All posts by Brad Howell

Taking the Front Row with Chris Herren

Chris Herren spoke at MSJ about his life experiences and implored students to learn from his mistakes. (Photo by Chase Hite)

We had the privilege of listening to Mr. Chris Herren speak to us about his journey through life and his struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. His story about overcoming his problems and his close-calls with death are incredible and should be kept in mind while advancing in our high school careers.

Chris Herren, born September 27, 1975 in Fall River, Massachusetts, was a truly outstanding basketball player. He scored over 2,000 points in his high school career at Durfee High School and was named a McDonald’s All American in 1994. Upon accepting a scholarship to play basketball at Boston College, he suffered a wrist injury his first year and was sidelined. The injury was followed by numerous failed drug tests for marijuana and cocaine, and Herren was expelled from the team and the university. He was then given another chance by coach Jerry Tarkanian in Fresno, California and finished the rest of his college career at Fresno State where he averaged 17.5 points per game in his first year. After failing yet another drug test in October of 1997, Chris was put in a rehabilitation center for 28 days. After returning, he finished his college career with 15.1 PPG and 5.1 APG.

His dreams of being a professional Basketball player came to fruition when he was drafted 33rd overall in the 1999 NBA draft by the Denver Nuggets. After playing for the Nuggets for one year, he averaged 5.8 PPG and 4 APG. In an ESPN 30 for 30 titled “Unguarded,” Herren revealed that Veteran Nugget players Nick Van Exel and Antonio McDyess kept Herren on track during his time in Denver: “There is going to be no drinking, there is going to be no smoking, when we go on road trip, you’re going to report in to us, and we’re going to watch every move you make.” On his first day back in the practice facility, coach Dan Issel informed him that he’d been traded to his hometown Boston Celtics. This was both a blessing and a curse, as he would be able to play for the team he’d been rooting for his whole life, but he was inserted into a situation where he was close to his buddies and knew exactly where to get drugs. While his drug problem was calmer in Denver, it became more serious in Boston.

This is the second time that Herren has talked at St. Joe, both times to an attentive school audience. (Photo by Chase Hite)

When he became addicted to Oxycontin during his time in Boston, his lifelong dream of playing for his hometown team turned into a nightmare. He started to live a life of deception, lying to his wife about where he’d be. “I would call my wife and say ‘I’m going to stay after and get some jumpers up,’ and then I’d gun it to Fall River to go meet some guy, and then I’d fly back to Waltham and act like I’d just gotten out of practice,” said Herren in “Unguarded.” At this point in Herren’s career, he needed the drugs to be able to function.

After Herren suffered a knee injury with the Celtics, he was sidelined and then released by them. He then signed a contract to play overseas Basketball in Italy. After that, he played in Japan, China, Turkey, Poland, and Iran. Playing international basketball was when his heroin addiction started. At one point, he was making $22,000 a month, and spending $12,000 of it on drugs alone (Unguarded, 2011). After He came back to Fresno, he suffered a huge derailment from his career and stopped playing. He had overdosed a few times and had been put in Modesto County Jail following a heroin injection. He eventually entered recovery in a rehab facility and has been sober ever since (9 years).

The talk that Mr. Herren gave specifically to us was moving for me, as I’m sure it was for many of you. There were many points that were very heartfelt and relatable. For example, Mr. Herren’s main goal in speaking to schools like ours is not that he can make a significant impact on the entire crowd, but just one person. One person out of 2,000 means that he has done his job. He shared many stories about the people he has reached throughout his tours around the country. One story was about the only girl in the auditorium who raised her hand to ask a question, who was given the courage to share her story with the people that picked on her. Also, he shared about boy whom he referred to as “Music Marcus,” who walked up to Mr. Herren in the middle of his speech, with tears in his eyes, and gave him a hug. A sad note to that story was when Mr. Herren returned to the school and was informed by the principal that Marcus had killed himself.

The next point that I want to emphasize is a direct quote from something he said in his speech. He had told us that he’d spoken to many professional sports teams like the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, and more. He then proceeded to let us know that he was disappointed in our school. The reason that he gave is something I still think about. He said, “In talking to all these big guys like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Steph Curry and Lebron James, there is one thing that they all had in common. They sat in the front row. Now, I look around this auditorium and I see over one thousand people here, and not one of them is sitting in this front row.” That was very moving for me, and I’m not sure as to whether that row was purposefully vacant or vacant by choice, but it stuck itself in my brain. What I took away from that is if you really want to get better at something, whether it is a sport or a hobby or even an addiction, you must be willing to sit at the front lines and be an advocate for your own change.

Chris Herren’s talk with the Mount Saint Joseph Community was very insightful and hopefully inspired many to become an advocate for their own change. We thank Mr. Herren for his time here at Saint Joe and hope to have him back in the future.

“Motivation, Dedication, and Concentration”: A Talk with Mr. Kevin Shearer

Mr. Shearer, a long-time member of the counseling department, former administrator and current Theology teacher, has an interesting past and vibrant history. I had a chance to sit down with him and discuss his 19 years here at MSJ, and his time elsewhere.

Mr. Kevin Shearer reviews with a class of sophomores.

Starting in High School, Mr. Shearer has learned the Xaverian way, and came to like it. He did not go to Mount Saint Joseph, but he went to a different Xaverian High School, Our Lady of Good Counsel, although all three of his boys attended the Mount following in the footsteps of a Xaverian education. Staying the course, he attended Georgetown University, a prestigious Catholic college. There he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service, and a Masters degree in Ethics, and Foreign Policy. He also went to Harvard University, and earned a Master’s degree in Education. He then attended other colleges like Loyola, Columbia and Penn to earn degrees including advanced studies and counseling. Mr. Shearer is a well-qualified individual for the learning environment.

Mr. Shearer’s first job in education was as a teacher at St. Camillus School, in Silver Spring. He has held positions such as principal, superintendent, and counselor. In terms of his favorite, he loves teaching just as much as he loves his other positions that he has held at schools. During his time as a principal, he believed in the ideas of trust and respect. “I told my students that if we were going to hold a successful school environment, we need to be trusting in one another. That is why I made the students keep their lockers unlocked at all times. A community where there is stealing from one another, is not a good community.” During his various teaching stints, he taught many subjects including English, History, Theology, and others. “I love teaching as much as the next guy, but I believe in the kids. Teaching isn’t all about what you are teaching, but who you are teaching. The kids come first.”

“I told my students that if we were going to hold a successful school environment, we need to be trusting in one another. That is why I made the students keep their lockers unlocked at all times. A community where there is stealing from one another, is not a good community.”

Mr. Shearer teaches Theology to freshman and sophomores now. He says that his ministry is to serve wherever he is needed, and do what he is called upon to do. “If I am called upon to do something that will benefit the community, that is what I want to do.” He thinks that teaching again puts him in touch with his roots, and the addition of the iPads is a new challenge to get used to. He has a specific teaching style, and enforces it every day. As a student of Mr. Shearer’s, I can say that his teaching style is nothing I have ever seen. Every day, Mr. Shearer says to his students, “You are an intelligent and good man, prove me right today.”

On a personal note, Mr. Shearer has done many things in his life. He has met the Beatles, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Saint Mother Teresa. He is married with 3 boys, all who graduated from MSJ, and appreciates the Xaverian way. He loves sports, and has even coached sports here at Mount Saint Joseph. He is a Washington sports fan, for all Washington teams.

Mr. Shearer reviewing terms related to the Old Testament with his sophomore class.

Mr. Shearer has been at the Mount for 19 years, and he has seen it change a lot. He remembers the addition of the new buildings, like the Smith Center, Plevyak Field, the Library, and Founders Hall. One thing that he noticed that has stayed the same has been the teaching. “I believe there are caring and compassionate teachers in every room who care about the Xaverian way, and will help you throughout anything.” He believes that they want to form their students as human beings, and instill spirituality and influence their minds.

I asked Mr. Shearer what he thinks is it the most important aspect of the environment at MSJ. He said “There are 3 things I believe will never change here. They are Motivation, Dedication, and Concentration.”

Brad Howell ’19 is on Twitter @BradHowell34.

Joey Johnson – Standout Freshman Photographer


Joey Johnson, ’19 is the only freshman ever to take photography as a class. To accompany his work being displayed in this week’s Art Show, he explains his essence as a photographer:

1.) What got you into photography?

Going on fishing trips in the Patapsco with my father got me into photography. I wanted to record our father/son memories as well as capture the environment around us. I was particularly interested the ruins of old buildings and structures around the river.

This lead to my passion for Urban Exploration (Urbanex for short) Photography. I go into and explore abandoned buildings to photograph them. My inspiration for this is that I feel I’m preserving pieces of history.

2.) How does it feel to be the only freshman ever in photography? How did you get in?

Determined, I contacted and talked to Mr. Bienek, and sent him a few of my best photos. Luckily, in my persistence and in my photos, he saw something that made him think I was ready for the class.

I am very grateful that he took a chance on letting me take the class because it has turned out very well. I have gotten A’s for all three marking periods so far, and I love taking the class. The upperclassmen treat me with respect. I appreciate them and their love for photography, and I think they feel the same way towards me.

2016-04-17_14608543883.) What inspires you to take the photos you take?

Most people never think of going inside these derelict buildings because they seem scary or ugly, so in my photos I try to let them have a look inside and show that there is still beauty in decay. My photos are very important to me because they not only save the beauty of these buildings before they’re demolished, but they also remind me of the great adventures I had with my father and my friends.

4.) What are some of the places that you have gone to take pictures?

On my most recent Urbanex adventure, my father and I drove 200 miles to a town in the Poconos to explore an abandoned honeymoon resort. It was an amazing experience, and I hope to have many more like it.

5.) Where is your favorite place to take pictures?

My favorite place to take photos is Ilchester, MD, mainly because I have made countless memories exploring there and taking photos with my friend Stephen Mosberg, who also goes to St. Joe. In the summer, we like to walk from his house down to the river and the abandoned houses nearby.

6.) Do you hope to pursue a career in photography?

I hope I will pursue a career in photography in the future. My dream job is to travel the globe as a National Geographic Photographer, to take pictures of the wonderful world we live in.

* To see more examples of Joey’s work, visit @jmjohnsonphotography on Instagram.