By MEG WATERS     3/19/2024

As more than 500 Friars filled J.W. Marriott’s banquet hall on March 2, the mood was one part class reunion and one part pep rally, and it was entirely about how much Servite High School in Anaheim meant to everyone there.

Once a Friar, always a Friar.

This year’s theme was “Legacy of Leadership” with distinguished alumni awards going to theatrical producer Tom McCoy ‘74 and New England Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater ‘03.

Teacher of the Year Cory Fajardo ‘08 was honored with the Elizabeth Ann Seton Award from the Diocese’s Orange County Catholic Schools.

As Servite President Stephen Walswick ‘02 observed, “This is an annual event that allows us to share our mission with the community. Our honorees are amazing examples of the kind of leaders Servite graduates every year.”

Walswick is thoroughly vested in Servite; after graduating there in 2002, he served 17 years as a water polo coach and English and journalism teacher. This is his first year as president of the school that has been the guiding star of his adult life.

Tom McCoy, whose wife, gymnast Cathy Rigby introduced him, was an enthusiastic friar.

“I loved high school – every minute of it,” recalled McCoy. “I got involved with everything I could.”

McCoy credited much of his success to Fr. Fred R. Gaglia, Ph.D., KCHS, who began the theater arts program at Servite and was instrumental in building the school’s theater.

“Fr. Fred was the Cecil B. DeMille of high school theater,” McCoy said. “He also helped me produce the 1987 Los Angeles Coliseum production and Mass when Pope St. John Paul II visited.”

Jackie Slater, retired NFL Hall of Famer and offensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, introduced his son Matthew Slater.

“My wife and I were impressed with everyone at Servite – the teachers and coaches were the very best,” he said. ‘But I give all praise to Matt’s mom, Annie; she never let him just get by. She insisted on more.”

With 16 seasons in the NFL and three Super Bowl wins with the New England Patriots, wide receiver and special teams plater Matthew Slater announced his retirement from football on Feb. 20. He echoed his father’s gratitude for the education and values he learned at Servite.

“I am grateful for the vision Servite had for me, even before I had it for myself,” said Slater. “Leadership is about taking the tougher road, not the easiest.”

He continued: “As a freshman, I wasn’t excited about going to Servite, so I made a deal with God. I would go, but if I didn’t like it, I would transfer to a school with girls.”

After two weeks, he settled into the school, became a proud Friar and graduated in 2003.

“Leadership is a call to action – we have all been asked to be leaders in some fashion,” Slater added. “It’s about how we answer the call. The Bible is very clear on what leadership is and what it looks like.

“The greatest leader who ever lived was Jesus Christ. Many of us focus on what is happening with ourselves, not what God has called us to be.”

Finally, Slater said that leadership is always in service to God.

“If we aren’t serving in this world, we can’t leave a legacy of leadership,” he said. “We need to be purpose-filled in how we lead our lives.”

Gregory Jenn, ‘14, a recent graduate of Notre Dame University Law School, is awaiting results from the California State Bar Exam. Gregory lost his father when he was 5 years old and was raised by his single mom in Fullerton. He plans to be an immigration attorney here in Orange County.

“I plan to be at this event when I’m 48 in 2044 – 20 years from now,” he said. “However my career unfolds, I know the integrity and charism of the Servite order will have helped and empowered me to build a career helping people.”

Neil Hennessey, ‘24 is a senior and looking at colleges. He would like to go into data analysis, intelligence or global security.

“Twenty years from now, I’ll look back at Servite for the amazing experience and incredible people I met,” he said. “I am and will be a better person because of Servite.

Hennessey continued: “I enjoyed studying philosophy, and I think a quote from Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and philosopher, says it best: ‘Don’t argue about what a good man is. Become one.’”

Servite is all about forming young men into the kind of leaders God intends, and however that leadership evolves, they will always be friars.