What is your educational background?
CJ: I grew up in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St Paul) and attended a DeLaSalle Christian Brothers' high school called Totino-Grace. The first part of the name refers to the Totino pizza family which kept the school financially afloat in the late 1970s-mid-1980s. The second part (Grace) refers to Bishop Thomas L Grace, who was a Dominican friar and 2nd Bishop of St Paul (late 1800s).
After high school, I attended Loras College in Dubuque, IA and earned undergraduate degrees in History and Secondary Education. I have a Masters of Science in Educational Leadership from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. I did my formation to become a Dominican at the Aquinas Institute in St Louis, and received both a M.Div and a Masters in Theology.
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
CJ: After college, I worked as a 8th-10th grade history teacher in southwestern Minnesota for a year. I then moved to Fargo, ND for four years, and taught at Shanley HS, which is a Diocesan Catholic school. I taught pretty much every subject in the Social Science field, I also was in charge of the Deacon Ambassadors program, student council, was an assistant coach for track and cross country, and worked on my Masters degree in educational leadership. For fun, I also worked at a running specialty store.
I then joined the Dominicans in the summer of 2013, spent a year in our novitiate in Denver, after which I spent five of the next six years in St Louis for studies, with a break during the 2016-2017 school year, which was spent working at the Newman Center at Indiana University. I became a solemnly professed friar in August of 2018, and was ordained a priest in August of 2020, then almost immediately began my time at Fenwick.
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
CJ: I am currently working my way through CS Lewis' Space Trilogy as well as the three-part prison journal from Australian Cardinal George Pell. I am also reading Benedictine monk Cyprian Davis' history of African-American Catholicism.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
CJ: I enjoy running and being outside, so those are big hobbies, along with reading and traveling. I took up rock climbing when I first moved to River Forest and was doing that quite a bit for awhile with my younger brother who lives in Chicago, but since he injured his rotator cuff in April, I have not done so. Otherwise, I help out quite a bit with celebrating Mass on the weekends at various parishes in the area.
To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
CJ: As a high school freshman, I wrestled (103 lbs.) and played soccer. After the wrestling season, I made the decision that I was not going to do that again because of the time commitment (three-hour practices every day and day-long tournaments on the weekend). There were also 40 kids on the freshman soccer team, and there were only going to take 18 at the sophomore level, and I did not like my odds. I instead decided to give cross country a try and became hooked on distance running and racing. I did cross country and track the next three years of high school as well as in college. During the winters, I was a part of a club track team through a sports dome by my house as well as worked out several days a week in the weight room after school.
I also was a member of the Positive Peer Leadership Project (a chemical free/smart decisions group), which gave talks at grade schools about "good decision-making," and was a member of NHS. I was also involved in campus ministry with LaSallian Youth (service outreach), with which I helped out at a soup kitchen in Minneapolis, and traveled to Guatemala. My senior year I was selected to be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, and helped plan liturgies and prayer services.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
CJ: My main role at Fenwick is that of Chaplain, so as a part of that, I help moderate the Preaching Team with Mrs. May as well as supervising students with planning and carrying out Mass. Last spring (2022) I was one of the jumps/sprints coaches with the girls' track team. It was fun to be a coach again and to be involved with track and field after a break of almost a decade.
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
CJ: I would say Fenwick students at the most basic are talented and enthusiastic and are seeking a way to use these qualities to change the world. Fenwick students are very conscientious about what is going on in the world and desire to make a difference.
When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?
CJ: I had wanted to be a teacher all throughout high school, partially because of my great love of learning, but also because of the impact some of my high school teachers had upon me. I felt blessed to be able to do that for five years after college, and am doubly blessed to be able to be a chaplain/campus minister and theology teacher at Fenwick.
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?
CJ: I find that I have a great enthusiasm in sharing all those things that I have learned and experienced and, with this, I also have a great ability to recall experiences that I have had as well as things that I have learned -- and connect those with the material we are discussing. In teaching Dominican Spirituality, I would like to think that I am quite passionate about the topic, given the love I have for my life as a Dominican friar and priest, as well as the Catholic faith, and enthusiastically share that with everyone in my classroom. I also taught AP European History during the 2020-21 school year, which was a lot of fun, both because I had done so previously as a teacher (before entering the Dominicans), but also because European history and culture were what I focused my studies on in college, and have been told that my knowledge and love of the material was apparent.
What are your favorite classes to teach?
CJ: I have only taught two courses here at Fenwick -- AP European History and Dominican Spirituality. I have loved every minute of teaching those courses and cannot pick a favorite!
What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?
CJ: If a person asked me 10 years ago, I would say that it would be convincing students to study either economics or history in college, or having numerous students go on to be teachers themselves. I would say now that I would not measure success by anything I particularly did, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit in students' lives. The tangible sign of this success would be the look on a student's face when they come to an understanding of an idea that leads to a new insight in how they view the world, their faith or themselves.
What challenges face students today?
CJ: I believe our students face the same challenge as the rest of western society: how to make sense of a busy, noisy world that is dominated by technology and an objectification/commodification of everything and everyone. I am always impressed when I hear that students have made the choice to cut down on their usage of technology -- whether it be social media, time spent on apps or simply scrolling through the news, and to instead focus on engaging with the physical world -- whether it be family or friends, through works of service to others, or simply by taking the time to enjoy the wonders of God's creation.