Monday, January 27, 2020 - Updated: 1:22 pm
St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights is showing love and support for one of its students by adopting a new dress code.
Hats can now be worn to show solidarity with senior Eli Swierczewski, who is battling cancer. He wears a hat after losing his hair following treatments.
“For me at least, knowing Eli has made me realize how strong people can really be,” said senior Ava Swanson. “His positive personality affects everyone around him every day, even though he may not realize it.”
Eli’s type of cancer, Ewing sarcoma, is a rare form that attacks the bones or soft tissue around them. Eli was diagnosed with the disease when he was in the seventh grade, but treatments were successful in achieving remission. A recent check-up, however, revealed spots on his lungs.
The hats are courtesy of a donor, and they were given to the school’s 150 students during a Jan. 17 gathering. Kimberly Minick, assistant principal, reminded the students that they aren’t meant to provide comfort, but to give support.
“We are trying to work through this,” Minick said later. “We are trying to find ways to show support.”
Principal Beverly Kaniecki described Eli as a “quiet leader” who doesn’t like attention. “He is the one who is teaching us courage and perseverance,” she said.
The school’s efforts reflect its mission to grow in relationship with God and neighbor, Kaniecki noted. She pointed to the “bELIeves” T-shirts that also demonstrate support for Eli.
“We’re believers,” she said. “We believe in Eli.”
Kaniecki added that basketball opponents such as Greensburg Central Catholic, Aquinas Academy and Springdale have shown their support by wearing the shirts prior to recent games.
Eli is an excellent student, and has been a member of the soccer, basketball and baseball teams. “He has many circles here,” Minick said.
Senior Dominic Fellowes noted the positive impact that Eli has had on his life.
“Eli and I have become brothers since I transferred to St. Joe’s,” he said. “Playing baseball and basketball with Eli has truly been something special. I could never ask for a better teammate, and he has always pushed me to play my hardest and to never quit.”
Junior Andrew Sullivan described Eli as “an example of positivity,” adding, “His optimism and positivity is incredible and it rubs off on my life. He makes the best of every situation, and that’s what amazes me every day.”
Eli is one of four siblings with ties to St. Joseph. Two are graduates, and his younger sister, Alyssa, is a junior. He plans to study engineering in college.
His mother, Pam Swierczewski, said St. Joseph High is something special. Her children are proud of it, and as a parent, she knows the sacrifices families make to send children there are well worth it.
“Every time we turn around there is another idea,” Pam said of the efforts to help Eli and their family.
Noting that other schools have recognized Eli’s struggle, she said, “It’s infectious in the community.”
He travels to Philadelphia to see a specialist as part of his cancer treatment. To help support Eli’s family, the hats, long- and short-sleeve “bELIeves” shirts and two types of bracelets — “Pray for Eli” and “Play for Eli” — are being sold. Information is available by calling the school at 724-224-5552 or visiting www.saintjosephhs.com.