Jalen Kent: Finding his Rhythm

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When freshman Jalen Kent found out last summer that he had been selected to receive the 2018 Kavanaugh, Keating, and Weber Scholarship to St. Francis de Sales, he was astonished: “I couldn’t believe it,” said Jalen. “I was really excited.”

The four-year, renewable legacy scholarship, funded by the school’s annual Alumni Raffle, made a big difference for Jalen’s family, who moved to Chicago from South Holland last year to give Jalen more academic opportunities. “When we were first looking at St. Francis, I definitely heard a lot about how my mom went here,” laughed Jalen. His mother, Enid Kent, is a 1995 alumna.

“One thing that drew me here was the challenging curriculum,” said Jalen, whose rigorous schedule includes honors classes in English, algebra, and biology. He points to a recent biology project as one of his favorites: “We were on a food chain and made a poster of who eats who. My biome was the tropical rainforest. It was fun, and I learned a lot.”

Jalen admits that the social adjustment to a new school was difficult at first, and that developing new friendships required him to be open: “I had to learn to trust new people.” His patience and perseverance paid off, and he says that the Homecoming dance was a highlight of this year because he got to spend time with all of his new friends.

A drum player since the seventh grade and member of the school band, last summer Jalen joined the South Shore Drill Team, a prestigious community ensemble that performs at more than 100 events each year. “It’s been a lot of work and a lot of fun,” said Jalen.

Despite some growing pains, Jalen says he is grateful for all of the new experiences he has had: “High school is a big step in life, and St. Francis definitely improves on your learning skills. From a good band to challenging classes, everything is unique.” Jalen credits the staff with playing a big role in helping him feel comfortable: “The staff are really funny, nice, and encouraging.”

As for what the future holds, Jalen says that his dream since he was five years old has been to become a Hollywood actor, a passion he discovered at the Kingdom Performing Arts Academy in South Holland: “I found out that I loved theater, and that’s what I want to do.”

Based on the talent and tenacity Jalen has demonstrated during his short time at St. Francis de Sales, we should all be lining up for autographs now.


Want to help other promising students like Jalen? Buy your ticket to the March 2nd Alumni Raffle today!

An "Interview" with St. Francis de Sales, Our Patron Saint

As we near the feast day of our school’s patron saint, we thought it would be fitting to have him share with us more about his extraordinary life. Fortunately, he graciously agreed to speak with our director of community outreach, Mary Kay Ramirez.

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Mary Kay: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. I think a good place to start would be the beginning!

St. Francis: I’m humbled to share a little of my story. I was born on the 21st of August in 1567 in southeastern France. My father was François de Sales, Lord of Boisy. My mother, Françoise de Sionnaz, was a noblewoman and the only child of a prominent magistrate. I was baptized Francis Bonaventure, after Franciscan saints St. Francis of Assisi and St. Bonaventure.  

Mary Kay: Your parents must have been so proud when you told them you wanted to become a priest.

St. Francis: (laughs) Not exactly. Because I was born into an aristocratic family and was the eldest of six sons—thirteen children in all—my father wanted me to pursue a career in law and eventually replace him as senator. He sent me to study law at the University of Padua. Although I felt called to priesthood from a young age, I kept it from my entire family and secretly studied theology in addition to law. To please my father, I also took lessons in riding, dancing, and fencing.

Mary Kay: So when and how did you tell them about your vocation to the priesthood?

St. Francis: After university, my father secured various positions for me, including an appointment as senator. He even selected a wife for me. But one day while I was horseback riding, my sword and scabbard fell to the ground, forming the sign of the cross. To me, it was a sign from God about the path I was destined to take, and I finally shared with my parents my intention of embracing the ecclesiastical life. My father was fiercely opposed. Fortunately, the Bishop of Geneva intervened and obtained for me the position of provost of the Diocese of Geneva, the highest office in the diocese. I was ordained in 1593.

Mary Kay: You are often described as a gifted sermonizer. How were you received by the community?

St. Francis: Not well! I was ordained during the height of the Protestant Reformation, and the area I served had become almost completely Calvinist. My efforts to evangelize were at times a complete failure.

Mary Kay: Yet it’s estimated that you converted anywhere from 40,000 to 70,000 souls back to Catholicism during the Reformation. How did you do that?

St. Francis: Living near Switzerland, I felt called to convert back the thousands of Swiss Catholics who had left the Church to follow John Calvin. I spent three years on that mission, often in the cold without food or a place to sleep. I encountered incredible hostility, resistance, and even death threats. Since people wouldn’t open their doors for me, I began writing pamphlets about true Catholic doctrine and sliding them under doors.

Mary Kay: What was the next step in your religious life?

St. Francis: I was appointed coadjutor bishop of Geneva in 1599, and became bishop in 1602. A couple of years later I noticed a woman, Jane Frances de Chantal—now a fellow saint—who was listening intently to one of my sermons. I later became her spiritual advisor, and together we formed a new religious order, the Institute of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin.

Mary Kay: Why did you focus so much of your efforts on reaching out to laypeople?

St. Francis: At that time, people thought that only those in religious life could achieve real holiness, so only priests, monks, and nuns received instruction on how to live holy lives. It was also thought that holiness could only be achieved by those who withdrew from active participation in the world. I believed that all people should be allowed to know how to become holier, even those who were very active in occupations, so I spent hours answering letters and preaching to laypeople who were living real lives in the real world. Those experiences inspired me to write Introduction to the Devout Life in 1608, to guide all people on the path to holiness.

Mary Kay: Why is January 24th your Feast Day?

St. Francis: That was the day I was buried in Annecy in 1624.

Mary Kay: Of what groups are you a patron saint?

St. Francis:  Because of all of the leaflets and books I wrote, which are often looked at as the first Catholic tracts, I am the patron saint of Catholic writers, the Catholic press, and journalists. I once catechized a deaf man so he could take Communion, so I am also the patron saint of the deaf.

Mary Kay: What is the worst sin someone can commit?

St. Francis: Judging someone or gossiping about them. When you hear ill of anyone, refute the accusation if you can in justice do so; if not, apologize for the accused on account of his intentions and thus gently check the conversation, and if you can, mention something else favorable to the accused.

Mary Kay: What advice you would give to an ordinary person about living a life of holiness?

St. Francis: Retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart and pray, even while engaged in discussions or transactions with others and talk to God. Also, show your devotion by your action. To be an angel in prayer and a beast in one’s relations with people is to go lame on both legs.

We hope that this interview has taught you a few things about our patron saint’s life and legacy. On his feast day, we encourage you to reflect upon his universal call to holiness, and to strive on that day and every day to “be who you are and be that well.

The Storyteller

Screenwriter. Director. Actor. Author. These are some of the titles listed on St. Francis de Sales (SFDS) alumnus Kenny Young’s resume, but Kenny prefers to describe his work more simply: “I’m a storyteller,” said Kenny. “I’m passionate about telling stories. We’re all storytellers, whether they’re the stories we’re sharing, or the stories we’re living.”

Kenny, a partner in the Los Angeles-based production company, James Young Entertainment, says that his Alma mater provided him with a strong foundation for storytelling. “I learned a lot about writing and symbolism from [former English teachers] Mr. Modesto and Ms. Thometz; that’s what started to awaken my desire to write.” Kenny also credits Mr. Modesto with introducing him to the discipline of daily journal writing. “I keep a journal to this day, and I think that has really helped me see my life as a collection of stories.” Perhaps drawing on his experience giving acceptance speeches, Kenny is quick to list several additional former teachers/administrators who guided him on his path, including Mrs. Lepore, Ms. Cooney, Mr. Foster, Coach “Kacz,” BJ Nelson, and Principal Schultz.

After graduating from SFDS in 1989, Kenny earned his bachelor of arts in theater from Columbia College. He immediately pursued film and theater projects, but for the first several years had to find other work to pay the bills. “I had like 900 jobs,” laughed Kenny, “but none of them were careers; they were all to subsidize my film and theater work.” While at Columbia, Kenny struck up a friendship and collaboration with fellow South Sider Carl Seaton, with whom Kenny produced several short films.

One of those short films would play a pivotal role in bolstering Kenny’s early career. While in the editing stages of “One Week,” a feature film he had co-written and starred in that chronicles seven days in the life of a man waiting for results of an HIV test, Kenny and his crew ran out of money. After seeing Kenny’s short film, “Tissues,” Hollywood director Robert Townsend hired Kenny to write a script for him, which allowed Kenny to finish production. “One Week” premiered at the Acapulco Black Film Festival in 2000, winning best U.S. film, and screened at four other film festivals, including the Chicago International Film Festival.

Since that first film, Kenny has written and directed three additional films, including “Bachelors,” which won best director and best narrative film awards at the 2015 American Black Film Festival. In 2016 and 2017, Kenny parlayed his love of Christmas into directing three television Christmas movies. Kenny's documentary directorial debut, “They Don’t Give a Damn,” takes a close look at the demolition of the Chicago housing projects and its effects on the community. Kenny called the film “the most time-consuming and most difficult project I’ve ever done,” but also one of the most rewarding. “It got me excited to do more documentaries because you can tell really different stories that way, with people sharing their life stories with you.

One of Kenny’s own life stories led to his first animated film, “Chance,” which tells the story of dog fighting from the dogs’ perspective. “I was visiting a friend a few years ago in Atlanta, and a friend of hers had this pitbull I really connected with,” explained Kenny. “As we were leaving, the dog’s owner told me that the dog had his first fight the following day, to the death. It really shook me and stayed with me,” said Kenny. “I wanted to tell the story through the dogs’ perspective.”

Having recently sold a script for a horror film, Kenny is humble about his broad artistic range. “I try not to limit myself to genres; I think storytelling is universal. I’m always trying to challenge myself and step outside what I normally do.”

Kenny was inducted into SFDS’ Hall of Fame in 2009, and in 2013 published “Whuppins,” a collection of short stories based on his life experiences in Chicago and Los Angeles. When asked what advice he would give to current students about pursuing their passion, Kenny didn’t hesitate: “The first thing is to just go out and do it. A lot of people call themselves ‘aspiring actors.’ Don’t aspire, just do it.”

Kenny encourages others to find their passion, and to do for a living what they would do for free. “Don’t chase the money, chase your happiness, because if you do what you love, you’ll love it so much you won’t care about the money, but you’ll do it so well, the money will follow.”

Senior Daniel Reyes: A Recipe for Success

A Recipe for Success

St. Francis de Sales (SFDS) senior Daniel Reyes first began learning his way around the kitchen as a hobby: “I started cooking at home a few years ago to pass the time,” he explained. A friend took notice and encouraged Daniel to check out the culinary arts program run by the Chicago nonprofit organization After School Matters. “My friend told me about a program that paid students to learn to cook, and then let them eat the food they cooked,” said Daniel. “I thought that sounded pretty good!”

Daniel enrolled in After School Matters’ Culinary Arts program his freshman year. “As I cooked more and more, I started to fall in love with it, and started looking at it as a career,” he said. “I would put in extra work so that my instructor could see that I was really trying.” Daniel’s extra efforts and talent did not go unnoticed by Gloria Hafer, the program’s head chef and culinary instructor. By the end of his freshman year, Daniel had graduated to the Advanced Culinary Arts program, and was later selected to be a team leader.

Over this past summer, Daniel was further promoted to intern. In this role he has not only been responsible for mentoring his peers, but also for teaching and guiding other teens enrolled in the program. “Daniel has taken great strides in pursuing his passion in the culinary field,” said Hafer. “I am very proud of all he has accomplished to date, but look forward to the best yet to come!”

Now in his final year with After School Matters, Daniel meets three times a week with 30 other students from SFDS, Carver, and Washington high schools, and EPIC Academy. After receiving instruction on new dishes, he and his team must prepare, plate, present, and—last but not least—share them with each other, but their education does not end there. Later this month, Daniel and his class will bake and present a cake for hundreds of attendees of a culinary fundraiser downtown, one of several high-profile events he has had the opportunity to participate in through the program.

Looking ahead to next year, Daniel is planning to continue his culinary education, and is considering schools such as The Culinary Institute of America in New York, and Johnson and Wales in North Miami. As for the remainder of his senior year, outside of the classroom and kitchen, Daniel divides his remaining time between student council, newspaper club, and photography club. He has also served as a student ambassador with SFDS’s STARS program since his freshman year, traveling to schools with Associate Dean Stephen Sanchez to talk to 7th and 8th graders about SFDS. “The one most important thing I like to talk to them about is the family atmosphere here,” said Daniel. “You don’t get lost in the crowd.”

Daniel says that the teachers at SFDS are what he will miss the most after he graduates. “Over the past four years, they have become like family,” said Daniel. The feeling is surely mutual; fortunately for the teachers, the aspiring chef says that he will always be happy to return to the school to cook for them.