St. Patrick High School honors young student diagnosed with cancer

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2022

St. Patrick High School honors young student diagnosed with cancer

Brendan Nelson, a second grader at St. Robert Bellarmine School on Chicago’s Northwest side, was the honorary captain for the St. Patrick High School home opener basketball game against St. Viator. Brendan was diagnosed in August with medulloblastoma brain cancer and had surgery to remove the tumor. (Photos courtesy of Arnold Origenes)
Brendan runs through the players' tunnel. (Photo courtesy of Arnold Origenes)
Jack Doelger, a senior at St. Pat’s, makes a strong man pose with Brendan. (Photo courtesy of Arnold Origenes)
(Photo courtesy of Arnold Origenes)
Brendan poses with St. Pat students. (Photo courtesy of Arnold Origenes)

When administrators at St. Patrick High School reached out to the family of Brendan Nelson, a second grader who was diagnosed with a brain tumor just before the beginning of the school year, to see what their students could do to help, Brendan’s mother asked for one thing: Do something to make Brendan feel special.

So Brendan, 7, was made an honorary captain of the varsity Shamrocks basketball team for its first conference game this season. When he and his family arrived at St. Pat’s gym for the Dec. 3 game, he was greeted with balloons and fist bumps from the players, and received a jersey with his name on it.

The team won, 60-46, over St. Viator High School.

Brendan, a student at St. Robert Bellarmine, ran out on the court with the players and presented the game ball to the officials. The student section was filled with high school boys in orange T-shirts — Brendan’s favorite color — that read “Brendan strong,” and when the students began chanting Brendan’s name during the game, he was so happy he got up and danced.

“He thought it was the best thing,” said Mary Beth Nelson, Brendan’s mother. “We keep playing the videos over. The coolest thing for him is when the whole student section started chanting ‘Bren-dan! Bren-dan!’”

That was exactly the reaction that St. Patrick assistant principal Paul Csongradi was hoping for.

“One of the things we do ingrain here at St. Patrick High School is getting out to the community and helping others,” Csongradi said. “Being able to do that for Brendan made it a very special night for our guys. There were no questions asked about why we were doing this. We had over 150 of our boys there to cheer him on. … It was great to see from a teacher standpoint and as an alum myself.”

Csongradi said everyone the school reached out to wanted to help, including American Silkscreening and Embroidery in River Grove, which donated all the T- shirts.

The night was fun not just for Brendan, but for his whole family, his mother said. Her older son, Sean McGing, graduated from St. Patrick, 5900 W. Belmont Ave., in 2018, and her brother and several cousins went there. Brendan is the youngest of Nelson’s four children, two in their early 20s and a sister in fifth grade at St. Robert.

There is also a strong connection between St. Patrick and St. Robert Bellarmine School, with about a dozen St. Robert’s eighth graders planning to attend St. Patrick next year, Nelson said.

That might have made it easier for Brendan to relax and have fun, something that the whole family missed after he was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma in August.

Brendan had to have surgery to remove the tumor, and after a biopsy showed it was an aggressive type, he had six weeks of both chemotherapy and radiation. The basketball game came during a break in treatment, before he had to return for another course of combined inpatient and outpatient chemotherapy at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

The wallpaper on Nelson’s phone is a picture of Brendan laughing, before he got sick, she said. When Brendan was in treatment, “every time I would look at my phone, I would wonder if I’d ever see that happy kid again,” she said.

The basketball game offered an opportunity for Brendan to smile and laugh again, with the support of the team.

“Obviously, it was a little overwhelming at first,” Nelson said. “But one of the players, Sean White, he came over and said, ‘We’re going to run out together and I’m going to hold your hand.’ It was such a night of feeling good. He was like a star that night.”

Senior basketball captain Timaris Brown said he was impressed by Brendan’s ability to have fun after what he’s gone through.

“It felt good having him be a part of the team, and calling him out to the starting lineup,” Brown said. “The whole team felt really good about walking him out and dapping him up when he first got there. He seemed happy.”

“It was an amazing night,” Nelson said. “Unbelievable.”


  • catholic schools
  • cancer

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