Fenwick High School
September 26, 1978

Fenwick High School and I were born in the same year. Neither of us is quite fifty, though we both shall be when this academic year is out. Perhaps neither of us looks that old. Only this morning, Father Malachy Dooley told me that I look not a day over forty-eight. Parts of this Fenwick building, it is true, have seen better days. But we have good reason to expect that some of the blemishes and warts will soon be removed. And despite its physical needs, Fenwick really does not seem its age. The wise men who founded Fenwick built on rock; the school's foundations are secure; its direction clear; its basic purpose unchanging.

During its short life, Fenwick has seen great days and trying ones. Ten years ago, I stood on this stage and addressed an assembly of Fenwick students and faculty. At that time, Fenwick was facing one of the more serious challenges to its survival. Civil society was in that tumultuous period -- the late sixties -- when every traditional value was being called into question. The Church was unsettled because of the need for dramatic changes exposed by the Second Vatican Council. Every Catholic institution was nervous.

The Dominicans, who are ultimately responsible for Fenwick, were not unaffected by the radical movements of the sixties, and serious questions were raised about whether Fenwick should continue under Dominican aegis. The possibility of selling this property to the Oak Park school district was twice presented to the local citizenry -- the plan being to build a new Fenwick on the Dominican property in River Forest. The citizens twice declined. Then, later, a proposal within the Dominican Province to liquidate that River Forest real estate was actively pursued with consequent, though indirect, results to the stability of Fenwick. Meanwhile, the number of Dominican priests and brothers at Fenwick was continuing to decline. As lay faculty increased, so did the cost of tuition. Enrollment thus went down. While all this was going on, I was serving as vicar provincial of the Dominicans. In that capacity, I stood here a decade ago and pledged that Fenwick would continue.

I was not then, as I am not now, a prophet. But my pledge to the Fenwick family that it would endure was not a groundless affirmation. On that occasion, I was moved to say, as I am again on this more joyous occasion, that Fenwick High School is one of the finest works which the Dominican Fathers and Brothers sponsor. In no other apostolic work have we been more successful. The contribution which Fenwick has made to Catholic secondary education is one so simple excellence. Anyone who must be responsible for deciding its future, confronted with the evidence of its achievements, would find it extraordinarily difficult -- and almost surely impossible -- to vacate his support for this unusually fine institution.

Fenwick was founded as a dream by Father Leo Gainor and that first small band of Dominicans who joined him in the creation of a new secondary school for Catholic boys on Chicago's West Side. Father Gainor dreamt of a school that enjoyed prestige because of its precise self-understanding. This new school was to welcome only serious students, Catholic young men who were academically superior or who showed promise of achieving academic goals beyond what might be expected of them elsewhere. Fenwick was not then, as it is not now, a school for sons of the very wealthy, as so many of its first graduates will attest. But it was necessarily to be an elite institution which prepared young men for university education and leadership in professional life. Its graduates were to be men of consequence in society and in the Church. A hurried survey of Fenwick's alumni will attest that Father Gainor was, indeed, a wise man who built on rock, whose dream has so often been translated into a reality.

One of Fenwick's greatest strengths, in Father Gainor's view, was to provide an education that honors the best traditions of the Dominicans. Among these is a discomfort with the faddish and the trendy. Put another way, one of our principal ideals is to cling to our ideals. We have ever believed in the objectivity of truth. We have ever been convinced that truth, once the mind confronts it, offers its own inner-conviction. We have always been certain that there are truths -- some call them values -- which endure through every generation. William Faulkner called them "the eternal verities." To lead men to the truth so that they see it for themselves and are shaped by it is our purpose.

Truth comes to us in many forms and we must turn away from no legitimate source of truth. But inquiry after the truth must be careful and disciplined. And it must be rooted in the experience of our civilization. By trial and error, western society has come to know the successful approaches to the truth and to recognize, or strongly suspect, where the dead ends are found. True education must thus be rather hostile to sudden, unproved changes in its process. It must be steadfast in offering the traditional disciplines of learning. So has it been with Fenwick High School. Wary of the short-cuts to knowledge, but welcoming careful experimentation, this institution has remained loyal to the dream of its founders. Despite its fifty years, it is ever young.

Mere human knowledge is not, however, our goal. For "God has given us the wisdom to understand fully the mystery, the plan he was pleased to decree in Christ ... to bring all things in the heavens and on earth into one under Christ's headship." The coat-of-arms of the Dominicans inscribes a single word as a motto: Truth. But the motto stands for more than human wisdom or the achievement of secular knowledge. The motto stands for him who proclaimed: "I am the Truth." As an institution under Dominican sponsorship, accordingly, Fenwick exists to lead its students to the knowledge and the love of Jesus Christ who is Truth. If Fenwick fails in this purpose, none of its other recognitions are of much consequence. When a Fenwick graduate is a man of the Church, that is, one. who will for life long court the mystery that God was pleased to decree in Christ, then the school has accomplished its purpose and the dream has been realized. In some instances, Fenwick has of course failed. But the record will show that it has been highly successful in the majority of its graduates who are godly men, Christ-centered, consequential in civic life and among the people of God.

The dream goes on. The lyricist, Moss Hart, laid it down that "you do not rewrite a hit!" Fenwick is a proud institution today because its board of trustees and its admirable lay faculty and staff defend the philosophy implanted in 1929 by Father Gainor, his first Dominican colleagues, and the single lay member of the first faculty, the late coach Tony Lawless. The dream continues because the student body which sits here this morning is quite as promising as that first small band of freshmen who, forty-nine years ago, dared to risk an unproven high school and who survived the surprisingly stiff demands of the first year. The dream endures, and those of us who have not been privileged to participate in it directly congratulate all of you who enliven this institution, continue its traditions, enrich its already enviable record. May yours be the inner peace that belongs to him who lives up to a great dream -- who knows that, owing to his struggles and sacrifice, he has brought young men to a knowledge of him who is the Truth, Christ.

Sermons and Lectures by Damian Fandal, O.P.