Diocesan News

Gravesend Family Cares for Children of Hit-and-Run Victim

By Tim Harfmann

When their friend and fellow parishioner Francine Labarbara was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Gravesend, Our Lady of Grace parishioners Lisa and Anthony Guarino opened their home and hearts to Labarbara’s teenage sons, who they will raise along with their three children. (Photo Tim Harfmann)

It was a commitment Anthony and Lisa Guarino never thought they’d have to fulfill until their friend, neighbor and fellow parishioner at Our Lady of Grace Church, Francine Labarbara, was killed by a hit-and-run driver last month.

“Fran came to us and asked if anything ever happened, would we take care of her boys? And, of course, we said we would,” said Lisa.

On Dec. 11, Labarbara was struck by the hit-and-run driver and died feet from her Gravesend apartment. She was 57.

“Every other day there’s an accident on the corner,” Anthony said. “I said, ‘oh, another accident.’ I came in the house, sat down, put a cup of coffee to my mouth and the phone rang.”

The Guarinos, who have three children of their own, knew their family was about to grow. “Automatically, I knew I had five kids,” said Lisa. To protect them during this difficult time, the Guarinos asked us not to identify the twin boys, who are 16 years old.

The Guarinos feel they have a special connection to the boys. Anthony knew Labarbara her entire life.

“Every time you saw her she was always smiling, happy. Happy-go-lucky. Friendly with everybody. Looking to help all the time, with the Church all the time,” said Anthony.

Labarbara attended Sunday Mass, organized church events and volunteered at the parish’s Catholic academy. The twins asked Anthony to be their sponsor when they received the sacrament of confirmation. Currently, the teenagers are altar servers and Boy Scouts as well as honor students at their Catholic high schools. Now, the Guarinos are helping the boys cope with their loss.

The stop sign on the corner acts as a memorial for Labarbara. There is still caution tape from the day of the accident.

“The holidays were very difficult, so that was pretty tough on all of us. We have our good days and we have our bad days, but for the most part, they’re good and they’re getting better,” said Lisa.

Father Vincent Chirichella, pastor of Our Lady of Grace, isn’t surprised that Anthony and Lisa took the boys into their home.

Family Tradition

“The Guarino family really came to meet the needs of these two boys. [It] is really a testament of what we believe in at Our Lady of Grace – that we are a family with a ‘family tradition.’ And it really is a testimony to how they are living out their faith,” said Father Chirichella.

A bench will be installed and dedicated to Labarbara at the outdoor grotto next to the church. She’s a friend and mother who will not be forgotten.

“It had to be God or Jesus that put us on the same path,” said Lisa, who hopes that Labarbara knows “we’re doing all we can to raise her boys the way she would have.”

The Guarinos said other parishioners continue to stop by their house with money and food for the boys. Their high schools have created trust funds so the twins can go to college.