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April 2, 2024

For information on admission to Notre Dame Prep, please click here

Alum credits his Marist education for a career practicing law, a lifelong love of theater and a much more relatable faith. 

Dennis Bonucchi ND'69 (back row, right, in burgundy sweater) joined other alumni and choir director Dave Fazzini at a workshop for Alyce at Notre Dame Prep in February.

Notre Dame grad Dennis Bonucchi is among the many alumni participating in the upcoming staging of Alyce. It's the school's first all-alumni musical production, which will be coming to the Meadow Brook Theatre stage in August.

The culmination of a years-long effort by veteran Notre Dame Prep choir director Dave Fazzini, Alyce is a musical fairy tale about an indentured servant, a scarecrow, a witch and a witch finder. It's loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Feathertop,” first published in 1852.

It also will be the first time that Fazzini, who wrote all the music for the play, has managed an all-alumni cast musical.

"It's never been done before," said Fazzini. "The initial response was positive and the enthusiasm has steadily risen. Our alumni have in the past returned and performed at various concerts and video projects over the years and we've had a few alumni choir concerts in the past as well, but this will be different."

For Bonucchi, being part of something different was intriguing after he read about Alyce in a recent alumni newsletter.

"The article indicated that theatre alumni from heritage schools, including Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods, also could apply to join the cast," said Bonucchi, who graduated from NDHS in 1969. "I immediately emailed Dave Fazzini to express my interest, and also to advise him of my past theatre experience at NDHS. He responded by inviting me to an Alyce workshop on Feb. 18 at Notre Dame Prep, where we rehearsed songs from the musical.

Now that he's been cast, Bonucchi feels both "privileged and fortunate to be participating in NDP’s summer production of Alyce."

Not his first Notre Dame musical

It's not the first time Bonucchi will be performing on a stage for a Notre Dame school. In fact, this retired attorney, who excelled on the debate team in high school, was cast in the spring 1968 Notre Dame production of Becket and in Our Town, which was staged in the fall of 1968.

"I became involved with the Notre Dame drama department as a junior," he recalled. "As an all-boys school, all of the women’s parts in every play were performed by Regina High School students since Regina, an all-girls school, was directly adjacent to Notre Dame High School."

Bonucchi graduated from Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods in 1969.

Following his graduation from Notre Dame High School, Bonucchi began his undergraduate education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and graduated in the spring of 1973 with a B.A. in economics from the College of Literature, Science and The Arts.

However, his degree wasn't the only significant thing to occur for him while at U-M.

"During the first week of my senior year at Michigan, I met my future wife, Susan, who had just started the first week of her physical therapy program," he said. "Susan had graduated from Dominican High School in 1970, so we both had Catholic high school (and grade school) backgrounds."

In the fall of 1973, Bonucchi started law school at the University of Notre Dame while his wife-to-be was completing the final year of her program in physical therapy at U-M. 

"Susan and I were married in the summer of 1975, and she moved with me to Mishawaka, Ind., for my final year of law school," Bonucchi said. "During that year, Susan worked as a physical therapist at St. Joseph Hospital in South Bend, Ind."

After graduating with his J.D. degree from UND in the spring of 1976, the young couple moved back to the Detroit area where Bonucchi began practicing law as a commercial litigation specialist with the Detroit-based law firm that ultimately became Clark Hill PLC. Later, he was invited to join Miller Canfield’s Troy, Mich., office as the commercial litigation specialist in its real estate group.

As for family, Bonucchi and his wife have three children, each of whom have degrees from Michigan State University. 

"That always makes for lively and very interesting football and basketball seasons," he said.

Faith, academics and some special teachers

Bonucchi noted that his time at his Marist-managed high school in Harper Woods encompassed four of the most influential years in his life.

"I was very pleased with the academic program at Notre Dame High School," he said. "Given the rigor of the program and the significant amount of relevant homework given in most of our classes, I did not find the transition to the academic demands of college to be that significantly different for most of my classes. In fact, by the time I graduated from NDHS, I had eight hours of AP calculus that transferred to U-M without any difficulty."

He adds that his senior year writing teacher at NDHS, Conrad Vachon, who died in 2000, was truly exceptional.

        Conrad Vachon, NDHS English teacher

"Through his teaching, I learned to write very well, which was of a significant benefit throughout my university education, in my legal practice and throughout my life," he said. "As an example of Mr. Vachon’s influence, the teaching fellow for my freshman writing class at Michigan selected the best writers in the class based on her analysis of our first few papers. These four people were chosen to lead discussion groups for the remainder of the term. Out of a class of about 30 students, she selected myself and two other NDHS students and one other student as the best four writers in the class. That really demonstrated to me how uniquely beneficial my writing training from Mr. Vachon had actually been."

Bonucchi also credits another teacher from NDHS for his later success in college and in his career as an attorney.

"The late Mr. Harold Rice, who also taught at Notre Dame Prep, was my freshman and varsity debate coach at NDHS," he said. "As a result, there were countless hours spent in practice and at numerous debate competitions throughout the Detroit metropolitan area. Mr. Rice also was able to provide me with personal training in the art of persuasive speaking, and in effective debate technique. He truly was excellent as a teacher and as a motivator."

He said that debate teams under Rice’s tutelage always did exceptionally well. He notes that Rice also strongly encouraged him to go to law school and become a lawyer.

"While in college, I was considering going to dental school, and I went to see Mr. Rice at NDHS to ask for his guidance," he said. "Again, Mr. Rice told me that I should strongly consider going to law school and that law would be a much better fit for me and my interests. Obviously, I followed his advice."

       Alexis Bonucchi NDP'97

With respect to the faith aspect of his high school education, Bonucchi found that Notre Dame helped make his Catholic faith more relatable and more personal.

"Importantly, I learned that our faith is not just an accumulation of verbatim teachings from a catechism," he said. "Also, when I got to Ann Arbor, it was my choice to continue on my faith journey even while I was in college."

Connecting more dots with Notre Dame Prep

Bonucchi said his connection to the Pontiac edition of Notre Dame goes even deeper than teacher Harold Rice and excellent debate and drama programs. His daughter in law, Alexis (Burns) Bonucchi, an optometrist currently practicing in Lapeer, graduated from NDP in 1997. 

"Interestingly, on the first day that I met her, Alexis was wearing a Notre Dame Prep t-shirt," he said. "Also, at that time, I learned that Mr. Rice was among both of our very favorite teachers."

Editor's note: Alexis Bonucchi was featured in a 2011 cover story in IRISH magazine."

For information on admission to Notre Dame Prep, please click here.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School 
Notre Dame Preparatory School is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame Prep's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School, visit the school’s home page at