Named in memory of former St. Clare’s pastor, Father Struzzieri
WINDSOR TERRACE — Whether it was helping someone find a place to live, get a job or just talk about their problems, Father Andrew Struzzieri was more than just a sympathetic parish priest — he was a guardian angel.
One recipient of Father Struzzieri’s generosity was a struggling young immigrant who turned to the priest for help many years ago and is now determined to assist others.
Father Struzzieri, the pastor of St. Clare’s Church, Rosedale, passed away from cancer in 2020 at age 73, but that immigrant he helped is making sure his name lives on, by establishing an endowment at the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens.
The generous donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, reached out to Foundation Executive Director John Notaro to get the ball rolling. After the priest’s family gave the effort their blessing, the Rev. Andrew L. Struzzieri Memorial Endowment Fund was born.
“Father lived his life by the Gospel, and he inspired so many people. For us to receive a call from this donor, and to hear how his life was shaped by Father is just inspiring,” Notaro said. “Father showed him the way and it stuck with him so much that he wants to continue the legacy. We feel privileged to help this donor to make this a reality.”
The endowment is dedicated to supporting immigrants and refugees in the Diocese of Brooklyn who are in dire financial need. The funds will be used for such items as:
** Paying for household furnishings for those newly arrived in the country
** Providing one-time, emergency housing or medical assistance
** Supplying gift cards to cover grocery costs
** Covering tuition costs for short-term vocational training programs
** Assisting with government-imposed immigration document filing fees.
Notaro did not put a dollar amount on the endowment but said there is already enough money in the fund to help a handful of people. The foundation is accepting donations to the fund at cfbq.org/fatherandy.
Father Struzzieri’s generosity went global. NYPD Det. Ruben Cespedes remembers being a lonely, homesick 18-year-old in the Army stationed in South Korea. He took a chance and called the rectory of his church, St. Matthew’s. Father Struzzieri picked up the phone and the two talked for hours — with the priest offering encouraging words to keep the young man’s spirits up.
“Our phone calls became a regular thing,” Cespedes said. “Fast forward: I came home and we became best friends. There has never been a trial in my life that he didn’t know about.”
The night before he graduated from the police academy, Cespedes called his friend.
“I was going through a lot of trial and error. Father said, ‘When you want something you have to pray. You have to believe in your prayer. And you have to believe that God is going to make it happen,’ ” Cespedes said.
Father Struzzieri attended Cespedes’ graduation ceremony. He also officiated at Cespedes’ wedding to his wife Melanie and baptized the couple’s three children.
Leilosa Imasuen, who worked for Father Struzzieri in the rectory at St. Clare, saw his generosity up close.
“He was just so kind. His door was always open. The rectory was like a home. If you needed to speak to him, no matter what was happening with him, you could talk to him. He always had time for everyone,” she said.
Father Struzzieri, who was ordained in 1975, served in a number of churches in the diocese. He served as an assistant at Our Lady of Mercy, Forest Hills, (1975-76) and St. Matthew, Crown Heights, (1976-88). He was the pastor of Our Lady of Refuge, Flatbush, (1988-99) and St. Matthew’s, (1999-2012). While at St. Matthew’s, he also served as administrator of Our Lady of Charity, Brownsville. In 2012, he was assigned to St. Clare.
Rodney L. Pepe-Souvenir met Father Struzzieri in 1998 when he was pastor of Our Lady of Refuge.
“I went to a Mass there. He said the Mass both in Spanish and in Haitian Creole, which really impressed me,” she said. “I was not a practicing Catholic, but my husband had recently passed away and I was drawn to speaking to him about dealing with that grieving process. He helped me.”
Pepe-Souvenir went to see Father Struzzieri about six weeks before he passed away. She brought a group of Our Lady of Refuge School alumni with her.
“They were so excited to see him and tell him what became of their lives. He was just over the moon to speak to them and to find out this person is an engineer and that person’s a real estate broker,” she said.
Chiara Montalto-Giannini, Father Struzzieri’s niece, said the endowment is giving the family comfort.
“The endowment is forever. His ray of light will continue to shine. In some way, shape, or form, it will go on. That’s really beautiful,” she said.
The fact that the endowment was started by an anonymous donor is fitting, Cespedes said. “That was father, too. He didn’t do things because it would make [him] look good. He did things because it was the right thing to do. It speaks volumes that the donor is keeping quiet,” he said.
Like the parishioners he touched, Montalto-Giannini was inspired by Father Struzzieri.
“His life was being a priest. That was front and center for him,” she said. “I would go to his Masses and hear people talk about how much they loved him. In life, we don’t often take the time to know one another, engage in interaction, and communicate. And that was at the heart of what he did.”