Dr. Fauci, on Coronavirus Front Lines, Formed at Regis High School

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has emerged for many as the voice of reason and integrity as the nation confronts the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Much of that he learned at Regis High School, a no-tuition, Jesuit-run boys’ college-prep school in Manhattan that is renowned as an academic haven.

Fauci, a member of the class of 1958, told a group of alumni last May that attending the school “was the best educational period I could ever have imagined having.”

Fauci is also a graduate of College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., another Jesuit institution, and Weill Cornell Medicine, then called Cornell University Medical College.

The alumni address was part of a return to Regis by Fauci, now 79 and known for his power walking, who, while not a household name at the time, was apparently nearing the end of a long career in government service working for six presidents.

“I take great comfort in knowing that when he speaks that he is speaking the truth and nothing but the truth,” Father Daniel Lahart, S.J., Regis’ president, told National Catholic Reporter.

Father Lahart now supervises a school, like most across the country, confined to online classes as COVID-19 disrupts normal life.

The priest said Fauci has exuded integrity throughout a career, which, before this latest outbreak, was best known for raising the alarm about HIV/AIDS at the highest levels of government in the 1980s.

Fauci has emerged as a no-nonsense truth-teller in the latest crisis. While President Donald Trump has been prone to what have been criticized as overly optimistic daily briefings, it’s been Fauci, frequently standing behind the president, who has tempered the optimism, whether it has been about the possibility of miracle cures or the hope of returning to business as usual.

During Fauci’s visit to Regis last year—he also visited a biology class at the school before talking to alumni—he waxed nostalgically about his four years at Regis. Regis students come from all over the metropolitan region, picked out as eighth-graders from the smartest boys from far-flung parochial schools.

The students often tell tales of heroic commutes. For Fauci it consisted of a couple of bus rides as well as two express subway trains, for a 70-minute, one-way ride to school from his home in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. He was captain of the basketball team, and if there were games and practices in Harlem, or in the Bronx, the ride home could take nearly two hours.

Regis students also were expected to do three hours of homework a night, a discipline he takes to public service. On the first day of his freshman year, he recalled, the Jesuit dean of discipline, Father Flanagan, changed his name from Anthony to Tony, and it stuck.

Fauci said he navigated through six presidential administrations in Washington, D.C., by being decidedly apolitical and nonideological.  He earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. 

Now Fauci is the public face of another dark struggle. At his Regis talk, Fauci was asked if there was anything that kept him up at night. He responded that his days are usually so long that he always sleeps well. But there was, he said, an issue that worried him when he was awake, namely the emergence of a virus that attacks the lungs, similar to the one that killed millions during 1918 and 1919. “I worry about a pandemic,” he said last May.

Now, less than a year later, his worries are a reality and he has emerged as the public face of the fight against coronavirus. He appears concerned yet unflappable.

“Right now, there is something he’s trying to figure out. He enjoys the challenge,” Father Lahart said.

A video from Regis High School of Fauci’s visit may be seen at https://youtu.be/3hpWUciWKXg. —CNS

Feuerherd writes for National Catholic Reporter.

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