Rafael Torch
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Torch, Rafael 36, passed away peacefully on December 12 after a courageous four year attempt to eradicate sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. In the end he was at his home surrounded by close family and friends. A native Chicagoan, Rafael was born on August 15, 1975. He spent his coming of age years in Cleveland, OH where he graduated from Benedictine High School. He also graduated from Antioch College and obtained a Master's Degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago in 2005 where he received numerousacclaims for his writings including the Illinois Arts Council Literary Award. Rafael dedicated his life to impacting lives of high school students. As a teacher at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, The Latin School of Chicago and The Meadows School in Las Vegas, NV Rafael influenced hundreds of minds as he challenged his students to rise to their greatest potential. His students had a profound impact on his life and he cared for them deeply. Rafael was also a committed, passionate writer who drew upon personal experiences to find inspiration. Rafael, whose award-winning work and vivid essays have appeared in many journals including Crab Orchard Review, Antioch Review, the North American review, as well as other on and offline publications, wrote with honesty, insight and wit. In his honor the annual Rafael Torch Scholarship was established so that promising high school student writers can attend the Young Writer's Workshop at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. Rafael is survived by his beloved wife, Emily Olson-Torch, a beautiful 4 month old son, Rocco James; his parents, Tom and Tari Sweeney; a sister, Caitlin all of Shaker Heights, OH; uncle Chris Torch of Stockholm, Sweden; uncle Lee (Cathy) Clasper-Torch of Providence, RI; mother-in-law, Cyndy Olson, sister-in-law Amanda (Justin) Anderson, brother-in-law Trent Olson, nephew, Ryker Anderson, niece, Dessa Anderson - all of Morris, IL, as well as numerous cousins and friends. He is preceded in death by his grandparents Carl Torch and Sondra Hamilton, as well as his father-in-law, James Olson. Visitation will be Wednesday, 4 to 9 p.m., at Drake and Son Funeral Home, 5303 N. Western Avenue, Chicago. Funeral services Thursday, 10 a.m. at Fourth Presbyterian Church (126 E. Chestnut Street, Chicago), where Rafael and his family are members. Interment will immediately follow at Evergreen Cemetery in Morris, IL. Arrangements entrusted to Dignity Memorial. Because education played an integral role in Rafael's life, preferred form of remembrance may be directed to a scholarship fund for his son, Rocco James Torch.


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Published in Chicago Sun-Times on Dec. 13, 2011.
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Memories & Condolences
Guest Book sponsored by Colleen Dieter, Rafael's Cousin
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36 entries
May 2, 2014
Thank you for that. We miss him every day. Keep leading your life as he taught you...in his memory. He would be proud of you. He loved teaching...most especially you students.

Tari, his Mom
May 1, 2014
I miss you.
an old student
December 30, 2011
A poem for Rafa from his grandmother and mother: It was his grandmother's favorite and she was his favorite person - she was instrumental in his being the person he was today. (She was also a teacher! Taught behaviorally and emotionally handicapped children for 45 years) Think of him this way.

Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow

Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it

Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.


We miss you, Rafa. Love wherever you are, Mom, Dad, Caitlin
Tari Torch Sweeney
December 28, 2011
Mr. Torch was my advisor for two years at Cristo Rey. He inspired me to the be the person I am today, he is the reason I chose to be a teacher as well. He had a way to push his students to their full potential and respected their wishes and dreams. He always spoke to us like adults even though we were just 16-17 years old. Even after H.S. he was always there to help with advise and wise words. He will be missed, but his wisdom will live on among his students. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
Mayra Jimenez
December 27, 2011
I knew Rafael when he was a student at Antioch. Already a great writer he became so much more after leaving Antioch. I knew him for a short time but he made a huge impression on me. Changed how I think about teaching and writing.
Rachel Moulton
December 24, 2011
Emily,
I was so sorry to hear about Rafael. He seemed like a wonderful person and will truly be missed by many. I will keep you and Rocco in my thoughts and prayers.
Alba Fulton
December 20, 2011
As my teacher, Mr. Torch helped me grow so much as both a student and a person. He was truly a great man. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
The Cavallaro Family
December 17, 2011
Mr. Torch was one of the two English teachers I have really enjoyed so far. That says a lot because I am not one who likes English normally. Mr. Torch will be missed, but never forgotten.
December 16, 2011
There are people in this world who possess a rare and powerful talent, the ability to impact and change individuals. These people wake you up, make you see things, experience things that forever alter every element of how you view life. They allow you to transcend, and in surpassing the limits that you are all too familiar with, you find yourself. This very occurrence took place, for me, in the classroom of Mr. Torch. His persuasive nature allowed me to transition from a stubborn teenager, to an open-minded and questioning young adult. He taught me how to decipher between things in life that possessed meaning (love, Happiness, the knowledge of death) and things that were insignificant (material wealth, false pursuit, social complications of high school). In bringing this distinction to light, he granted me the ability to fully realize my existence in terms of what it really meant, not how it seemed, he showed me the beauty of living. The wisdom and passion that summarized his role as a teacher are immortalized in the life-altering impact that all of his students share. My thoughts go out to his beautiful family. Mr. Torch, Thank You.
Alayna Haskins
December 15, 2011
It was an honor to know Rafael as a friend and colleague, and to visit his classroom only to be, unexpectedly, as inspired by his teaching as I know his students were daily. My best and fullest thoughts are with his family now.
Sarah D'Stair
December 15, 2011
I have crazy memories of him when we ran around together as teenagers. He grew up to be a remarkable man.
Colleen Dieter
December 15, 2011
Mr. Torch was a great influence on me. I was always frustrated because my writing was never quite up to the mark for him. However, he brought out the drive in me to succeed and become a better writer. Ultimately, I finished his class strongly and to this day regard my strength in writing to him. Asides becoming a better writer, I attained a fresh perspective on life and what it truly means to live, fight, and dream from him. He was undoubtedly one of the best teachers I could ever ask for, and his memory will live on forever. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and his family. Thank you, Mr. Torch. We are with you in Rockland.
Sameera Siddiqui
December 15, 2011
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Dear Mr. Torch,
I don't know what to say. For the past 17 years, I have been surrounded by nothing but control. My political leaders controlling my government, my parents controlling my freedom, myself controlling my grades. Per your request, one of the English teachers gathered all of the Juniors and Seniors in the commons this past Thursday afternoon, reading us the letter you wrote to us. Your words have since then been resonating in my mind ceaselessly.
“They made my white blood cells bionic.”
I had already known this for quite some time. You do not know this, but since the establishment of your blog this past summer, I checked daily to see how you were doing. I told everybody I knew to read your writing and marveled at how amazingly you explained your feelings and situations and experiences and emotions. I wanted so badly to be able to write like you, and I still do. I looked up all of the confusing terminology you spoke of, researched the experimental methods you were undergoing. I wasn't sure why at the time I was doing it, but I felt a need to know what was happening. She continued reading the letter, my mind wandering into the explanations of your treatments and how I would explain it to other wondering students. I had the answers.
“I wanted to be the first to tell you that I am dying.”
Silence, stillness, and shock pierced the room. I did not cry. He is not dead yet, there is no reason to cry, I thought. I am only sorry I have not initiated any form of correspondence since you left in December of last year. I suppose it was because I was faithful that the experimental treatments would support you, that your bionic white blood cells would conquer your three different cancers. I had faith that you would conquer the unconquerable, and that I would congratulate you when I heard that you had done the impossible.
“I do not want to spend the rest of my life checking days off of a calendar.”
It is because I do not know how much longer you will be with us that I write to you. Mr. Torch, I was intimidated by you from the moment I saw your name on my class schedule. We all were. What kind of name is Mr. Torch? That sounds hellish. Little did I know that you were, but for the better. I walked in to meet you by myself on Orientation Day, noting your particularly short stature and large eyes hiding behind thick lenses that seemed to be the only thing on your face in addition to your shaved head and the sleeves of tattoos so foreign to the atmosphere of the Meadows School. I had no suspicion, no expectation that you would be who I thought you were and that you would have such an impact on my life.
I still have all of my notes. All of the powerpoints that made American history interesting and related it to the books we read, all of the notes from the Beat Generation to jazz and John Coltrane to my first exposure to Freudian thinking to the different readings into Huckleberry Finn to the symbolism sprinkled about in The Graduate. I remember all of our discussions from Andy Warhol to mechanization in America to the political turmoil that both plagues and blesses our country to Walt Whitman. I kept all of these notes because you were one of the few teachers in my academic career who truly left an imprint not only in my academic interests but also in the evolution of my character.
I remember the first paper I turned into your class about our summer reading, On The Road, and that just before class started the next day, you handed my paper back. “This is sub-par, Chloe. I know you're better than sub-par. I'll let you rewrite this, but I'll only read this if it is of ‘A' quality.” I knew I was better than sub-par, too, but I needed to hear it from somebody else who believed in me. You pushed me to better myself, and I have since then vowed to myself to never be sub-par in anything I write, say, or do ever again. You said at the end of sophomore year how glad you'd be to see me go to AP English—I did that for you and for myself. I did it before because I wanted to make you proud, but also to prove to myself that I really wasn't sub-par. I know you offered to write me a letter of recommendation, but I'd rather see you spend your time with your family. It makes me happy and comforts me to know that is what you are doing.
We are all so used to the control in every aspect of our everyday lives that we complain of how control is suffocating. I hate that I don't have control over what is happening to you. Nobody does. Your bionic white blood cells have no control, the doctors have no control, neither your wife nor your newborn baby have control, you have no control over your own body. It shakes me to know there is no fixing, there is no bettering you. I just wanted to say thank you for all you have taught me about being a great person and what that means and I want you to know how much I appreciate having had you in my life.
Always remember, I'm with you in Rockland.
Be well, Señor.
Chloe
-------
I wrote this essay for all of my college applications. Mr. Torch, you mean so much to me and I could never do it justice with words like you could. As much as it pains me to see you go, I find peace knowing that you are no longer suffering. My thoughts and prayers go to Mrs. Torch and Baby Rocco.
Chloe Spilotro
December 14, 2011
Mr. Torch was an exceptional writer and an unforgettable teacher. i had his class a year ago, and i think about it often still. what he tought us has never, in my paltry experience, been replicated by any other teacher i have had before or since. always somewhat enigmatic, he seemed to mix a slightly cynical sense of humor with a deep-seated love of truth and people -'the beautiful'. he was brilliant -in short, and taught me how to think, or what 'thinking' really was, i suppose. in any case, it was more than just a class, and i feel blessed to have known him. sending love &good thoughts
Chloe Fennway
December 14, 2011
Mr. Torch always told me that one day we all won't be here and that the only thing we can leave on this earth is a stain like when you spill your coffee on your essay or get pizza on your homework. Mr. Torch's stain in my life isn't just a stain but it's a gigantic spill that B.P's oil spill isn't even close to comparison with. What I'm saying is that Mr. Torch is the most inspirational person I've ever met and he changed my life for the good. He made me wake up and smell the roses. He will forever be missed by myself and the Meadows School. Mrs. Torch, you had an amazing husband and Rocco will one day know that his father touched the hearts of many. My prayers go out to the family. Rest in peace, Mr. Torch. Forever loved.
Ian Holbrook
December 14, 2011
One of my favorite people on this earth. I wish I had more time with him.
Emily...no words. We have to meet someday soon...
John Koz
December 14, 2011
Mr. Torch was undoubtedly the greatest teacher that I have ever had. He was my inspiration, and everything I learned from him will remain with me forever. I send my deepest condolences to his family. Rest in peace, Mr. Torch.
Shivani Dixit
December 14, 2011
Rafael's presence will be missed in the literary community. Our thoughts are with his family in this difficult time.

Kim Groninga
nonfiction editor, North American Review
Kim Groninga
December 14, 2011
Rafael will live forever within the young minds of his former students; thank you for sharing him with them.
Our thoughts and prayers are with you today as they have been over the course of many months. Lauren and David Harvey, parents of Eric and Samantha Harvey.
Lauren Harvey
December 14, 2011
Em
You, Raf and Rocco have been and will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. We love you and we hope you know that you were an angel in Raf's life.
Linda & Randy Poznansky
December 13, 2011
My condolence to Mr. Torch family. He was a great teacher, he brought alot of motivation to Cristo Rey High School and I'm glad that I had a chance to be one of his student. Your son is going to be proud of you when he learns all the accomplishments and impacts you did for yourself and others. You will be missed, and may you rest in peace.
Guadalupe Ceja
December 13, 2011
Raphael and I shared some great times over the years and I am lucky to have called him my friend. Emily, my condolences go out to you, Rocco and your families. Please know that there is always a special place in my heart where Rafael resides and that his memory will be alive and sacred within all those whose lives he touched.
Zachary White
December 13, 2011
Emily, I am so sorry for your loss. There are no words...My thoughts and prayers are with you and Rocco and your entire family during this most difficult time. May you find comfort in the memories that you have shared. His spirit will live on through Rocco. God bless you.

Michelle DeLuties
Michelle DeLuties
December 13, 2011
Dear Emily and family,
We met last winter at the reading that Raphael gave at Antioch. I was so moved by his writing, and the story of your struggle with illness and courage and optimism in the face of that. My deepest condolences to you and your family in this time of loss. Raphael was a beautiful soul, and you both shared what seemed like a rare and momentous love. Dennie Eagleson, Yellow Springs, Ohio
Dennie Eagleson
December 13, 2011
You will be missed but now you are an angel above watching over us.
Esmeralda Navarrete
December 13, 2011
Mrs. Torch
Im sorry for your loss. . .Mr Torch was a great teacher.
Natalie
December 13, 2011
Love to the whole family. Rafael and I had a special connection during his Antioch years, as I was charged by his uncle Lee to support him. It was good to have someone who understood my Quaker commitments in the Antioch context. I am happy I got her hear his reading at Antioch a few months ago. What a loving presence he was on earth!
Cheryl Keen
December 13, 2011
Emily, we were all so sorry to hear about your loss. I was amazed to hear about everything that Rafael accomplished during his lifetime. Our thoughts are with you during this difficult time.
Pam Monaghan
December 13, 2011
Emily and Rocco,
I am so sorry for your loss. Words seem so empty when I know they couldn't possibly begin to fill the hole left in your world with the loss of Rafael. I hope you will surrounded by your friends and family.
Love always
Jamie
Jamie Kolb Conner
December 13, 2011
Emily, I am so very sorry for your loss, and know my thoughts and prayers are with you. Love that glorious son that you both shared and know it is Rafael's spirit that resides in that lovely child.
Julie Coulton
December 13, 2011
I can't tell you how much sadness this brings me, although of course not unexpected. Wishing you strength, love and peace as you work this loss through. Chris Torch
December 13, 2011
Emily, it is with a very heavy heart I hear of your husband's passing. I can't even begin to tell you how sorry I am. Please know that you are in my thoughts, my prayers, and in my heart always. Rafael was a lucky man to have you and little Rocco in his life, if even for just a little while.

Love to you now and always,
Michelle
Michelle Billington
December 13, 2011
Emily, our thoughts and prayers are with you. May the love of friends and family carry you through this time.
Bob Bukala
December 13, 2011
Emily and Rocco:

We are so sorry for the loss of this beautiful and talented man. His legacy of writing and teaching is a gift to his community, his students and his loved one.

Our prayers and thoughts are with the two of you and your extended family as you move through this difficult time. We know Rafael will always be with you and we know you brought him incredible joy and love.

with love.

The Bradner/Burnham family
December 13, 2011
There are no words. The obituary was breathtakingly beautiful. Sending love from Boston.
Kel Kelly
December 13, 2011
Emily, you are in our thoughts and prayers. Please accept our dearest condolences on the passing of Rafael. He was obviously a blessed man to have you as his wife and for your beautiful son. All our love - The Finnegans
Sean Finnegan
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