James Hendele, MD H'98
“To strive for equity and equality in the patients that I care for and the people that I meet.”
Published in June 2019
When Dr. James Hendele looks back upon his time at Sacred Heart, he remembers a “safe and comfortable place to grow up and learn life’s lessons.” He warmly remembers feeling as if he had family time for seven hours a day with instructors he found to be inspirational. Over the nine years that he spent at Sacred Heart, he grew to want to emulate those faculty and staff whom he felt saw him as a whole person.
Thus far in his life, Dr. Hendele has more than lived up to those people and qualities he found so inspiring.
Upon graduating from Sacred Heart, Dr. Hendele attended Saint Ignatius College Prep. While at Saint Ignatius, he participated in not one, but two, study abroad programs—one in Italy and one in Japan. In reflecting upon these experiences, Dr. Hendele notes that while it wasn’t difficult to get accepted to the program, the actual experience of living abroad was challenging. This challenge, however, is what allowed him to grow as a person; he encourages high school students today to choose to do difficult things that will help them to build character and develop as a person.
Dr. Hendele credits his time at Sacred Heart for helping him to become “intellectually curious and confident.” Of note, he fondly remembers Mrs. Jody Stawicki’s passion for American history, which was an inspiration. Like many of his fellow alums, Mrs. Stawicki’s “Notable Americans” project left a lasting impression on him—he feels that it was essential in “developing our confidence, poise, public speaking abilities, all of which are really foundational for success in any occupation.” He admits that he still thinks about Mrs. Stawicki’s emphasis on public speaking instructions when he is addressing an audience.
He also found inspiration in the often-repeated story of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne. Dr. Hendele reflects upon her incredible journey and life story, stating “she was a beautiful soul.” He admires that she accepted risk and challenges, believing in herself and the work that she was doing. “She was just willing to let the spirit and let the world kind of show her who she was going to be,” he says. St. Philippine’s inspirational life story and the unfaltering support he received at Sacred Heart provided him with “the tools and the conviction to pursue difficult things and do difficult things.”
Dr. Hendele’s love of experiencing new communities and cultures led him to college at St Andrews in Scotland, then into the Peace Corps. While in the Peace Corps, he lived in a rural village in southwestern Tanzania, where he taught math and science to secondary school students. Dr. Hendele encountered a multitude of challenges on a daily basis, such as a lack of textbooks, the language barriers, and the need to discern how best to teach basic math and science skills. He found joy in taking a group of students to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and introducing them to their first washing machine. Dr. Hendele looks back at his time in Tanzania with respect and fondness—he still keeps in touch with both teachers and students.
Upon returning from the Peace Corps, Dr. Hendele began medical school at University of Illinois at Chicago, where he is currently completing his general surgical residency. While in medical school, Dr. Hendele lived abroad again, this time for one month in southern Thailand where he did a medical student rotation. He was grateful to discover that the practice of medicine was relatively standardized throughout the world, whether in an urban community or a rural village.
Much like the alums before and after him, Dr. Hendele remembers more acutely the things he learned about himself at Sacred Heart, as opposed to concrete facts and figures. The lessons that he took away from Sacred Heart—how to live as a good person, to look outside oneself to find meaning in service and selflessness, and to be self aware—are integral parts of who he is today. He has chosen to take more difficult paths in his life to better himself, and to choose a profession that is both challenging and impactful. Like the Sacred Heart faculty and staff that he so admired, Dr. Hendele has chosen to lead by example, to “strive for equity and equality in the patients that I care for and the people that I meet.”
Currently, he is in Chicago completing his final year of residency in transplant surgery. In August, he and his wife will move to Seattle where he will receive additional medical training in organ transplantation at the University of Washington.