludwig. “His class was fantastic. I didn’t
necessarily want to be an engineer but felt I could go into a technical area.
“In the 1960s we were at the cusp of computing, and the University of Illinois had one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers at the time,” recalls Mulvey, who grew up on the West Side of Chicago and attended the old St. Catherine of Siena Parish. “That’s why I wanted to go there, and I fell in love with computing.”
He next ventured west to study business
administration at the University of Southern California (USC) and the
University of California (Cal), then earned a second master’s degree in management
science in ’72 from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Three years
later Mulvey completed his Ph.D. at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management. His dissertation
topic, “Special Structures in Large Scale Network Models and Associated Applications,”
won the 1976 American Institute of Decision Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Competition.
Mulvey taught for three years at the Harvard
Business School and, 41 years ago, came to Princeton “to have an impact at a
smaller school,” he says. (Princeton has some 5,200 under-grads.) “I came here
to grow the basic, general engineering program for undergraduates.” The 72-year-old
thoroughly enjoys his work: “If you had a job like mine, you wouldn’t want to
Fenwick, the storied downtown restaurant has stood the test of time for nine
decades — and for three family generations.
By Patrick Feldmeier ’20
The impact that the late Franklin Delano Capitanini, Class of 1950, left on Chicago cannot be justly put into words. Instead, his impact resonates in his family, friends, Fenwick High School and the famed Italian Village Restaurant(s). Born in America in 1932 and named after U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Frank lived a life founded on strong family ties and treated everyone who dined at the Italian Village as if they were old friends. Today, the Italian Village serves as a reminder of the kindness that Mr. Capitanini spread for 85 years.
Located at 71 W. Monroe Street in Chicago’s “Loop” for
almost 92 years, the Italian Village was opened by Frank’s father, Alfredo, in
September 1927 – two years before Fenwick opened its doors. Frank and his kid brother,
Ray (Fenwick ’53), grew up knowing
that the restaurant someday would be theirs to manage. Frank’s early years
working there included responsibilities such as food preparation for the chefs
and waiting tables, according to his close friend, Fenwick classmate and
President EmeritusFather Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50. Learning
how to talk to adults and serve their requests at an early age benefitted Frank
greatly in the years to come. Frank’s son and fellow Friar alumnus, Al Capitanini ’81, says that the “best
internship is waiting tables because you learn about customer service and how
to handle people.”
Frank continued his work at the Italian Village when he attended Fenwick, where he participated in football, basketball and track. Unfortunately, his athletic career was cut short due to an injury. Al remembers hearing how his father had to divert all of his attention to education after the injury because Frank’s parents highly valued education. Frank’s father, an Italian immigrant, wanted him to have a strong caring for education due to his own limited schooling opportunities in Italy. When Frank was not hitting the books, he left his friends drooling in the school cafeteria because of the sandwiches he brought daily from the Italian Village. The aroma of Italian lunch meats and cheeses made their palates jealous.
Frank and Fr. LaPata both went on to Notre Dame, but their paths did not cross much at the university: one entered the seminary while the other (Frank) was in the ROTC program. It was not until Father LaPata became president of Fenwick in 1998 that he developed a friendship with Frank, eating at the Capitanini home around once a month.
Once out of college, Frank immediately went back to
work at the Italian Village. In the 1950s and ’60s, opera drew huge crowds in
big cities like Chicago, so the Capitaninis became well acquainted with some
the world’s most famous opera singers. When asked about the relationship
between it and the Italian Village, the Lyric Opera Company kindly stated,
“American singers and Italian singers of the 1950s and 1960s dined at the
Italian Village.” However, opera stars were not the only celebrities to
frequent the restaurant. The walls of the Italian Village are lined with
autographed pictures from well-known celebrities and sports figures, including
Frank Sinatra, Lou Holtz, Mike Ditka, Florence Henderson, Ryne Sandberg and Jon
The Italian Village has maintained its reputation of
great service and hospitality because of Frank’s leadership and family values:
“Hundreds [of restaurants] closed, but the Italian Village stayed strong due to
its hospitality, charm and kindness,” praises Father LaPata. With an
old-fashioned aura and breathtaking architecture, the Village has stood the
test of time by adhering to its roots; something that many restaurants in
Chicago have failed to do. Upon entering one of the three restaurants in the
Italian Village, patrons are engulfed in a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. The
Village, the upstairs restaurant, features dimmed lights that hang low and
walls painted to mimic a scenic view in Italy. No windows are present, and it
truly feels as if you are dining in Italy.
Later in Frank’s life, he began to teach his kids how
to manage the family restaurant. Fortunately, his four children, Lisa, Gina, Frank II ’78 and Al, had hands-on
involvement for years. Al vividly remembers growing up at the Village: waiting
tables and making food just like Frank did years ago. “We ate more than we
actually learned,” he admits. Gina still works in the family business.
When the kids were a bit older, Frank would take them
to the restaurant for breakfast, then walk with them to catch a Bears game. Al
describes his father as an “old-school type, hardworking, honest to a fault,
always there, and would help anyone in an emergency.” Frank served as a great
mentor to Al and his other children, and they work hard to emulate their dad.
His philanthropic contributions to Fenwick are greatly appreciated as well.
I had the pleasure of having lunch with Al this spring
at the Italian Village. We talked about the history of the restaurants and
Frank’s long-lasting impact on them. When the topic of Frank’s years in high
school arose, Al was quick to mention that Fenwick was essential in molding
Frank into the man he wanted to be. Frank may have had a career already set
through the Italian Village, however, his success and achievements in life
required the lessons learned from Fenwick to come to fruition. Through the
stories Al shared about Frank’s life at Fenwick as well as his own, I was truly
able to understand that Fenwick is great at preparing its students for life
Frank passed away one year ago at age 85. His funeral was held at his grade school, St. Vincent Ferrer in River Forest, and Father LaPata touchingly led the Mass. His presence will be missed, yet his spirit will live on in the lives of those around him. Frank Capitanini will forever be a Friar, and his impact on his family, the Italian Village and Fenwick High School will last for generations to come.
Coming soon: The Frank Capitanini Classroom at Fenwick
In addition to their generous classroom-naming donation, the Capitanini family also has created an endowed scholarship in their father’s memory. The fund will provide tuition assistance for a Fenwick student in need.
Patrick Feldmeier is a finishing up his junior year at Fenwick High School, where he is an Honor Roll/National Honor Society student and president of the Class of 2020. Pat also plays on the Friars’ football and rugby teams. He lives in Western Springs, IL (St. John of the Cross) and is hoping for acceptance this coming fall into the University of Notre Dame, where his Evans Scholar brother, Danny ’18, will be a sophomore.
The Future Philanthropist Program (FPP) is an adolescent leadership-training program sponsored by the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, which invests $25,000 annually into community social-service agencies that provide programs for adolescents. Fenwick has five students presently participating in the program: Isaiah Curry ’19, Camille Luckett ’19, Aimee Morrissey ’20, Roger Rhomberg ’20 and Ethan Seavey ’19.
As the only high school in the United States sponsored by Dominican Friars, Fenwick is sui generis (unique). We want our Ministry to be a valued local anchor, a visible metropolitan resource and a recognized national lighthouse for our Thomist Educational Philosophy. Every high school in the United State has a contractual obligation to the state legislature which chartered it to train patriotic citizens and literate workers. In addition to those legal obligations, Fenwick, as a Thomist School, has a covenant obligation with the Supreme Being to train moral servant leaders. To that end our curriculum includes Speech, Moral Theology, the Christian Service Project and the Kairos retreat.
Those lessons our students learn in the classroom, such as in Speech class, are important. Even more important are those lessons which our students learn inside the building but outside of the classroom, such as liturgy assemblies in the Auditorium. The most important lessons our students learn, such as Kairos, are taught to them outside of the building. Adolescent leadership training is an important component to the Fenwick Thomist experience.
FPP’s leadership affirms the symbiotic relationship between our school and the community. “The Future Philanthropists Program is proud to have partnered with Fenwick High School for the last nine years to teach juniors and seniors the art, science and business of philanthropy,” says program coordinator Karen Tardy. “Our Fenwick students are always eager and very engaged in the program, and they work hard to made a difference in our communities through grant-making, fund-raising and volunteering. We appreciate the commitment Fenwick has made to the Future Philanthropists Program and their help in creating the leaders of tomorrow.”
FPP participants make a two-year commitment to attend monthly dinner meetings with a small affinity peer group and an adult mentor. Student members of the affinity groups come from Fenwick, Trinity and Oak Park-River Forest high schools. Community leaders share their observations about the past, present and future of our community with the students who, in turn, identify the most critical needs of adolescents in the community. They then solicit grant proposals from community service agencies to address these needs. The students award $25,000 in grant funds provided by the OPRFCF to implement the most promising proposals. Students then conduct field investigations to determine the effectiveness and efficiency of the proposal implementation.
We hope this early life experience will encourage future philanthropists to stay within the community during their adult years to donate their talent, time and treasure to the advance the quality of life in the community where our Ministry has flourished.
Fenwick and the Village of Oak Park
Oak Park would not be Oak Park, and Fenwick would not be Fenwick, without one another. Fenwick, celebrating its 90th year in 2019, has flourished in the Oak Park/River Forest Community for these past nine decades. The school’s architects carved an Oak Park shield carved in stone above our front door on Washington Blvd. It is our intention to be a valued local anchor, a visible metropolitan resource and, as I mentioned before, a recognized national lighthouse for the Thomist educational philosophy.
The presence of vibrant parochial educational institutions, such as Trinity and Fenwick, was an important part in the community’s continuity and evolution. John Gearen ’32, an alumnus from the Class of 1932 (and the school library’s namesake) was a racial inclusive, and the late John Philbin, who sent his children to Fenwick, was a sexual-orientation inclusive. Both men were Fenwick Community leaders who served as Village President. Former Village Clerk Ginny Cassin also was a Fenwick parent. Oak Park is the garden in which we have blossomed.
Fenwick turns 100 in 10 more years. It is our intention to thrive and not just to survive in the next 100 years. It is interesting to note that the Fenwick Hispanic ethnicity enrollment is 17% of the student body. Our institution could be a magnet to attract the next great demographic evolution of Oak Park.
For students who’ve lost a parent during high school, the Fenwick Fathers’ Club has always extended a helping hand.
When 91-year-old Bernard “Barney” Rodden ’39 passed away four years ago, the World War II veteran and Fenwick alumnus’ family asked that memorials be directed to Fenwick High School’s Fathers’ Club Tuition Continuation Fund. Established in 1932, the fund covers tuition for students who have lost a parent while at Fenwick.
Imagine attending high school and having your father or mother die. Sadly, such family tragedy has struck hundreds of Fenwick students over the years and, for 86 years and counting, the Fenwick Fathers’ Club has been here to help.
Current Fenwick senior Colleen Stephany ’19 knows firsthand the pain and tragedy of losing a parent. Her mother, Carol O’Neill, passed away two years ago at the age of 54. When Ms. Stephany spoke at the Freshman Family Picnic last month, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house:
Hi, I’m Colleen Stephany, an incoming senior. Mr. Sullivan, the president of the Fathers’ Club reached out and asked if I could share with you all how the club has impacted me. [Editor’s note: Frank Sullivan ’86 is a Fenwick Dad.] I couldn’t be happier to be standing here in front of you.
I was raised in River Forest with my three siblings, my single mom, and an abundance of extended family who were always around. My own father wasn’t really in the picture since before I started at St. Luke, so my mom began to sacrifice tremendously to keep my siblings and me in Catholic schools very early, taking jobs in the area and sacrificing her own personal luxuries to guarantee us the warm, welcoming communities [that] Catholic schools provide.
In the fall of my 5th grade year she was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer, causing her to step down from her current job. My grandparents and extended family were phenomenal in helping cover our fees but tuition for four kids in grade school, high school and college was always just so difficult. As the amounts kept rising, people from all areas, especially Fenwick, swooped in to help without ever making us feel like charity or below everyone else, which I believe is one of their most valuable attributes. My mother always strived to keep our lives as normal as possible, but when she couldn’t on her own, the Fathers’ Club never failed to help her achieve that normalcy. As I got older and understood the situation we were in, and how my mother and grandparents’ health was worsening, I began to worry on where I’d end up — but my Mom was always so confident with Fenwick.
I didn’t understand because I thought it’d be more of a burden on her than a public high school, but now I can see her logic clearly. She wanted me to have support and a family as strong as Fenwick High School. She was confident the Fathers’ Club, Father Peddicord and the rest of the administration would take care of me, and she was exactly right. I will never forget the embrace I got after losing my Mom my sophomore year, and the fact that this was the first place I wanted to go afterwards. I think this speaks volumes of Fenwick. The love the Fathers’ Club, administration and school showed our family surpassed any type of financial help they could ever give.
People may just see it as a group who fund-raises to make improvements to the school or their events, but that’s not the Fathers’ Club at all. They continually work to maintain and strengthen the community and love of Fenwick for every person who walks through the doors. Parents, students, faculty and alumni are all in the minds of the Fathers’ Club and the administration, and I am eternally grateful I was able to feel the love of Fenwick. So on behalf of my Mom, my siblings and my whole family, I’d love to thank them for allowing me to have the honor of graduating from here and making me always feel at home at Fenwick.