Fenwick student preacher reflects on how he found extra stamina to finish strong in the biggest cross-country run of his life last month.
By Lee O’Bryan ’22 (La Grange, IL)
Today we celebrate mass in honor of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This feast is about the unique way Mary was born, without original sin. This was necessary for her to be the Mother of Jesus. This sinlessness is why she was so open to and trusting of God’s plan. Mary understood what it meant to trust God. She lived that way throughout her entire life.
While I am not sinless, I have learned how to trust in God’s plan. A little over a month ago is my best example of this. This was the State Championship Race that Cross Country won. At the time we did not know if we would win though. All we did know was that we had trained extremely hard and consistently for the last nine months. And, as you could imagine, I was nervous. Our team was ranked number one — and had been for a while — but that didn’t mean we would win state. All it meant was we could win state. We would have to perform to our max on November 6th if we wanted the win.
Then I heard something in Theology class that comforted me. It was a Hindu quote that said, “You have the right to the action, not the fruits of the action.” I thought about this and how it applied to my life. My teammates and I had done all of the training we could, and now we had to let go and let God’s plan take over. I was less nervous once I trusted in God because I knew, whether we won or lost, it was what God meant to happen.
On the day of the race I prayed to God for him to help me be strong, help me to never give up, and to let me accept whatever the result was. As it went on, the race did not go how I imagined it would. I went out fast, as I planned, but after the first mile, I was drained; for almost the next two miles, I tanked. I was supposed to be way faster if we were to win. I was even passed by my little brother. I didn’t feel physically or mentally strong enough to finish with a fast sprint. All of these people kept slipping by me. When two runners passed me from the schools that were most likely to beat us, I tried my hardest to go with them and I held on for about 30 seconds and then I faded away.
With about a quarter of a mile left in the race, something I don’t fully understand happened. Suddenly, it felt like someone pushed me to start sprinting. My thinking rapidly changed. I was now saying in my head “this is worth it;” “I can do this.” Every second after that I was passing other racers. I noticed those rival runners from earlier, and I decided I was going to pass them, no matter how much it hurt. I did catch them and, although one of them resurged to pass me back, he was the only person in that last stretch to pass me at all.
I trusted God’s plan that day and it allowed me to relax and not focus on the outcome, but rather focus on giving my best. I also believe that I had opened myself to God and allowed him to give me a boost of confidence when I needed it the most at the end of the race.
Being open and trusting in God’s plan is something we all can do as Friars. Whatever sport or club that you are in, you can do just what Mary did throughout her whole life. Focus on doing your best, not on what will happen at the end. Because, whether in the moment you are happy with it or not, it will be beneficial for you in the long run. It is the same thing with academics: Study until you truly know the material and, when you are tested, try your hardest. This may take you on a path that you didn’t plan to go on, but it will be the one God wants you to take.
God’s plan has taken me to places I never expected. He can do the same for you. You just need to follow Mary’s example. That is, if you do your best and are open to God, he will take you where you are meant to be.
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.
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.
The number and size of Catholic grade schools and high schools increased greatly in the 1950s. After 1960, the educational preparation of teachers, new issues for church life amid movements like ecumenism, racial justice in American society, and a general advancement in the quality of Catholic schools led to new considerations of the area of “religion,” of “theology,” in secondary education.
At Fenwick High School, conducted by the Dominican Friars in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, two movements emerged to expand and vitalize theological education in high school. One had to do with educational materials like textbooks; the other had to do with new approaches to religious education, with ideas for and beyond the classroom.
New Theology and New Textbooks
The developments in secondary education began with similar movements in Catholic colleges and universities. The simple and sparse catechetical format of the texts for required courses in religion in Catholic colleges and universities was more and more criticized in the 1950s. The shallow level of content often did not rise above basic catechetical propositions about Christianity to which was added some Aristotelian philosophy in ethics and theodicy. Some have gone so far as to say that prior to 1960 there was no theology being taught in most Catholic institutions of higher education in America other than seminaries. Certainly few courses touched on, for instance, the content of the New Testament or the theology of the sacraments and liturgy.
In those years teachers began to meet to discuss how teaching theology in college was more than teaching scholastic philosophy or catechesis. In 1954, they founded the Society of Catholic College Teachers of Sacred Doctrine (this became in 1965 the College Theology Society).1 At the first national meeting of the SCCTSD in 1954 (there had been regional meetings) three of the founders offered their approaches. Gerard Sloyan of Catholic University of America spoke on “From Christ in the Gospels to Christ in the Church;” Thomas Donlan, O.P., of St. Rose Priory, Dubuque, Iowa, presented “An Approach from the Dominican School of Thought;” John Fernan, S.J., of Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York, described a “historical, Scriptural approach.” These pioneers of the college theology movement had three different views of theological education: Sloyan’s was biblical; Donlan’s was neo-Thomist; Fernan’s was historical and biblical. All three were working on producing textbooks.
Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., in 1945 returned to the University of Notre Dame to begin his time of teaching theology there before he became president of that institution. He had written his doctoral dissertation at The Catholic University of America on the theology of lay people and the sacraments.2 Teaching undergraduate theology soon led to his conceiving of and editing textbooks, a series called “University Religion Series. Texts in Theology for the Layman.”3
Thomas Donlan, O.P., a native of Oak Park, Illinois, taught at Fenwick High School from 1946 to 1952. He went from there to teach at the Dominican seminaries in Dubuque, Iowa. While there he directed original publications in college and high school theological education. First he supervised a volume of essays exploring how sacred doctrine of a largely Thomist bent could and should be the framework for courses outside the seminary. Essays treated the arts, sociology, and the natural sciences, philosophy, and religion: This was an attempt to draw theology out of the isolation of clerical circles into a wider cultural world.4
Donlan and other Dominicans, some teaching at the first graduate program in theology to accept religious or laity at St. Mary’s College, South Bend, Indiana, decided to produce a series of textbooks for college. First books began to appear in 1952.5 They did offer a theology deeper than a catechism, but curiously it did not hold a particularly Thomistic order and principles and retained the order of apologetic manuals from 1860 to 1960. A second series of texts appearing in 1959 was a greatly improved enterprise. They held sections of Aquinas’ Summa theologiae, and included material from Scripture and practical moral theology.6
Fenwick and Fr. Regan in the 1940s: “There was a reason for burning incense.
Father James Regan knew it and explained it.”
By James Bowman, Sr. ’49
(originally published The Alumni Wick
Magazine, spring 1985)
Father Jim Regan, O.P. taught at Fenwick High School for 29
years and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame posthumously in 2002. His
picture first appears in the 1943 yearbook and every year afterwards through
and including 1971. Fr. Regan was born to eternal life in the year 2000.
At Fenwick in the
middle and late ’40s, there was this bald, big-eyed priest, always with the
armful of papers and pencil, walking along the corridor taking everything in,
or sitting as study-period prefect in the library, also taking everything in.
He looked like he knew more than he was saying.
A freshman might know
him from the servers’ club, where this priest made the point that the incense
better be well lit so the smoke could rise high and full. Why? Because smoke
rising stood for prayers rising to heaven, that’s why. The freshman had never
thought of it that way. There was a reason for burning incense. Father James
Regan knew it and explained it.
For the senior who had
him for religion, the message was much the same: there’s meaning in religion
you haven’t even thought of. Gospel passages were memorized, such as “Behold
the lilies of the field, they neither reap nor sow, etc.” with its punch line, “Seek
ye first the kingdom of heaven and its justice.” He said lines as if he meant
them, and knew whether you knew them by use of the daily quiz.
That’s what all those
papers in his arms were, daily quizzes from four or five classes. There was a
lot of tedious work correcting those quizzes. But if he didn’t correct them and
get them back, the senior didn’t know where he stood. Lots of them didn’t want
to know, but that’s another question.
He quoted a lot from Time Magazine. A man bet he could drink
a quart of absinthe in one gulp and live. He did it and died. Nice, obvious
mortality for 17-year-old ears.
Or the story of
Franklin D. Roosevelt riding in an open car in the rain without a hat on, to
make the point that he was vigorous and capable of leading the country. It was
one of the anecdotes Father Regan used to point up the Gospel saying, “The
children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of
light.” That is to say, followers of Jesus don’t work as hard at following
Jesus as others at achieving their worldly ambitions.
Father Regan intended
to make points with his seniors. He was very serious about it (entertaining
too), and he had a plan: if dogma (doctrine) won’t save them, nothing will. He
meant to inundate us with church teaching. He believed in church.
Skip Mass to go fishing on Sunday?
He could be stunned by
disbelief or disloyalty. The student who said it was O.K. to miss mass on
Sunday to go fishing, became the center of his attention. How could this be?
Whence came this creature into our midst, or this idea anyhow? Skip Sunday mass
to go fishing?
Not histrionics by the
aggrieved father, but genuine amazement (though played out for effect, to be
sure). We heard about it in his high-pitched voice, fast-paced speech (mind and
lips working at high speed) and windup pause and slight smile for effect.
Silence spoke as well as words.
Discipline … seemed secondary to the business of the classroom or study hall, the classroom especially. It was basically a college-style classroom, senior religion under Father Regan: daily quiz, return of the previous day’s quizzes and extended discussion of missed answers.
He repeated questions
time and again until enough of the students got them right. The quizzes were
teaching devices, not just checks on retention. Then lecture. The 42 minutes
went fast, and up and out we went with books, gym bags and the rest to what the
next 42 had to offer, which was rarely better and usually not as good.
He took religion
seriously, aided and abetted by the school’s policy which put it on a par with
the other four subjects. He took the Scriptures seriously, extracting meaning
from gospel sayings that we’d heard from pulpits for years, thinking they had
He used the classroom
for what it’s good for: indoctrination and motivation. Counting on his students’
faith to supply the impetus, he would put the question about daily mass: what
else can you do daily that is worth as much? Time and again, he asked it in
those quizzes. He couldn’t force you to go to mass, but he could drill you in
the reality of faith, forcing you to choose.
That’s not bad. It took
a lot of work and commitment to the life he had chosen. It’s a lesson for us
all. It was then for us 17-year-olds, and given a little thought on the matter,
it is now, too.
Read more recollections of Fr. Regan from alumnus
About the Author
In addition to being a member of Fenwick’s Class of 1949, Jim Bowman is a long-time Oak Parker and former newspaper reporter. Mr. Bowman wrote the “Way We Were” column for the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine as well as corporate histories and other books, including books about religious issues. His eighth book, Illinois Blues: How the Ruling Party Talks to Voters, was published in 2016.
At the Faculty & Staff Retreat earlier this month, a senior “mathlete” from Elmhurst shared a heartfelt reflection of his time at Fenwick.
By Nathan Crowell ’20
The four years of high school are some of the most influential years of our lives. Our lives change so much — from the things we learn about, to the friends we have, to our identities that we discover. High school molds us into the people we will be for the rest of our lives.
Good morning, everyone! For those of you who do not know me, my name is Nate Crowell. My story is all about finding my true identity and the role that I play in the Fenwick Community. I’m on the Math Team and the Scholastic Bowl Team. I play volleyball, I do TEAMS, WYSE, Friar Mentors and the Write Place. All the while being active in my church’s youth group. As you can probably tell, I’m what some would call “a nerd.” Now, I don’t think it is an insult at all because I love the activities that I do, and so what if I like math? It’s a part of my identity that I found here at Fenwick.
Who I am all begins with my family. I have two loving parents and two brothers: an older one named Ian and a younger one named Nolan. My family has had a big influence on the person I have become. Up until about my sophomore year of high school, I looked up to my brother for everything. From baseball to school, I always tried to do what he did. He batted lefty, so I had to bat lefty; he played the percussion, so I played percussion. He went to Fenwick, so I had to go to Fenwick. His influence on me has impacted my life more than I realize. I entered Fenwick trying to live up to the reputation he set before me. I tried my hardest to be as similar to Ian as I could.
Other than my brother’s influence, my mom has also impacted my life a lot. From when I was young and still today, my mom and I love to do jigsaw puzzles. We would sit in the family room for hours doing these 550-piece jigsaw puzzles. It was doing these puzzles that molded the way I think, and they developed my love for problem solving.
Family and Faith
Now, my parents have been bringing me to church for my entire life. But I never made my faith my own until middle school. It was the youth group that got me engaged in my faith, and to this day I’m very involved in my church. As my faith journey progressed and as I became more and more engaged at church, I grew to love the people in my youth group. As 7th grade began, I met one of my best friends and mentor. He was one of my small-group leaders then and, to this day, he is still my mentor, small-group leader and best friend. He has been there to guide me along my faith journey, helping me through my biggest times of doubt.
My mentor is one of the most influential people in my life, and having someone there for you, no matter when or where, is crucial for every high schooler. The best part is, you all get that opportunity here at Fenwick. Many of the students here are going through some very stressful situations, and if you are able to be there for them, it makes a world of difference. So I encourage you to always be there for the students, because you never know what they may be going through or how great of an impact you can have on their life.
When 8th grade rolled around, I had to decide what high school I was going to go to. I was choosing between here and York, and the thing that sealed the deal for Fenwick was the community. The students, and especially the teachers, are all so welcoming. When I shadowed here, I felt like a part of the family already. I could tell that the Fenwick Community is there for each other no matter what. The biggest thing that I noticed was how nice everyone in the faculty was. You all are the reason Fenwick is the way it is. Without you, our community would not be as tightly knit and our students would not see Fenwick almost as a second home. You all foster a warm feeling that reminds the students of home, no matter how much we may hate doing school work.
Starting freshman year was scary. I didn’t know what to expect, especially only knowing two other kids going into Fenwick. I didn’t know what the other people would think of me.
Now, I spent most of freshman year trying to find my place within the new school and getting to know all the new people. The only important things I remember from freshman year are being “invited”to join the Math Team (like I had a choice) and trying out for volleyball. However, the most impactful thing to happen to me freshman year was meeting THE Joe Zawacki. We met in Spanish class, where on the first day he got sniped with his phone out by Ms. Carraher. Later that day, we ended up sitting at the same lunch table. And, well, the rest is history.
When sophomore year rolled around, I found out that I had every class except two with Joe. We did everything together, and after all the time I spent with him, I thought I had to be like Joe. I “stole” Joe’s identity. I took it as my own and tried to be the person he is, not the person God made me to be. Besides adopting his identity as my own, I compared myself to him a lot, and I started to feel like I wasn’t special and that I didn’t have a place here in the Fenwick community. An emptiness started to grow inside of me. It quickly started to eat away at me. The emptiness got so bad that I almost transferred to York. I was strongly considering leaving this amazing community. I thought I didn’t have anything special that I could add to Fenwick.
But, preparing for junior year soon consumed my thoughts because I had a lot of decisions to make. What classes would I take? What activities would I do? How can I make myself look the best for colleges?
“Our culture today puts so much value in doing. “
As the school year began to pick up pace, I was bombarded with assignment after assignment. My day consisted of waking up, going to school, going to any after-school activity I had that day, going home, barely finishing my homework, then straight to sleep. My daily routine was jam-packed, and God slowly transitioned from being a part of my life to an afterthought, then to the point where I would go entire weeks without even thinking about Him. Our culture today puts so much value in doing. I especially felt that this year, as I wrote college apps. I had to do every after-school activity, be a part of every club I could; I never had time to slow down and connect with God. One thing I have learned is that we all need a break. We can do this by just spending time alone, without distractions. It can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as two hours.
On an annual trip my youth group would take, we would go to Arkansas and spend a week on houseboats, living on the lake. One thing that we did every year was, on the third morning, we would start the day in total silence. We woke up silently; we made breakfast silently; then we spent about another hour and a half in silence. We were supposed to just sit there and look out over the lake. Now, as a freshman and sophomore that task was DAUNTING. Being silent for two hours? I could barely stay quiet for a meal. Now, as a young freshman and sophomore, the challenge wasn’t being quiet for an hour and a half, it was staying awake for that hour and a half. I ended up asleep both times, but as successful as I was at being quiet, I totally missed the point of the activity.
Being vs. Doing
The whole point wasn’t to torture us but to refect on life, and take a MUCH needed break from the busy-ness of today’s society. When I went before junior year, instead of taking a nap, I was actually able to stay awake the whole time! I just sat on the back of the boat, looking out across the lake. It was after that hour and a half that I realized I feel most at peace in nature. I was able to forget about all of the stresses of everyday life and just breathe. Now, whenever I need a break from the world, I’ll go out into nature and just take a walk. I now know about the importance of just being. There is so much doing in our world, that we forget to just BE. We all just need to take a break from the constant hustle and bustle of our lives.
First semester of senior year was full of constantly filling out this application, writing that essay, and just stressing about my future. But a quote I read last year said to: “Never let fear decide your fate.” I had to put my trust in God and His plan for me and my future. God is always here with us, whether we feel His presence or not. As the great Mr. Mulcahy said, “Our oneness with God is realized not created.”
Throughout my journey at Fenwick, I have wanted to make a huge impact here. I thought that when the time came, I could do some great action. When I reflected on how foolish that thought was, I was reminded of a quote from Mother Teresa that my mom keeps on her desk at home. It says: “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”
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.
Determining the “best” is a
notoriously complicated task. Is the best team the one with the most wins? The
one with the most potential? The one that wins the last game? The one that won
the most consistently?
This is no less challenging in
classes. Are good students the ones with the best scores; with the clearest understanding
of the material; or with the most original thought? What of those who ask the
best questions? The list goes on.
As a teacher of morality, the task
becomes even more complicated. Some students are standouts, not because they
always get the questions right on the tests, but because they have lived through
difficulty and grasp immediately the significance of moral issues. Others have
a deep, personal commitment to faith and justice: They innately grasp what it
means to be good and raise the level of discussion, but can’t always explain
their convictions perfectly. Others still have a nuanced grasp of ideas and ace
the tests but demonstrate no real commitment to enacting justice in their
lives. Which of those is the best?
All of this is to say that a theology class remains a great equalizer in Catholic education. Everyone, regardless of personal beliefs and upbringing, needs to wrestle with the big-picture questions of life. Does God exist or not? If so, who or what is God? What is a just world? What counts as a life well lived? No one can afford to live the “unexamined life.”
Because the subject matter is
usually beyond all of us (God), everyone needs to reach beyond themselves and
question their assumptions about reality. Yet it is also deeply personal — who
am I? What does it mean to be me? What is my relation to God, neighbor,
society? How will I know that I have lived well? Some of the highest achieving
students struggle tremendously with that kind of introspection, while some of
the lowest achievers soar.
At the end of the day, theology is
an excellent subject to help develop humility because you face an unconquerable
task. Calculus and grammar can be mastered, but not theology. Its subject is a
transcendent God who is infinitely more complex than the human mind can
understand. We can learn many truths about God and come to a deep understanding
of and relationship with God, but we cannot tame God. No matter how brilliant,
good, insightful, original or articulate we are, we remain equal as short-lived
creatures before the one who simply is.
Perhaps the students who grasp this,
who know precisely what it is that they do not comprehend, are the best ones of
All Fenwick students, regardless of religious affiliation, study four years of Theology:
Theology I: Scripture
Theolgy II: The Mission of Jesus Christ and Sacraments
Theology III: Moral Theology
Theology IV: Interreligious Dialog (may be taken for college credit) and Dominican Spirituality
“How Fenwick Students Minister to Others” (Fall 2018 Friar Reporter, beginning on page 6).
Renaissance Man: Clevelander, Golden Apple winner and Fenwick Theology/Film Teacher for the past 12 years, Mr. Paulett also is a writer, musician and theater aficionado.
What is your educational background?
JP: My undergraduate degree was in Linguistics and Classical Languages from Georgetown University. I have a Master’s degree in Theology from Felician University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. During my Golden Apple Sabbatical, I began a doctoral program in religious studies at Northwestern University.
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
JP: I taught for 10 years while I was in my twenties — at Lake Catholic High School in Cleveland and then at Kent State University, where I was doing doctoral work in theater and film. I then left teaching for family reasons and went into business. I had planned to work in business for two years but it turned into 25 years. I had always planned to return to teaching. When my daughter was through college, I had my opportunity and joined Fenwick.
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
JP: I always have several books going at the same time. Right now, I am reading David Brooks’ new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. I am also reading a history of the Second World War in the Aleutian Islands. Rounding that out is Wasn’t That a Time? — the story of the folk singing group The Weavers.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
JP: I am a theater fanatic. In most weeks, I attend two or three performances. I love opera and subscribe to the Lyric Opera. I also subscribe to the Chicago Symphony, the Music of the Baroque and three theater companies. I fill in the other nights with smaller theaters and films at the Gene Siskel Center. I am a writer (I have four books published) and am active writing almost every day. I have a new book in progress that I hope to finish by fall. I play music (guitar, banjo, mandolin) and usually pick up an instrument for a few minutes every day.
To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
JP: When I was in high school [at St. Ignatius in Cleveland], I was a member of the Debate Team and was fortunate to have some success. I was also in the theater. I acted in several plays and, during my senior year, wrote and directed a play. I sang in the choir and played in a rock band. I was a dreadful athlete and got cut from every sport I attempted. I wrote for the school newspaper and, for a while, published an underground newspaper. The teachers caught me running this off on the mimeograph machine and the paper was ended.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
JP: I have moderated a variety of groups at Fenwick. I was the chess coach and the moderator of Touchstone [the student literary magazine] for several years. I directed the spring musical and was music director for Banua. I have been the moderator of the Photography Club for the last few years. Next year, I will guide the new Film Club.
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
JP: Fenwick students generally have a seriousness of purpose that sets them apart. I teach Moral Theology. In that class, we study philosophers such as Kant, Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Most students will not encounter these thinkers until junior year of college. Fenwick students deal with this advanced content with thoughtfulness and diligence.
When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?
JP: I was deeply affected by several teachers in high school, probably none more than my speech teacher Mr. William Murphy. He was an intense, rigorous and sometimes difficult man who drove, excited, demanded and inspired his students. I suppose that my desire to become a teacher started with a hope to be like Murph. I have been very blessed in my life, and I think I have an obligation to give back. Teaching has been the best way I have found to return what I have been given.
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.”
Editor’s note: Monday, January 28, is the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Catholic Church and patron of students.
Readers interested in exploring the excellent videos of Bishop Robert Barron, the recipient of the Lumen Tranquillum Award from Fenwick High School this year, might start with the short presentation he gives on the man he describes as his hero: St. Thomas Aquinas. The bishop explains how it was at Fenwick, when he was 14 years old, that a theology teacher first introduced him to St. Thomas Aquinas. He describes it as a “bell-ringer” event and goes on to explain how it changed the course of his life. He seems to suggest that this seminal moment led him, through the grace of God, into the priesthood.
Besides his description of the encounter in his freshman theology class, there is another deep Fenwick link in Barron’s explanation of Aquinas. He lists three ideas, which he believes characterize the thought and teaching of Thomas. It is interesting to note how closely the three themes he describes resemble three main ideas characteristic of a Fenwick education. Many high schools talk about the “grad at grad,” or what a graduate will know and be. I would suggest that these three concepts, reflective of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, might be a good description of a Fenwick student after four years on Washington Boulevard.
Bishop Barron first explains in the video that Aquinas believed there was one truth. He explains that people of Thomas’s time (we might note of our time as well) often thought there were two truths — scientific and religious. Aquinas refused to accept that. He knew that there could be only one truth. If science and religion seemed to be in conflict, there was a problem in either the scientific or the theological method. More thought and study were required.
‘Dominicans are not afraid of reason; we embrace it.’
At Fenwick, we sometimes express this same idea as, “Don’t leave your brain at the door of the church (or the theology classroom.)” It is a characteristic of Dominican education to apply rigorous study and thought to every aspect of our education, including our religious belief. We are not afraid of reason; we embrace it. We are convinced that reason and critical examination will lead to the Creator, not contradict creation.
And so we teach Fenwick students to question, to wonder, and to apply the lessons they learn from science and philosophy to their faith. Bishop Barron reassures us that Aquinas had no fear of reason. Neither should we.
Secondly, Barron describes the Thomistic understanding that we are contingent beings. This is a fancy way of saying that we depend on something else for our existence. That thing that is the First Cause, what does not depend on anything else for its existence, is what we call God. It was this explanation of the Proofs of the Existence of God that first rang the bell of 14-year-old Bob Barron. [A Western Springs resident, he transferred to Benet Academy in Lisle.]
I often say to myself, “There is a God and it is not me.” When we recognize that we are dependent on a power beyond ourselves (12-step programs would call it a Higher Power,) we are on the path to faith. We begin this journey with the destruction of self-centeredness and ego. Christian theology calls it “death to self.” In the gospel of John, Jesus tells us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces great fruit.”