Birkenheuer House and Gym are named after John L. Birkenheuer, OSFS. Father Birkenheur served as a priest at Salesianum for 41 years. He coached several sports teams, taught Latin, and served as the Athletic Director from 1956-1960. Those who knew him well recall the special place that coaching had in his heart, particularly for his nine seasons as head varsity basketball coach.
Father compiled an impressive record during his tenure but was humble about his success in the same fashion he encouraged his players to be. "Win with humility, lose with dignity" were the words that always found their way into his pre-game prayer and instructions. He and his athletes had many opportunities to practice the humility he advocated.
Salesianum never had a losing season under his leadership as he compiled a 134-41 record (a .765 winning percentage) and collected Big Five titles in four of his nine years. Though he shrugged off the accolades he would personally achieve, he claimed to get most of his plays from Wheaties boxes and cheerfully gave credit to the hard play of the boys he coached Father Birkenheuer was recognized many times for his efforts.
The Delaware Basketball Coach of the Year in 1954, the CYO's Rev. John J. Sheehy Award in 1977, the Salesianum Alumni Service Award in 1982, and induction into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame in 1988 are but a few examples.
But beyond Father Birkenheuer's success as a coach in terms of wins and losses, he will best be remembered for his spirit—a spirit he possessed every time he walked onto the gym floor, a spirit he sought with great success to pass on to his players. For Father, each moment of the day was an opportunity to give his best to God, whether at home, in the chapel, in the classroom, or in the gym. His winning percentage can be measured, but his impact on the lives of those he served as priest, teacher, and coach is beyond calculation.
Father Birkenheuer exemplified the ideals and teachings of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of Salesianum, who sought to serve God in every action of his day, both the ordinary and the extraordinary, and in so doing, drawing closer to Christ. As an Oblate priest, Father fulfilled his vocation by bringing this message to life for his students and athletes through his words and actions. He was well-loved by the students he taught, coached, and counseled in his many years of service to Salesianum. After he died in 1994, the school gymnasium was named in his honor. His spirit lives on at Salesianum in the heart of every student who strives to reach his God-given potential while remaining humble in his success and dignified in his times of difficulty.