By AK Alilonu ’16
The summer of 1996 marked the entry of an unusual new faculty member at Brophy.
A former principal who had worked at Jesuit schools from Silicon Valley to Australia would find a place for himself in Phoenix.
While the Rev. Fr. Eddie Reese, S.J. didn’t come to Brophy looking to fix it, the direction he took would change it.
He asked Ms. Adria Renke to be vice president over lunch. The rendezvous was meant to thank her for successfully organizing the fashion show, another responsibility she had initially been unwilling to take.
“I said, ‘What if I don’t like this job?’” recounted Ms. Renke about the encounter. “He said, ‘Quit.’ And I said, ‘What if you don’t like me? You don’t even know me.’ And he said, ‘I’ll fire you.’ And here were are, 19 years later.”
In a similar way, Mrs. Deborah Kauffman struggled to give up teaching when Fr. Reese insisted she become an assistant principal.
“He was very persistent,” said Mrs. Kauffman. “And finally I succumbed and I started out as Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction. That was my first real experience with Fr. Reese other than the fact that he had dogs and I was a dog person.”
When Mr. Bob Ryan, who nearly 10 years ago served as the Assistant Principal for Ministry, was asked to be the principal, he didn’t expect the promotion, either.
“I was surprised; it wasn’t something that was on my radar,” he said. “But I really respected him as a leader and as a person and figured that if he thought I could serve the school in that capacity, I was happy to do that.”
Fr. Reese found himself in a position in which there was a lot of work to be done.
“I remember the first 18 months,” Ms. Renke said. “It’d be nine o’clock at night — his desk when he started was right where it is today — and we would do Excel spreadsheets to try to figure out how to raise money. That’s the other part of the job: to keep this place going.”
Many financial consultants later, the school was fiscally sound, Fr. Reese was able to launch a revitalized fine arts program, Loyola Academy and, most notably, new construction and new technology.
“If you try to imagine what the school looked like physically when he arrived,” Mr. Ryan said. “We had Brophy Hall, Loyola Hall, Keating Hall, Romley and the gym. That was it.”
Mrs. Kauffman had just begun working at Brophy when the construction began.
“He’s Eddie the Builder,” she said. “He has changed the footprint of Brophy in such a huge way.”
And, according to Ms. Renke, that footprint is almost completely defined.
“The Dutch is the last building that we’re going to do,” said Ms. Renke, “until we decide what to do with some property that was given to us across 7th Street.”
In addition to making its campus larger, Fr. Reese, having had worked in Silicon Valley at the dawn of the information age, wanted Brophy to adapt to changing times.
“Our latest technology was the ballpoint pen,” said Fr. Reese about the school when he first came.
“It’s not like he’s obsessed with technology,” said Assistant Principal for Technology and Instruction Mr. Jim Bopp. “He’s obsessed with innovation.”
Mr. Bopp worked closely with Fr. Reese when the one-to-one technology program launched in 2005.
“Most other schools spend three to four years studying the feasibility of one-to-one computing,” said Mr. Ryan, who had a hand in the decision-making process. “Fr. Reese said he knew that this was where education was heading. He had lots of detractors and people that thought that it was a bad idea, and he said that we would do it.”
Fr. Reese attributes his success not to taking control of things, but the opposite.
“My biggest accomplishment was staying out of the way of great ideas,” he said.
Institutional achievements aside, Fr. Reese’s leadership came with his peculiar Jesuit personality.
Mr. Dave Renke ’97, Ms. Renke’s son, remembers first meeting Fr. Reese after he and some other seniors got in trouble for “initiating” the freshmen.
“We got punished, and we got reprimanded,” he said, “but you could tell with him that he understood the tradition. Not that he was OK with it, but he kind of understood the dynamic among us boys.”
Having gone to Brophy under two different presidents, Mr. Renke said he noticed that Fr. Reese seemed more engaged with the student community than his predecessor.
“At break and lunch, he would walk around and not just be a presence, but engage people in conversation. His predecessor would do that, but I feel like it was more limited.”
Mrs. Kauffman recalled a time when Fr. Reese had to make a more consequential disciplinary decision, at least for students.
“At one point, he was the decider of whether you could keep your shirt untucked,” she said. Before, people used to get fines for not having their shirts tucked in. And Fr. Reese was the one who said, ‘What does it matter?’”
All this has contributed to Fr. Reese’s easygoing persona.
“He makes it look like it’s all fun,” Ms. Renke said. “Like he’s just walking the dogs and hanging out and picking up trash that they knock over from the trash cans.”
In the end, it was Fr. Reese’s Jesuit philosophy that led him to accept a position as president of St. Ignatius College Preparatory, said Ms. Renke. She recounted being with him the day that the Jesuit provincial called and asked him to apply.
“I asked him, ‘What did you say?’ and he said, ‘I said yes. I’ve got to be available. I’m a Jesuit.’”
Of course, taking this new job means that he will no longer work at Brophy.
“It’s just now he’s starting to see that he’ll be leaving all of his friends behind,” Ms. Renke said. “But when you get him talking about the job and the challenge, he gets jazzed. As he says, ‘I got a lot of gas left in my tank.’”
Ms. Renke, who will be the first female president of a Jesuit high school when she becomes Brophy’s interim president next year, said she wants to continue the Jesuit mission.
“We’re the only Jesuit high school in Arizona,” she said. “We cannot fail.”
But Fr. Reese’s departure is still the end of two long decades he helped to define for the school.
“No matter who comes in, to be a leader anywhere, you expect that they’re going to put their personal stamp on the place,” Mrs. Kauffman said. “And I think he has done that.”
But Fr. Reese said he doesn’t expect the school to remain fixed on his legacy.
“The great thing about Brophy is that it will change,” he said.
And that legacy is a great one, according to Mr. Bopp.
“When you think about all the things that happened during his tenure here,” he said, “it’s really something to celebrate.”