OCTOBER 27, 2020 01:37 PM, UPDATED OCTOBER 28, 2020 03:37 PM
For Brother Eugene Trzecieski, a Christopher Columbus High School educator and mentor, everything was “fabulous,” his students remember.
“No matter what he was doing at the end of the day it was always ‘fabulous.’ That was his word: ‘It was fabulous,’” recalled Claude Roatta, a Class of 1981 Columbus graduate who remembers Brother Eugene’s sign-off to his students after every Humanities and Philosophy of Being class he taught.
Many say you’ll never forget a favorite teacher who made a lasting impact. So it’s safe to say the late Brother Eugene will endure in the memories of the thousands of students he taught in his 52-year career at Columbus, a Marist-run, private Catholic boys’ high school in West Miami-Dade’s Westchester neighborhood.
Trzecieski - but, really, everyone knew him as Brother Eugene - died Monday, Oct. 26, at 92, less than one month from his 92nd birthday, according to Columbus.
MANY ROLES AT COLUMBUS
Until his retirement from teaching 10 years ago, Brother Eugene had taught Latin, philosophy, humanities and English courses at Columbus. He had also once served as academic dean and treasurer. He moderated the National Honor Society for 25 years, created the school’s Student Activities Committee and founded the Columbus Arts Society for Adults and the Erasmus Culture Club for students.
Up until his passing, the nonagenarian still did administrative duties for the school.
Another Columbus institution, the school’s retired president, Brother Kevin Handibode, said of his former colleague: “Brother Eugene was a kind and gentle person who made a tremendous impact on the students, faculty, and alumni of Christopher Columbus High School over the course of 52 years. He was an exceptional teacher that the students admired and respected. He will be greatly missed by all of us.”
A What’s App account dedicated to Columbus High conversations has swelled with memories from Brother Eugene’s students.
“He was one of those teachers at Columbus that made the high school curriculum exceptional and gave us a window into college level education while still in high school. A true polymath who inspired so many Columbus students over the years,” wrote Michael Gibbons, a Class of ‘81 grad who had Brother Eugene for Latin and Philosophy of Being classes.
Brother Eugene taught the latter class, an honors-level, senior-year course at Columbus for 43 years straight.
You had to be on the ball, maybe even fearless, to choose to take one of his electives like Philosophy of Being. Brother Eugene’s intellect — like that of former colleague, the late Nancy Husted, with whom he loved to banter on philosophical matters to students’ bemusement — almost pulsated. You weren’t going to coast through one of his lectures.
“Who else but Brother Eugene would have thought it a good idea to have 20-30 high school guys sit in a classroom and listen to Beethoven or Mozart for 30-60 minutes?” Gibbons wrote.
“Who can forget his musical soirées?” remarked fellow ‘81 alum Igor Velikopoljski.
“I learned to be a proud nerd,” responded Gino Valderrama on What’s App.
Brother Eugene’s motto was, “A mind made noble leads a noble life. The ultimate goal is to search for truth and beauty,” noted Gerardo González, a Class of ‘89 alum and Columbus’ director of campus ministry.
FROM NEW YORK TO MIAMI
Eugene Trzecieski grew up in New York and became a Marist Brother at 17 after high school. He started his teaching career in 1950 at New York’s St. Ann’s Academy and taught at Archbishop Molloy High School. He joined Columbus’ faculty in 1968, where he immediately started to keep the school’s archives.
To commemorate the school’s 50th Anniversary in 2008, Brother Eugene co-wrote the book, “50 Years Exploring Christopher Columbus High School,” with fellow teacher and alum John Lynskey.
HIS BELOVED BRANDY
But education achievements aside, it's other images that also resonate with students, alum, and faculty.
Who, amont them, can forget seeing Brother Eugene walking around the campus tending to his gardens and landscaping or with Brandy, a St. Bernard "that won the hearts of all the students and became the school's mascot," Columbus noted in its obituary.
In 2011, the Columbus family honored Brother Eugene by dedicating one of the school’s outdoor plazas to him. “Br. Eugene Plaza” features a bronze bust of his likeness. “It is a great honor. But the honor is not just for me but for all the Marist Brothers. I do their work, through my hands,” Brother Eugene told the Miami Herald at the time.
“Through all his years as a teacher and a Marist Brother, Brother Eugene was truly ‘a man for all seasons’ and will be missed deeply. He was a colleague who inspired all with whom he came in contact,” said Columbus’ librarian and former principal, Brother Edmund Sheehan.
Miami Herald reporter Howard Cohen was one of Brother Eugene’s Humanities students and recalls the classical music soirées, his amusing banters with Mrs. Husted — and Brandy.