Faculty Spotlight: Peddie’s Chaplain, Mr. Onion

Claire Chen ’24

Between his roles as chaplain, teacher, and coach, nobody passes through Peddie without knowing Mr. Onion. Every Monday and Friday, all Peddie students and faculty gather in Ayer Memorial Chapel, the heart of Peddie, with Mr. Onion guiding the programming. 

Standing at the Chapel podium, Onion seems at home. As a gifted speaker, the words flow from his mouth and across the rows of pews, galvanizing his audience of Peddie students. His voice rolls, slow and steady, booming and sonorous. He urges everyone: Live in the present. Live every moment of your youth. 

Rather than hiding his message behind flowery language, Onion delivers the crux of his speeches bluntly, in the simplest language possible. Accustomed to speaking to crowds of teenagers, he knows what will catch his audience’s attention. 

When teaching, Onion breaks all the conventional rules of the classroom. Sitting in the center, surrounded by his students, he commands the entire room with ease. As the school year progresses, Onion naturally familiarizes himself with each and every student in his classes, learning about their personalities and the workings of their minds. Having taught for countless years and formed bonds with countless students, Onion has developed the senses to read people with unnerving accuracy. With this understanding of what each student needs, he is never afraid to call someone out, helping them confront their weaknesses. Rather than coddling his students or lightly encouraging them, he firmly practices tough love, telling them what they need to improve on. At the end of each class, Onion surveys his class and speaks directly to them, not as a teacher, but as someone who has learned to navigate life. 

Onion said, “My life has been a practice of being with people very different from me,” a fact that he accredits to sports rather than books. Always looking to share his experiences with his students, Onion connects his sports stories to his humanities lessons, teaching his class about human interactions and life beyond books. Onion explained that he fell in love with fencing, which quickly became his “go-to release.”  His fencing bouts have taken him all over the country, and as a result, he said, “I have met fascinating people, really fascinating people. We stab at each other, and then we take off our masks and talk. Sports humble people. The exertion does. So, when you sit across from that teammate or that opponent, there is an openness.” 

Every year, Onion teaches his students about the different characters in epic stories, including the mentor-figure, someone wiser and more experienced, who introduces the hero to the fantasy world. In Lord of the Rings, this mentor is Gandalf. In the Percy Jackson series, this mentor is Chiron. At Peddie, Onion plays this mentor role for many freshmen, introducing them to their new world at Peddie and helping them find their paths. Onion strives to guide every member of the Peddie community to find happiness in life. He tells students: “Be yourself, and be happy in being that self. And your real education is fully learning who that self is.”