Love like you’ve never been hurt,
Dance like nobody is watching,
Live like it’s heaven on earth!
— Old Irish saying
WHITEFISH BAY — For Eamonn O’Keefe, former Dominican High School principal, the above quote is how his friend Bill Crowley approaches life.
Reflecting on the 50-year history Crowley has with Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, O’Keefe, coordinator of human formation, St. Clare Center for Ministry Formation, at Cardinal Stritch University, considers the 77-year-old a hero.
“He is a true gentleman, a master teacher, coach and a superb colleague. With wisdom and an Irish sense of fun, Bill has helped thousands of Dominican students, but also hundreds of teaching colleagues and DHS staff to unpack their own God-given gifts,” said O’Keefe. “He epitomizes what a lay Catholic educator is supposed to be – mission driven, committed to fostering an authentic learning community and dedicated to the intellectual, human and spiritual formation of young people. St. Francis of Assisi taught, ‘Preach the Gospel, and when necessary use words.’ This epitomizes Bill, someone who has led and taught by example.”
Far from retiring, Crowley was honored in spring for his 50-year anniversary with Dominican High School. The celebration followed a Mass at St. Monica Parish concelebrated by five priests and attended by alumni, friends and past and current faculty. It also promoted the Bill Crowley Scholarship Fund.
For O’Keefe, the evening was a fitting tribute to the man he calls “the living icon of Dominican High School” and a legendary Catholic educator.
“He has superb people skills and exemplary teaching prowess and educational instincts,” said O’Keefe.
Crowley began teaching biology at Dominican the first year it had four grades.
“The school opened in 1956 with just freshmen and I came in ’59 when there were freshmen through seniors,” he said.
After 38 years teaching biology, coaching boys and girls basketball and serving as the school’s athletic director, Crowley estimates that more than 5,700 students, including his own children, attended his classes.
“I had the good fortune to teach all four of my children. They didn’t mind too much having a dad as a teacher, which surprised me. I think I embarrassed them a few times, but we all got through it. In fact, three of them took advanced biology, too, so I had them twice,” he said. “My oldest daughter, Maureen Peck, works here and her oldest, Molly is a (sophomore) here, so it has been fun.”
One of his fondest memories was 1974, when Dominican won its first state basketball championship during a mediocre season.
“We ended up beating St. Catherine in the finals – they were undefeated at the end of the year and beat us twice during the season,” Crowley said. “But in the end we beat them to take the first state championship. I wasn’t coaching that year, but did do a lot of coaching for the boys in the ‘60s and later on for the girls.”
Crowley quit coaching and teaching in 1997 to become the alumni director, coordinating class reunions, the annual alumni golf outings, and an all-school reunion each year at Irish Fest.
“We have a very involved alumni group,” he said. “They all stay in touch and that says a lot about the school. We meet regularly to plan alumni activities; I try to keep up to date with them – we have reunions every five years on top of the annual alumni golf outing.”
While he enjoys his part-time work as the alumni director, Crowley admitted that he misses the day-to-day interaction with students and the opportunity to immerse his faith in the daily lessons.
“I think the students appreciated that,” he said, “It has always been interwoven into the make-up of the school. This school is much more than just a religion class; the Catholic faith permeates throughout the school.”
Former student Janine (Dati) Baudhuin, class of 1985, member of St. Mary Parish, Mayville, is grateful to Crowley for giving her a solid education and considers her life better for having had him as a teacher.
“Bill enjoyed educating, but more importantly, he genuinely cared about the person he was teaching,” she said. “As a teacher and coach, his infectious personality and positive attitude made the experiences memorable.”
A lifelong Catholic, Crowley belongs to St. Monica Parish next door to Dominican and holds fond memories of attending Dominican grade school.
“I came back home,” he said. “Of course, besides laptops and smartboards, many things have changed since I first began teaching here. For one thing, about 90 percent of the teachers were religious and there were only four full-time lay teachers when I started; things have changed into almost a complete opposite.”
After working with him for 21 years, Sinsinawa Dominican Sr. Peggy Brennan, religious studies teacher at Dominican, admires Crowley’s zest for life, his impeccable memory and devotion to his faith, family and school. She appreciates his sense of humor and willingness to participate in out-of-the-ordinary activities, such as a role in the school’s production of “Cats” a couple of years ago.
“He is beloved by young and old for his cheerful spirit, great Irish tenor voice and sense of humor,” she said, adding that when the weather cooperates, Crowley bikes from his nearby home to school.
Most associated with Crowley have a humorous story to tell. Art chair Mary Gehr still laughs about an incident years ago, which was embarrassing for the novice teacher.
“The first year here as a very young, less-confident person, Bill and I met at a retreat center for the opening start of the year,” she said. “It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and after lunch we all went back to this big open room with sunlight streaming in and nice carpeting to sit or sprawl on. After a half hour or so, with a soft-spoken person leading the discussion, all of a sudden I heard someone softly snoring. You guessed it. Bill, laying on his back, arms folded across his chest, was in a deep sleep – to my untold horror on having the principal see him this way.”
While O’Keefe holds many humorous memories between the two, he puts the jokes on hold while praising Crowley’s vocation as parent, teacher, coach, mentor and Irish Catholic as true callings from God.
“Bill is a believer, and a joyful one at that,” he said. “Bill taught many of us to believe as well, to believe in ourselves, in team, in the goodness of people, in the healing power of laughter and in a higher power. Bill knows that he is a child of God who, like all of us, has been put here with divine purpose, to be the arms and hands and smiling face of God to others on the path.”