Mark Rienzi, Monsignor Farrell Class of 1993, is a modern-day Renaissance man, similar to those historical figures high school students are forced to read about in Global Studies. You know the kind: Intelligent, well rounded, knowledgeable in every field and accomplished beyond belief. The kind Farrell has a history of producing.
But what separates Mark from a lot of other graduates is that he recognized what Farrell had given him way sooner than most.
During his four years in Oakwood, Mark did a little of everything: he played freshman baseball, acted in school plays, competed in intramurals, wrote for the Lion, was on the Student Council, joined Forensics and was a member of the Pro-Life Club. For good measure, he was president of the National Honor Society and Math Club. And those are just a few of his accomplishments.
Not surprisingly, the Ivy League came calling. Mark went off to Princeton, where he would major in English, graduate with honors and most importantly of all – as he puts it – met his future wife Edna. He went on to Harvard Law School, edited the school’s Law Review and again graduated with honors.
He clerked at the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals and worked in the Appellate and Supreme Court litigation group at the firm of WilmerHale LLP.
He is now a professor of law at Catholic University of America in D.C., teaching constitutional law, the First Amendment, religious liberty and evidence. He is a three-time winner of the Teacher of the Year award, as voted by the school’s law students. Impressive yes, but just the tip of the iceberg.
Mark Rienzi is recognized as one of the nation’s top experts in First Amendment cases on behalf of pro-life individuals and organizations. A year ago, he made national headlines when he argued and won the case of McCullen vs. Coakley at the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned a Massachusetts law that outlawed peaceful conversation on public sidewalks near abortion clinics.
In what constitutes as his spare time, Mark is senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, where he and his colleagues won two religious liberty cases at the Supreme Court dealing with challenges to the government’s contraception mandates and concerning the right of prisoners to peacefully exercise religious beliefs. He is currently representing the Little Sisters of the Poor in their petition before the Supreme Court, seeking protection from the government’s contraception guidelines.
He has written extensively for the Stanford and Harvard Law Reviews, the New York Times and National Review, and is the first person many television and radio networks call when they need an opinion on a particularly complex law case.
He lives with Edna and the couple’s three daughters – Evie, Anna and Lucy – in the DC area.
But among all the things he has written, and taught, for tonight at least, nothing is more poignant than a letter he wrote to Doug McManus, Farrell’s assistant principal at the time, two months into his Freshman year at Princeton in October 1993.
“Since I’ve been at college,” he wrote, “I have realized a lot about the education I received in my four years at Monsignor Farrell. Most of the students with whom I live and study attended schools with far-reaching reputations, like Regis, Bronx School of Science and Stuyvesant … or graduated from prep schools like Exeter and Andover. I can honestly say that I have yet to feel any less prepared for college than any of them.
“I realize now that I have been given an equal and in many ways superior education than anyone who went to the trouble of commuting to the City each day …”
He went on to say that Farrell had also given him a bonus. “In addition to the quality of education … Farrell also taught us to be more than students,” that it taught him how to adjust to the demands of the world.
He then closed with something that is just as relevant today as it was 22 years ago:
“I thank you,” he wrote of the faculty and administration, “on behalf of the present and future students who will benefit from all that Farrell has to offer. It is your dedication which keeps Farrell head and shoulders above the pack.”
Tonight is Farrell’s turn to thank Mark Rienzi for being the embodiment of the Farrell man, a true Vir Fidelis.