Skip to Main Content

Blackfriars 2017 Honorees


The annual Blackfriars Gala brings the Fenwick community together to celebrate the successes of the institution and the benefits of a Dominican Catholic education. The gala also raises funds to ensure Fenwick’s sustainability and to create opportunities for our talented students in need of financial assistance. 





Mr. Ramzi I. Farran 


Mr. Ramzi Farran was born in 1946 in Jerusalem to a Greek Orthodox family. They became refugees after the 1948 Palestine War and relocated in the West Bank. His mother was adamant about him receiving an excellent education to help him rise above their current situation. Mr. Farran defeated the negative circumstances pushing against him by becoming a dedicated and thriving student.

He excelled in academic tests and won scholarships to a Franciscan Grade School and an American Quaker Boarding School for junior high and high school in Palestine. In 1965, he accepted an academic scholarship to Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. He initially planned a career as a chemical engineer but during his summer work-experience after his freshman year, he lost his right arm in an industrial accident, changing his future forever. The experience had a great effect on his personal life as well as his relationship with the world around him. The community overwhelmingly provided the help needed during his hospitalization, recovery and rehabilitation. Back on his feet, Mr. Farran completed his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1968 and went on to earn a Master’s degree in chemistry at Illinois State University in 1971.

He found that he loved teaching high school students, and after teaching at Metamora High School for 10 years, he and his family re-located to Oak Park where he was appointed as a chemistry teacher at Fenwick High School in 1981. His philosophy of teaching is based on the premise that the human element supersedes all equipment, facilities and technology. He believes that students are best reached through an attitude of caring, with a primary focus on their strengths. Mr. Farran found chemistry to be a unique discipline in that it allowed him to incorporate history, art, language, philosophy, ethics and math into its study. He used stories and analogies to help students conceptualize abstract processes. His teaching style brought the human element of caring that makes learning easier for the students. During his tenure at Fenwick, the school witnessed an increase in enrollment in Chemistry from about 20 percent to nearly 90 percent. 

Mr. Farran taught over 7,000 students before retiring in 2016. His greatest satisfaction has been when hundreds of those students chose careers in teaching, science, engineering, health sciences and medicine.

Mr. Farran spent his 35 years at Fenwick High School encouraging students to excel, much like his own mother did for him. To challenge them, he developed the Honors and Advanced Chemistry Programs, and coached TEAMS (formerly JETS) and WYSE teams to immense success. Under Mr. Farran’s guidance, Fenwick won 20 Regional and 16 Sectional championships, 14 first place State rankings in TEAMS competitions and seven State championships in WYSE. Fenwick teams acquired one National championship in JETS and five second place National championships. His students won 20 individual State championships in WYSE, 12 American Chemical Society scholarship winners and 22 finalists, and there were two first place National winners with a perfect score in the Chemistry Science Olympiad.

Mr. Farran has received outstanding teachers awards from the U.S. Presidential Scholar Program (2005) and the Illinois State Board of Education (1986). He was recognized as one of five outstanding teachers in the Chicago area in the Thanks to Teachers Program (CBS, WGN, 1994), is 1998 Golden Apple winner, received outstanding teacher awards from the University of Chicago 13 times, MIT three times and Cal Tech twice. He also received a Distinguished Alumni Award from ISU (2002) and Goshen College (2005), Outstanding Fenwick Educator (1985) and Outstanding Volunteer Village of Oak Park (1988).

He lives in Oak Park with his wife, Carol. Together, they have two children, Joel ’92, and Patrick who taught math at Fenwick in 1998. Mr. Farran is an avid stamp collector, a diehard St. Louis Cardinals and Fenwick Friars fan. You can still find him, on occasion, attending many Fenwick athletic events just as he did when he was teaching. Now retired, Mr. Farran has more time to take in opera and symphony concerts, and spend time with his grandchildren.



Mrs. Loretta W. Cooney 


Mrs. Loretta W. Cooney – Hall of Fame

Mrs. Loretta W. Cooney has a history of long-time service to Fenwick High School and other Chicago area educational organizations. She grew up in Ottawa, Illinois and graduated from Ottawa Marquette High School. She received an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and a law degree from Loyola University.  

She served as an Assistant Attorney General prosecuting environmental law cases and at the Chicago Transit Authority in labor, litigation and environmental areas.

Mrs. Cooney began service at Fenwick as a trustee in 1997. She later became co-chair of the Fenwick Development Committee and is currently a life trustee and honorary co-chair of the Fenwick Centennial Campaign.  

Additionally, Mrs. Cooney has served as an executive board member, chairperson of the Education Committee and immediate past president of the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund (DMSF), an organization which provides tuition assistance and educational support to economically disadvantaged Chicago-area high school students, many of whom have attended Fenwick High School. She was also the liaison for DMSF scholars to Fenwick for 10 years. Currently, she serves on the Patrons Board for St. Malachy School, a Big Shoulders school on the west side of Chicago.

Other organizations to which she is affiliated include: Northwestern University Women’s Board (providing women’s scholarship opportunities at Northwestern University), the Abra Prentice Wilkin Board (an organization which supports health, environmental, education and arts initiatives) and the Goodman Theatre Board where she is a trustee serving on the Education and Community Outreach Committee.

Ms. Cooney’s husband, Robert Cooney, Jr., graduated from Fenwick in 1970. Her father-in-law, Robert, graduated in 1941 and her three children, Patrick, Ellen and Michael are all Fenwick graduates in the classes of 2002, 2004 and 2006 respectively.



Mr. Joseph K. Selvaggio ’55 


Mr. Joseph K. Selvaggio ’55 – Hall of Fame

Mr. Joseph K. Selvaggio ’55 was born in in 1937 and grew up in Chicago. After graduating from Fenwick High School, he matriculated to Marquette University where he majored in math for three years before devoting himself to eight years of seminary training. Mr. Selvaggio eventually earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Aquinas College. He was ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Dominican Order in Dubuque, Iowa in 1965.

As a priest, Fr. Selvaggio went to work in the civil rights movement. After making several stops in the South, he landed at Holy Rosary Church in the Phillips Community where he served as the parish priest. During his time here, he helped organize Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers. He left the priesthood in 1968, after serving for three years, to work more directly on issues of peace and civil rights.

Again a layman, Mr. Selvaggio went on to found and work diligently with several community and socially beneficial organizations. 

He founded the Project for Pride in Living (PPL) in 1972. PPL embodies Mr. Selvaggio’s commitment to the values of a strong work ethic, personal accountability and responsibility, and the participation of the disenfranchised in their own growth toward self-sufficiency. PPL believes strongly in an asset-based approach that does not focus on problems, instead, identifying, developing and building from the strengths that exist in families and the neighborhood.

After retiring from PPL in 1997, he founded the One Percent Club a year later, which gathered a network of people who pledged to give back a percentage of their income annually to the communities and organizations they were passionate about. Then, in 2006, after retiring from the One Percent Club, he founded MicroGrants as a way to boost low-income individuals to become self-sufficient.

Mr. Selvaggio’s career has spanned more than 50 years and positively impacted countless lives. In recognition of his efforts, Mr. Selvaggio has received many honors and awards including a Doctorate of Human Letters, honoris causa (Macalester College, 1991), Minnesota Man of the Year (Minneapolis Monthly, the publication for Minnesota Public Radio 1997), Outstanding Achievements in Civil Rights and Human Rights (City of Minneapolis Commission on Civil Rights, 1998), Service Above Self Award (Rotary Club of Minneapolis, 1991) to name just a few. Additionally, during the 2003–2004 season, the Minnesota History Theatre produced the play, Joe, based on his life, and the City of Minneapolis marked September 26, 2006 as Joe Selvaggio Day.

He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Rosario Escanan, also a strong social activist. He has four adult children, Ricardo, Anthony, Sam and Riza, who live nearby in the Twin Cities.