St. Barnabas School raises money for cancer research in alum’s honor

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, March 18, 2020

St. Barnabas School raises money for cancer research in honor of alumn

On March 8, 2020, students and staff at St. Barnabas School in Beverly took part in a St. Baldrick's Day event and shaved their heads to raise money for pediatric cancer research. The event is held annually in honor of Patrick MacNamara, a student who lost his life after an 11-year battle with the disease. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students dressed up for the event walk through the gym before a program begins. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
First grader Patrick McGrath gets his head shaved. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
First grader Craig McShane gets his head shaved. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
First grader Craig McShane gets his head shaved as his mom grabs some pictures. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Students watch their classmates get their heads shaved. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A student with a tattoo on his face watches his friends have their heads shaved. Students could raise money for the event and get tattoos instead of shaving their heads. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Second grader Quinn Griffin reacts after her mom Shannon applies a St. Patrick’s Day tattoo to her face. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Finn McNerney, a second-grader, gets a tattoo on his face. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Editor’s note: This article was written before the Archdiocese of Chicago suspended public liturgies and the schools it operates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The energy inside St. Barnabas School’s gym was palpable the morning of March 6 as the community came together to support pediatric cancer research and to remember a former student who lost his life to the disease.

Music blared through speakers, balloons and decorations in the colors of the Irish flag covered the walls and basketball nets, and students cheered, “We are Pat Mac’s pack!” “Pat Mac” is Patrick McNamara, a student who in 2011, at 13, died from ependymoma — a brain cancer — that was diagnosed when he was 2 years old.

Over 250 students raised almost $40,000 to benefit St. Baldrick’s Foundation and Pat Mac’s Pack. St. Baldrick’s is a national organization that raises money for pediatric cancer research around events where young people and adults shave their heads. Pat Mac’s Pack was started by Patrick’s family to fund pediatric cancer research and to support families whose children are battling cancer.

Many students had their heads shaved during the event, while some female students and teachers had their hair cut and donated to Locks of Love, which uses the hair to make wigs for children with cancer. Instead of shaving their heads, some students chose to have a temporary tattoo put on their faces.

The school, in the Beverly neighborhood, participated in St. Baldrick’s events while Patrick was alive, it became an event to honor his legacy after he died.

“Our entire community looks forward to this day every year — the students and the adults, the teachers and the parish community. It really is a special day that we celebrate each year,” said principal Elaine Gaffney.

Most of the school’s students never met Patrick — this year’s eighth graders were in kindergarten when he died — but Gaffney said they feel like they know him because they have seen videos of him and hear about him each year leading up to the event.

“This school is such a wonderful place, such a special community, in that we really believe that we belong to one another,” Gaffney said. “In times of joy, in times of sadness, the community rallies around one another whether it’s bringing meals to one another, whether it’s something small like children making cards, or something really large and wonderful like today where an entire community pauses and gives thanks for the memories and the legacy of Pat.”

Eighth grader Michael Usterbrowski raised $500 for this year’s event and has had his head shaved for the last eight years.

“I think it’s important that my school does this because Pat Mac died at such a young age and cancer is not something people should joke about. To keep this in remembrance of him, it’s just huge,” Usterbrowski said.

Patrick’s parents and sister attended the event at St. Barnabas and helped present awards to the students who raised the most money. Tom McNamara, Patrick’s father, described his son as a happy kid who endured more than 15 brain surgeries and multiple rounds of radiation and chemotherapy.

Both St. Barnabas school and parish rallied around the family when Patrick was alive.

“It was remarkable at the time because it not only lifted us up but lifted Patrick up,” McNamara said. “He was the happiest kid going, even though he had so many difficulties.”

It is also remarkable that the school continues to honor Patrick, he said.

“They blow us away every year because they continue to not only raise money for an important cause of pediatric cancer research, but that they do it in Patrick’s memory. They have not forgotten him at all.”

One of Patrick’s friends, Claire Mueller, made good on a promise to him during the March 6 event.

“In seventh grade, I cut my hair for Locks of Love. I cut 12 inches off of my hair. Pat kept asking me, ‘When are you going to shave your head, Claire?’” Mueller said. “I told him that day, ‘I promise one day I’m going to do it.’ About two weeks ago I woke up and thought, ‘Alright, this is the year.’”

Patrick was Mueller’s “very, very best friend.”

“He was the brightest light ever. He was the kindest person on the planet. He always wanted to make people laugh,” she said. “He suffered from cancer for 11 years and he believed it made him stronger and it did. No matter what, he was always looking out for other people.”

Seeing and hearing the students cheer “We are Pat Mac’s pack” during the event moved Mueller.

“I was overwhelmed with joy. I haven’t been here in a while and just walking in here and seeing everybody in green and seeing everyone so loudly say, ‘We are Pat Mac’s Pack,’ it touches my heart in ways I can’t explain.”



  • catholic schools
  • st baldricks day

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