Combinatorics. It’s an area of mathematics that is hard to pronounce and even harder to understand. But not for Fr. Arnold Perham, CSV. This year he’s been working with members of Saint Viator High School’s Math Team, specifically the oralists, to prepare them to answer questions about this way of counting and arranging, especially as it applies to computer science. They will begin competing in February at regionals sponsored by the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Understanding these difficult concepts — last year he developed problems that incorporated ChatGPT and AI — keeps Fr. Perham young. He turns 94 years old today, making him the oldest Viatorian in this country.
When asked what he plans to do to celebrate, he quips: “Not much.”
Of course, he wouldn’t have it any other way. Fr. Perham lives in the retirement wing of the Province Center in Arlington Heights, where he begins each day at Mass with his confreres, before catching up on local and world news in several newspapers, and then developing math problems for his students on the computer.
Having the ability to continue working with students, still drives him. In providing a testimonial for Saint Viator High School, where he taught for more than 50 years, he says: “Teachers strive to make a difference in the lives of each student.”
And for Fr. Perham, that most definitely is true, judging by the number of his former students who write to thank him. Most recently, a graduate from the Class of 1969, sent a brief note.
Conrad Rubinkowski was the captain of the school’s It’s Academic team, which competed in televised quiz show competitions in the 1960s and ’70s. He also was a National Merit Finalist and a member of the Math Team.
He went on to earn a law degree and served for 30 years in the General Counsel’s Office of the Illinois Commerce Commission in Springfield. Now, some 54 years after he left Saint Viator, he still remembers the impact of teachers like Fr. Perham.
“Fr. Perham is never far from my thoughts,” Rubinkowki says. “He and my other Saint Viator teachers remain the gold standard of STEM instruction.”