Remembering Inspirational Grandfathers Everywhere

At the Fenwick All Souls’ Day Mass, a junior cross-country runner from Burr Ridge recalled how her late grandpa would utter ‘cheesy’ quotations and loosen hard-to-open pickle jars.

By Student Preacher Natalie Poleszak ’23 (Burr Ridge, IL)

Today, we celebrate All Souls’ Day. Every single year, Catholics gather on November 2nd, commemorating the dead. But why? For Catholics, this day gives us the opportunity to pray for all who have passed away. We pray for our departed brothers and sisters, our loved ones, and our friends. And we also pray for all those still in purgatory, that they may be cleansed of their sins to be finally carried into heaven to rest with God. Personally, I use this day to remember one of the people that I loved the most, my grandfather.

No matter how many people you are surrounded by, I think the most interesting thing is that we can still feel so alone. That’s why it’s so important to know that you will always have a community to fall back on. Even though we may not depend on them for our every need, just knowing that you have someone there to listen, help or even just silently pray for you is a big help. Your community can be your parents, your siblings, your friends, your classmates, even your Starbucks barista … anyone you trust really. But sometimes, all we need is that one person who will help us through the thick and thin. For me, that was my grandpa. Whenever any minor inconveniences would happen in my life, I would go to him. Whether I needed someone to open a jar of pickles, or someone to referee the fighting between my sister and me, grandpa was always there. While he did not always know how to fix the problem, he was always present there for me and willing to listen. I often wished he could fix all my problems as easily as he could open a jar of pickles. Instead, often he simply gave me advice through a cheesy inspirational quote. When I think about his impact today, all those cheesy quotes may have actually helped — that he not only gave me the solution, but made me work for the answer. Through looking back at his words, everything that has happened to me has been a lesson, even if I was blinded by that lesson in the moment. But, sometimes, learning from our experience isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we need to experience deep personal and spiritual reflection before we get the answers we are searching for.

My relationship with God has not always been perfect. To be quite honest, after my grandfather died, I did not have much faith in God. I was angry and sad, struggling to comprehend my own emotions. Not knowing who to turn to or what to do, I instinctively decided to just sit and pray. One day, I decided to bike to church, and then sat in front of the altar. I began to talk to God, telling him my thoughts on and on until about two hours passed. I wish that I could tell you that that specific moment turned me into a new, enlightened person, but it didn’t feel like that at all. I did feel somewhat relieved, but it didn’t change the ever-present fact that my grandpa was gone. The real impact was when I went to Sunday Mass the next day. At Mass, no one sat in the seat I had sat in the day before. Every seat around it was filled with people … and yet, that one singular seat was completely open. No, no one was saving a spot. It wasn’t due to social distancing. Nor was it even a seat for someone’s coat or purse. That seat was just completely empty, almost as if it was beckoning for me. 

At that moment, I realized that God heard my prayers. As weird as it looked, I truly believe that I received a message from God. I came to understand that God would leave that seat open for me whenever I wanted to come in and bask in his grace. God would always save me a spot as his table, like he saved a spot for my grandpa in the kingdom of heaven. 

Later it turned out that the seat was empty because a kid spilled applesauce on it before Mass, but a part of me still believes it was God’s own humorous way of showing his presence, love and care for me, just like my grandpa had.

The Commemoration of All Souls gives us a day to remember all those who have died. It also provides us an annual opportunity to reflect on how they have and still impact our lives. As much as we wish we could, we cannot bring our loved ones back to life, so instead we are gathered here today to do three things:  

Firstly, we are here today to honor them. We honor their words, their beliefs and, most especially, the love they gave us. 

Secondly, we pray for their eternal repose. We pray that through God’s great mercy, they might come to spend eternity with Him, in his kingdom.  

Lastly, in recalling the example of our departed loved ones, we are challenged to take the love we received from them and pass it on to others, through our own words and actions. May we recall those things that had a greatest impact upon us and do those same things for others.

As I take leave of you today, let me make it known:
If you ever need someone to support you or loosen the lid of a jar of pickles …
I am your girl!

Pray with Mary Every Day

During Mass this week celebrating Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (Our Lady of Victory), a Fenwick student preacher reflected on the importance of the Blessed Mother in her family’s life.

By Charlize Norielle Guerrero ’22 (Elmwood Park, IL)

“Aba Ginoong Maria, napupuno ka ng grasiya. Ang panginoong Diyos ay sumasaiyo.” Devoted voices rang throughout Santísmo Rosario praying in unison. The Filipino Church was across the street, yet somehow I could still hear the parishioners loud and clear. “Bukod kang pinagpala sa babaeng lahat.” Like any typical five-year-old, I whined as my mom took my hand and brought me to Mass. The church was filled to the brim with what felt like thousands. All the seats were taken, yet people of all ages continued to pour in. “At pinagpala rin naman ang anak mong si Hesus.”

I scanned the room, and everyone, from the priests, to the grandmothers, to the children, firmly held a rosary in their hand. Their eyes were glued to the portrait of Mary lovingly looking down upon them. “Santa Maria, Ina ng Diyos, Ipanalangin mo kaming makasalanan. Ngayon at Kung kami’y mamamatay Amen.” I didn’t know at the time, but the churchgoers were saying “The Hail Mary” in the Filipino Language, Tagalog. And although I did not fully understand their words, when I heard them pray with utmost confidence, reverence and devotion, I felt the Holy Presence of Mary with all of us.

Ms. Guerrero delivering her reflection (in person and via video livestream) on October 7, 2021.

Every single Sunday, these parishioners would pack the church hoping to hear the word of God. Even if all the seats were taken, many would stand by the doors and listen, despite the heat and humidity upon them. And before each Mass, without fail, everyone would pray the rosary together. When I sat in the seats of Santísimo Rosario and looked around, I would see people from many different walks of life. Yet as we were gathered under the loving presence of Mary, we were all truly one, united body.

Many in the Philippines do not have the same privileges that we take for granted every single day. They unfortunately do not have the luxuries of running water, food security and electricity. And when he was growing up, my father was one of them.

My father is an incredible witness of trust in Mary’s intercessory power and the power found in praying the Rosary. No matter what happened, for both good and bad, my dad always had the rosary by his side. Despite the many changes and setbacks in his life, Mary was always his constant theme. As he grew up, he often visited Santísimo Rosario and prayed the rosary.

He prayed with Mary when he couldn’t afford his education.

He prayed with Mary as our family immigrated to the United States.

He prayed with Mary after he passed the medical board exams.

And he prays with Mary each and every day, giving thanks or asking for guidance.

My dad shows me how we can turn to Mary even during the roughest parts in our lives. I admire how he and the parishioners at Santísimo Rosario, even in the face of adversity, always held firm in their faith. Rather than resenting God, they turned to both him and Mother Mary during their struggles. Like Mary, they trust in God.

Mary is the perfect faith role model. As shown in the Gospel, following her initial confusion, Mary willingly accepts God’s call. She trusts that he knows what is best for her. We should pursue that same level of devotion. While we may not always know what God has in store for us, we must trust in God as Mary would.

In times of doubt, trust in God.

In times of sorrow, trust in God.

And even during those times where it seems like nothing is going right we must:

Trust. In. God.

When I was in Santísimo Rosario, I could truly feel Mary’s undeniable presence pervade the entire room. And even today, as we are all gathered here together, I can feel Mary’s presence. And, hopefully, you all can too … Mary is still here. Mary has always been here.

As we go through life, we must remember that Mary walks with us; she is there for us and will always intercede for us as we continue to grow in our trust in God. So as we begin this mass in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, I encourage you all to truly listen and reflect upon the ever-so-famous prayer:

Hail, Mary, full of grace,

the Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou amongst women

and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for us sinners,

now and at the hour of our death.

Amen.

‘Carry Your Cross’ and Be You!

During a Mass reflection from September 14, 2021, a junior student preacher revealed her identity struggle to “fit in” as a first-year Fenwick student.

By Julia Overmyer ’23 (River Forest, IL)

Good morning! Today, we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. As I was preparing my reflection for today’s Mass, I was gifted with the truly wonderful experience of writer’s block. No matter what I wrote, I felt like I wasn’t grasping the true meaning of what we celebrate today.

Student Preacher Julia Overmyer is a junior at Fenwick from River Forest, IL.

In the second reading, Paul writes about Jesus, “Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted Him.”

Those few lines, those few powerful lines, finally gave me what I was searching for: humility.

We celebrate today to honor the Cross. The Cross that Jesus was crucified on; the Cross that Jesus defeated death on; and the Cross that represents our Christian faith as a whole.

There is a well-known expression that you have or will learn in your theology class. This expression is “Carry your Cross.” For those who haven’t heard this expression, it means to accept the challenges put in front of you, fully placing your trust in God. Freshman year was a time when I struggled to carry my own cross. I was attempting to solve things on my own rather than in partnership with God.

Like some of you, I came from a school where only a few kids came here to Fenwick. At first, I saw this as an opportunity to branch out and make more friends. I figured that there would be plenty of other kids in the same boat as me. Although there were others whose situations mirrored my own, I slowly started to see a pattern: A lot of people had arrived at Fenwick with groups of friends formed from their previous schools.

I desired to fit it — I tried changing my looks, hobbies and, basically, who I was. And let me tell you, it did not change anything and just made me feel even worse. Finally, I prayed to God, asking for some sort of guidance to what I was doing wrong or how I could better fit in.

After countless prayers and nights of frustration, I had concluded that I truly was alone. In a time where I was supposed to be meeting those who would become my lifelong friends, I felt like I had nobody. I had lost faith in God and His role in my life. I was so consumed in the idea of changing who I was in order to fit in, that I didn’t see what God had already given me.

He had given me everything that I had needed to succeed, beginning with the humility to recognize that I couldn’t do this on my own, but needed His guidance and assistance. God doesn’t tell us how to live out our lives; that is the beauty of His gift of free will. Instead, he gives us the clarity that we need in a way that we couldn’t have come to on our own. God has created every one of us to be unique, and by trusting the process that God has laid out for us, we can accept who He has made us to be. This realization finally allowed me to pick up the cross that I had set down and put my faith before my actions.

Now, I am very happy to report that I have made friends who have been the best blessing I could’ve ever received, all through trusting God first. They accept me for who I am and what God has created me to be. So, every night, I take a minute to thank God for showing me that I shouldn’t give up just because the answer isn’t in front of me. And to all those who are struggling in this situation, don’t lose faith and use the tools God has given you.

Throughout our journey upon this Earth, we are going to experience some things that we might not understand at first. But as we go through our writer’s blocks of life, we must remember that the answers may not lie in front of us, but they are always within God’s plan. Let us continue to carry our cross and keep faith.

How to Set the World Afire

Love is like a Northwood’s campfire, spreading warmth amid our world of darkness and sin.

By Fenwick Student Preaching Team Member Mia Scharpf ’22 (Berwyn, IL)

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine, doctor of the Church, patron saint of Italy and Rome, and a Dominican. She dedicated her life to God from a very young age and fought to defend what she called “the vessel of the Church” with her letters and treatise “The Dialogue of Divine Providence.” She was born in 1347 and canonized in 1461.

St. Catherine of Siena

She asks us to “set the world on fire” in several of her quotes and we often hear fire used as a religious symbol in sacraments and the Bible. Tongues of fire came down to the Apostles on Pentecost, God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, John said Jesus will baptize us with fire.

Fire has many purposes and properties. We use it for cooking and for s’mores, and it is the centerpiece of a night at the lake as we laugh with family and friends. Fire helps us stay warm when we are cold and it can help us see when the night is dark. Fire is powerful enough to change what it touches completely; it spreads rapidly and is difficult to extinguish.

Each summer for as long as I can remember, my family has visited my neighbor’s lake house in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Days are filled with boating, driving into town, eating too many cinnamon donuts, falling off of tubes and water skis, and they’re ended with all 20 of us sitting around the fire singing with my dad as he plays his guitar. When the sun sets, it gets very cold and dark and the mosquitoes come out in swarms. Without the fire, it would be difficult to find the path to the bunkhouse, it would be freezing cold, and the bugs would eat everyone alive. 

This fire is very similar to the fire described in St. Catherine’s quote. Instead of keeping mosquitoes away and shedding light on a path strewn with pine needles, the fire in St. Catherine’s quote provides warmth and light to a world of darkness and sin. It illuminates the path of Christ and reveals the way of love and joy. It allows us to feel the warmth of His unconditional and transformational love. 

“Be who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

– St. Catherine of Siena

But how do we live as who God made us to be? How do we ignite that spark? The first thing that will probably come to mind is service and volunteer work, but there’s so much more to who God created us to be. We each have been given gifts and talents, and instead of burying them in the ground, God calls us to use them to glorify His name. Whether you are a swimmer, a runner, a singer, or an actor, you can give glory to God by working hard at practice or improving in rehearsal. It’s like receiving a sweatshirt from your grandma for Christmas, and when she sees you wearing it proudly, she feels appreciated and loved. When we use our blessings for good, we give thanks to God and live as he made us to be.

St. Catherine used her gifts to make a difference and protect the Church. She fanned her spark into a flame and set the world on fire with her words and works. St. Catherine asks us all to follow her example of spreading God’s love by sharing our blessings. We are called to set our world on fire with this love, to spread its warmth and light, so powerful that it can transform whoever accepts it. I’m certain St. Catherine chose this symbol because love can spread like, well, fire.

ANOTHER STUDENT PREACHER BLOG INSPIRED BY SAINT CATHERINE

Nothing Great Is Ever Achieved without Challenges

Senior student preacher reflects on faith at school Mass for St. Catherine of Siena.

By Joey Schultz ’21 (Clarendon Hills, IL)

Today, we come together to celebrate the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena. Catherine was born during the 1300s in Siena, Italy during the middle of the Black Plague. She was a Dominican laywoman who devoted her entire life to serving the sick and poor.

During the time of St. Catherine, the pope was living lavishly in Avignon, France, instead of in Rome where the Pope traditionally lived. Catherine realized the problem and called for reform in the Church. She also demanded that the pope move back to Rome, and she ended up playing a key role in moving the papacy back to Rome. Perhaps, Catherine’s biggest impact upon the Catholic world was her writings, which have led her to be declared a Doctor of the Church.

Student Preaching Team member Joey Schultz ’21 is a senior from Clarendon Hills, Illinois.

In looking at some of her writings, I came across a quotation that particularly stood out to me. The words of St. Catherine were, “Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.” There have been many times in my life where I have contemplated my faith. I have questioned God’s existence and role in my life, like I’m sure many of you have.

St. Catherine’s message shows us that there will always be hardships that we endure in order to achieve something great, like a relationship with God. As children of God, we have to persevere through these doubts and pursue a life in complete faith in God. The words of St. Catherine can be brought into our lives as students of Fenwick, too. We as students are called to serve God and be role models for others. It is no easy task to do this, but like St. Catherine said, nothing great is ever achieved without challenges. Everyday we have to endure the grind that is getting up in the morning, going to class, participating in extracurricular activities, coming back home, doing school work, spending time with family and friends, plus many other challenges. On top of all these things, we are expected to live as Christians, through both difficult and easy times.

St. Catherine of Siena (right) is portrayed on stained glass in the Fenwick Chapel.

Have there been any times in your life where you felt too young to make a difference? As a teenager, Catherine was visiting hospitals, helping out the sick and poor. She was such a young woman, yet she was able to make such a big impact on the world around her by devoting her life to serving God and her neighbors. Catherine is a role model, especially for us students, because she shows us that we are never too young to make a difference in the world. Going forward, we should all think of St. Catherine in times of doubt, and we should put our trust in God. 

St. Catherine of Siena serves as a great example of how we should strive to live our lives as Christians. She is an inspiration to all of us, especially women, because of the boundaries and societal norms that she had to break during her time. As a woman during the 14th century, it was much more difficult for her to get into any position of control or influence. Through good works and a passion for justice, she was able to rise up and make a change in the world. St. Catherine shows each and every one of us that we are capable of making a difference in the world through faith and trust in God.

ANOTHER STUDENT PREACHER BLOG INSPIRED BY SAINT CATHERINE

“God Sightings”

A morning reflection to open the new school year at Fenwick.

By Caroline Darrow ’21

From the COVID-19 pandemic to the fight for social equality in our nation, these last six months have been a time of turmoil. For some, this time has strengthened their faith as they have turned to God in these times of trouble. For others, this time has stressed their faith as they witness so many strong examples of the universal question: “How could bad things happen to good people?”  It is okay to have stress put on your faith.  However, as we have begun to come back into this school year as stronger, wiser, more conscientious people, we can now use one another to help find hope and strengthen our faith. 

What does it mean to find hope? I see hope as signs of God’s love and work in this world. Whether it be something as small as a friend’s laugh, to something as big as a loved one winning a battle with Covid-19. God has been working through these difficult times, through small moments, to show his love to all of us. We just need to seek out these signs of love or, as one of my good friends calls, them: “the God sightings.”

I challenge all of us to go into this school year with open minds and hearts and search out our God sightings. Bask in the small moments, and let them grow into a positive mindset. Enjoy the little things, like a sunrise over a clear sky, because no matter what happens this year, the sun will always rise. As American writer Robert Breault once said, “Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

I would like to close with a short prayer for all of us to Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes but also … of hope and prayer. 

St. Jude, pray for us …

Most holy Apostle, St. Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the Church honors and invokes you universally as the patron of hope. Please intercede on our behalf. Make use of that particular privilege given to you to bring hope, comfort and help where they are needed most. Come to our assistance in this great need that we may receive the consolation and help of heaven as we work with our challenges. We praise God with you and all the saints forever. We promise, blessed St. Jude, to be ever mindful of this great favor, to always honor you as our special and powerful patron, and to gratefully encourage devotion to you.

Amen.

V.: Saint Jude, Apostle of Hope
R.: Pray for us!

VIDEO: CLICK HERE for the full “Opening of School” morning prayer.

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Student Preacher for Ash Wednesday

Fenwick Preaching Team member and the Class of ’20 president reflected on the Lenten Season at Mass on February 26.

By Patrick Feldmeier ’20

Caddie and football player Patrick Feldmeier is one of four Chick Evans Scholarship recipients from Fenwick (to date) this school year.

40 days. 40 nights. Students and faculty, now is the opportunity to move forward as followers of Christ. Lent is the time to evaluate our connection to God, and make an honest effort to strengthen our faith. Through the trials and tribulations of the following 40 days, let us ask God for trust, for trust will empower us through all of life’s challenges.

At the end of His 40 days in the desert, the devil tested Jesus like never before with short term pleasures and materialistic possessions. Yet, Jesus stayed resilient, and refused to give in to the Devil’s temptations. Jesus trusted that God’s love would triumph any benefit received from giving into the Devil, and God prevailed. This trust, this faith that God is the answer in our lives, will guide us through these next 40 days. We are constantly surrounded by unfulfilling passions that make us happy for a short period of time, then leave us drained shortly after. The Devil works through these passions, but our heart yearns for more. A strong faith in God throughout Lent will orient ourselves to strive for fulfilling pleasures, which will bring us the long-lasting happiness we all desire. Everything begins with a trust in God, and the confidence that He knows what is best for us. Trust in God’s plan, the lessons he teaches, and the love he gives us every day; and rest assured you will enter Easter Sunday a changed person.

This Lent, don’t just give something up, like pop, candy, fighting with your siblings, whatever. Lent is about giving more to God, who calls on us to make a greater effort to pray more, attend mass more often, and embody a Catholic conscience in our daily lives.

We don’t know how our lives will be in 40 days. Life may be better, worse, or a complete transformation because of certain situations. Jesus conquered death merely days after his journey because He believed in the power of God. As Christians, if we can commit to strengthening our relationship with God in the next 40 days, we will see ourselves change right before our eyes. Jesus’ journey in the desert prepared him for his ministry, death and resurrection. I will leave all of you with one simple question. What are you preparing for in the next 40 days?

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Faith, Logic and St. Thomas Aquinas: the Great Dominican

“To say we have faith does not mean we automatically understand everything. It means we have the confidence to know God will help us understand.”

By Caroline Darrow ’21

Hello, my name is Caroline Darrow. Usually, I am the girl in the white gown sitting in the tiny chair next to Father, so you may not recognize me right now. But don’t worry I’ll be back there soon.

As I was trying to write this reflection for the Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas, I wrote three different versions, but all of them felt like I was leading a kumbaya circle. So, I did the typical Fenwick procrastination, I did other homework instead.  Nevertheless, as I attempted to complete my pre calc homework while at the same time contemplating Aquinas, I realized it is very hard to think about faith and logic in the same instance. However, Aquinas’ own teachings can help with this conundrum.

“Logic can clarify faith, while faith can prevent mistakes of logic.”

Caroline Darrow (of Clarendon Hills/Notre Dame School)

One of Aquinas’ most influential teachings was his study of the relationship between faith and reason. Throughout time, there has been a struggle as how to combine knowledge gained from revelation with knowledge gained from the observation of the natural world around us. Aquinas viewed both of these as compatible with each other as they both had been created by God. Logic can clarify faith, while faith can prevent mistakes of logic. In other words, using our logic we are able to reason through and clarify teachings of faith in order to fully comprehend what God is trying to tell us.  Faith keeps our morals in check, while at the same time teaching us things we cannot observe through our senses, as we observe a society in which humans are susceptible to other worldly perspectives.

In addition to being a Preaching Team member, Ms. Darrow (far right) serves as an acolyte at Fenwick masses.

What does it truly mean to seek God in faith and reason? Each day, we pray before classes in which we never speak about God. You most likely won’t contemplate Catholic teachings while solving logarithms, but you will have times when you question aspects of your faith because to say we have faith does not mean we automatically understand everything, it means we have the confidence to know God will help us understand. To aid in understanding, we must combine both our faith and logic to come to the best conclusion. God has instilled faith and logic in our lives, and it is our job to find a way to follow Aquinas, embracing both ways to gain knowledge in order to follow the path God has sent us on.

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God Loves All of Us

On the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a Fenwick junior from Berwyn reflected about the Blessed Mother’s special connection with the oppressed, the impoverished and the powerless.

By Chelsea Quiroga ’21

Today, we gather to celebrate and honor the virgin of Guadalupe; the mother of Jesus, known to most of us as Mary. Just shy of 500 years ago the virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, who was an Aztec peasant who had recently converted to Catholicism, on the hill of tepeyac just outside of present day Mexico City.

She appeared with a green cloak covered in gold stars as well as having the same olive complexion of that of the native Juan Diego. She told him to build a church in honor of her, and he humbly accepted. Juan Diego went back down the mountain into town to see the bishop and informed him of his recent encounter.

Juan Diego told the bishop of Mary’s request, and the bishop was doubtful and asked for Juan Diego to bring him proof of her existence before he approved any construction. Mary appeared to Juan Diego for a second time, and she responded to his request for proof by telling him to gather the wild plants around the hill, which was very dry and desert like. She told him to put them into his tilma, which was like toga, and not to open it until he saw the bishop.

Juan Diego listened and carried the dried plants down the hill, and when he came to the bishop he let down his tilma. In the place of the dried, wild plants out fell dozens of red roses, and the image of Mary was imprinted onto his tilma. Soon after, a church in her honor was constructed. Ten years prior to her visitation to Juan Diego, Mexico had been conquered by the Spanish and Catholic conversion was pushed onto the natives.

La virgen of Guadalupe’s appearance to a native peasant caused many similar to Juan Diego to feel a sense of belonging in Catholic faith and caused Catholicism to spread like wildfire. Mary’s visitation to a poor native peasant demonstrates God’s love for all backgrounds and the special connection had with those oppressed, impoverished and powerless. Her visitation was a triumph and allowed for Mexicans and Latin Americans alike to have a personal tie to their faith and gain a strong feeling of home with God.

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