April 3, 2019
It has been nearly eight years since Mary Barr retired from Fenwick in 2011. We caught up recently with the long-time teacher of German, World History and AP Euro History.
How many years were you at Fenwick (and when)?
MB: In August, 1980 I received a call from Mr. Richard Neutzler [assistant principal] asking me to come in to an interview for the position of German teacher. He and Father William Bernacki [president and principal at the time], O.P. knew me as I had previously tutored Fenwick students. I accepted the job and became one of five female faculty and stayed on for 31 years.
What were your roles? (What other classes did you teach?)
MB: Several years later, in addition to teaching German, I began teaching World History. In the early 1990's two seniors who wanted to take the A.P. European History Exam asked if I would work with them on the lunch hour. This led to my teaching of the A.P. European History Course.
Were you involved with any extra-curricular activities?
MB: As there was no question of me coaching a sport, Mr. Neutzler asked me if I would set up and moderate the Friar Mentors Tutoring Program. This really took off and was a joy for me. I met so many students whom I otherwise would not have known. All tutors were generous with their time and some could have been career teachers. They had that ability to instantly connect with a student and clarify material.
How do you describe the Fenwick Community to other people?
MB: People ask me what makes Fenwick such an outstanding school. There have been great expansions of facilities since 1980, but it has never been the physical plant that has built such loyalty among alums.
Rather it is the caring faculty, administration and staff that impress the students. Teachers truly love their subject area and students recognize this and are, in turn, motivated. Counselors, coaches and moderators of myriad activities are totally present for their students.
What do you miss (most) about Fenwick?
MB: I miss the contact with young people. Last year, two of Ms. Carraher’s students interviewed me as a past moderator of Friar Mentors. They were typical Fenwick students: intelligent, and insightful. The hour spent with them was a delight.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for the present faculty?
MB: Happily, I am in contact with some faculty members, and it is great to see that they have formed such strong friendships which transcend working together. I am impressed by their grasp of the new technologies, which makes so many sources available to students. But I have always believed that it is the relationship between students and teachers that is the heart of education. Every teacher knows that even a carefully prepared lesson can fall flat, but they also know that they inspire students in unexpected ways. This is the message that graduates give and helps explain why they say that they have been so well prepared for college.
What are you doing now? How do you spend your time?
MB: When I retired, my husband George and I retired to Chicago after years in the suburbs. We grew up on the South Side, and the North Side has been fascinating to explore. With a Ventra pass, one can get on a bus or the Blue Line and be in a new neighborhood. Chicago has an amazing Park System and nothing compares to the Lakefront and the Loop. [French Teacher] Mme. Schnabel now lives in our building, so a friendship enriched by our years at Fenwick allows spontaneous get-togethers. Truly, retirement means “buzzing along” in a new and wonderful way.