Sr. Catherine I. Seiker, RSCJ Award
Every year during Alumni Weekend, the Sheridan Road Alumni Association presents the Sr. Catherine I. Seiker, RSCJ Award. The award is given to an RSCJ, Sheridan Road alumna/us, or alumna/us from any Sacred Heart Network school whose life exemplifies, to an extraordinary degree, the values and standards that Sacred Heart Schools represents.
Sr. Seiker began her relationship with Sacred Heart Schools in 1945 as a teacher. In later years, she worked with school volunteers and served as the Business Manager. Sr. Seiker was a proponent of the Network’s nationwide alumni community. In the 1980s, she worked tirelessly to produce the first Sacred Heart Alumni Directory and also paved the way to organize the Schools' archives. Sr. Seiker passed away in April 2016.
2020 Seiker Award Recipient: Gladys Saavedra Davis ASH'70
There are few alumni who can say that they attended three Sacred Heart schools in three different countries. However, Gladys Saavedra Davis ASH’70, the 2020 recipient of the Sr. Catherine I. Seiker, RSCJ Award, did just that. And her journey to Sheridan Road is as inspiring as her life.
In 1957, as a young girl in Havana, Cuba, Ms. Davis began her education at Sacred Heart, following in the footsteps of both of her grandmothers (one attended the “old” school in Havana, and the other in Paris). Unfortunately, she was only able to attend until 1959, when Fidel Castro took over the Catholic schools and closed them. Her family went to Mexico, where she attended the Sacred Heart school in Mexico City for 3rd grade. Ms. Davis’ father, unable to find a job, decided to return the family to Cuba. The political situation had grown worse.
In 1962-63, with the family’s papers in order, they left in three different groups. Ms. Davis, then age 9, and her two brothers, ages 8 and 7, were the first to depart and ended up in a children’s refugee camp in Homestead, Fla. Through Catholic Charities’ Operation Peter Pan program, the children were provided food, clothing, and schooling, in addition to being reunited with their family in July 1963.
The family relocated to Rogers Park in Chicago—also thanks to Catholic Charities—where both her mother and father were able to get good jobs and have space for their eight family members. In the summer of 1964, her parents took Ms. Davis to Sheridan Road to introduce themselves to the nuns who were such a part of their family’s history. In a life-altering meeting with the Reverend Mother and the Mistress General, her parents said that Ms. Davis was enrolled at a different school for financial reasons. She fondly remembers the nuns putting their arms around her and declaring “Gladys is ours.” They offered the family half-tuition in exchange for Ms. Davis helping out on campus.
To her delight, she enrolled in Sacred Heart Schools for 6th grade. Despite speaking broken English, Ms. Davis felt completely welcome at the school. With full immersion and the teachers’ unrelaxed standards for her, she quickly became fluent. She loved “volunteering”—helping Mother Bearss get book orders ready, dusting the beautiful library, and working as the portress. The nuns realized that Ms. Davis should be a grade ahead given her age, so she skipped 7th grade. She continued to excel academically and graduated as valedictorian. Ms. Davis is grateful for Sacred Heart’s “academic richness and rigor” that prepared her for college; she went to Loyola University Chicago with a full scholarship.
In 2000, after working at Scott Foresman publishing company in addition to raising her six children, Ms. Davis began a rewarding career at Embers Academy, an independent elementary school in the Chicago suburbs. She became the Head of School, tripling enrollment. She used Sacred Heart as her example of what a Catholic, independent school education should be.
Soon to celebrate her 50th high school reunion from Sacred Heart, Ms. Davis still lives what she learned at Sheridan Road. Her deep relationship with God is something that developed during her time here and her faith remains strong today. She has lasting friendships with the women from her graduating class; they get together regularly in different parts of the country to celebrate their bond.
Today, Ms. Davis spends time telling stories of Sacred Heart to her six children and 13 grandchildren. Additionally, she volunteers at a parish school translating documents, and is in the process of writing her Cuban family history. Because of her enduring faith, commitment to living the Sacred Heart Goals, and dedication to her community, Sacred Heart is honored to name Gladys Saavedra Davis ASH’70 the 2020 Seiker Award recipient. She will be presented the award on October 17, 2021, during Alumni Weekend.
2021 Seiker Award Recipient: Joey Yao H'86
Joey Yao’s H’86 first memory of Hardey Prep was at the end of his first week of school, on Friday when his dad was late picking him up from a half day of school. Joey was an anxious first grader who did not know what to do, until Sister McMahon, his religion teacher, found him and was able to call his dad and stay with Joey while he waited. Joey remembers thinking that she was a “guardian angel” and that whatever happened at this new school, he would be comfortable and secure there with great people like Sr. McMahon.
Many alums reconnect with Sheridan Road to give their time and talent back to the school that gave them so much. Never was this sentiment more true than for Joey, who has spent a good portion of the last 13 years dedicating his free time to Sacred Heart Schools. As the Sheridan Road Alumni Association Board President, member of the Development Committee and the Board of Trustees, and a Science Olympiad coach, Joey’s passion for Sacred Heart and his desire to be involved with the school seems to know no bounds. Sacred Heart is forever grateful to Joey’s commitment, and could not be happier that he is the 2021 Sr. Catherine I. Seiker, RSCJ Award recipient.
Joey first encountered Sacred Heart when his immigrant parents, dissatisfied with public school options, decided to look at the Catholic school that caught his dad’s attention while driving a bus on Sheridan Road for the CTA. Joey’s dad was intrigued by the students who seemed so well behaved outside the school. Joey was five years old, and on the day of his visit, his mom fell in love with the school. Over the next eight years, Joey became a part of what he describes as “a family of boys.” He and his classmates were a tightknit group, with many living in the high-rise buildings on Sheridan Road. The boys would go to school together, play football on Glenlake St., and hang out at Hollywood Beach.
For many alums, Sheridan Road was a home away from home. For Joey, Sacred Heart was a loving community that opened his eyes to all of the possibilities that were available to him. Yes, he felt that he received a superb education but more than that, he felt that he was equal to every other student at Sacred Heart. No matter a family’s background, a father’s job, or the color of a person’s skin, Joey valued that all of the kids were treated the same. He describes the community as “open and welcoming” and he always felt that he belonged. His tremendous appreciation for his years at Sacred Heart is why he chose in 2008, when he moved back to Chicago, to volunteer and show gratitude for the experience he was given.
Joey remembers that the teachers went the extra mile for students, especially Mr. Swanberg, his Middle School Science teacher. In his spare time, Mr. Swanberg would help Joey with projects for science fair competitions, fueling Joey’s love of science. When he was in high school, Mr. Swanberg hired Joey to help him renovate his two flat in Edgewater, and taught Joey practical building skills that he still uses today. More than anything, though, Mr. Swanberg would talk about his life and about Joey’s life while they were working on these projects. This relationship is the reason that Joey decided to coach Science Olympiad at Sacred Heart – to honor Mr. Swanberg’s memory and contribute to the community that gave him so much. He hopes to be the positive influence on a student’s life, just as Mr. Swanberg was on his life. Joey’s love of science carried on throughout his life - he received his Bachelor of Science with Distinction in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell University, Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He then earned his Juris Doctor from The George Washington University Law School, and is a registered patent attorney with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
After six years on the Board of Trustees, Joey’s term ended this past May. He looks forwarding to focusing his “Sacred Heart time” on the Alumni Board and Science Olympiad. Joey currently lives in Wilmette with his wife and son, and is a partner at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP, a law firm focusing on intellectual property. We look forward to celebrating him on October 17, 2021, at Alumni Weekend, when he will receive the Seiker Award.