By Michael Rizzo
FLUSHING — An anniversary celebration for Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy (ICCA), Astoria, will honor an alumnus who won a nationwide battle on behalf of 9/11 first responders before that day’s terror attacks led to his own death from cancer.
Now, the late New York City police detective Luis Alvarez will be remembered not only for a legislative achievement in Washington, D.C., but for a new fund that carries his name into educational efforts for local youths, reflecting a faith that was nurtured at Immaculate Conception.
The Immaculate Mary Stewardship Fund-NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez Award has been established to assist families of limited means who want their children to experience a Catholic education at ICCA.
The fund and its roots in Alvarez’s diligence for others are part of the stories to be passed along at the school’s 97th-anniversary event on Oct. 17 at Terrace on the Park in Flushing. Four additional members of the school community will be honored, and good times are planned for the classes of 1970, 1971, 1995, and 1996 as they celebrate their 50th and 25th anniversaries.
The school’s leadership and Det. Alvarez’s family members will be on hand, thinking of the salute to Catholic education and the salute to their brave member of the NYPD.
“We feel blessed to honor [Alvarez] for his service,” said Diane Pisido, chair of the ICCA board of trustees and a school alumna herself. “We discussed this with his family,” she added, “and they agreed that Lou would be very pleased to help families in need to attend Catholic school.”
The full story has aspects that go far beyond Astoria.
“It’s always been my parents’ dream to give back to the school in my brother’s name,” said Phil Alvarez, Det. Alvarez’s brother. Alvarez’s parents, Aida and Felipe, who were Cuban emigres to the U.S. in the 1960s, still reside in Immaculate Conception parish, and all their children attended the school there.
On Oct. 8, the Alvarez family made their own $10,000 contribution to the new fund. Phil Alvarez said additional donations to the fund had reached $10,000 early this week.
Luis Alvarez was a major force behind the U.S. Congress’s passage of the “Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund,” which President Trump signed into law in 2019.
That success came shortly after Alvarez died of cancer he contracted following months he spent in recovery work amid the remains of the World Trade Center.
Alvarez was outspoken and tireless in trying to secure healthcare funding for first responders and volunteers even as he endured chemotherapy and multiple surgeries in his own battle.
“It’s heartwarming and heart-wrenching to honor him at the place that is the home for our faith,” Phil Alvarez added about Immaculate Conception. “The school and parish were our comfort, our harbor in a new world,” he said. “The faith that the school allowed our parents to pass along to us as children came out in Lou’s sacrifice years later.”
Phil continued, “[Luis] told his sons, when you believe in something important, you follow through to make it happen … When you have faith, you follow through no matter what.”
“Immaculate Conception was our beginning, it taught us community,” Phil Alvarez recalled. He said of his brother’s legislative victory, “We never expected Lou’s community to grow to hundreds of thousands who were helped because of him.”
He said support for the Immaculate Mary Stewardship Fund–N.Y.P.D. Detective Luis Alvarez Award could enable more children to get a Catholic education: “Community starts at home, in our church, and you never know where that sense of humanity in the church will take you.”
In addition, the school’s celebration of community, with dining and entertainment, will salute Astoria restaurateur Rocco Sacramone, whose daughter attends ICCA, plus alumni JoAnn Falletta, Richard Haray, and Matthew Troy.
“We think of all our honorees as distinguished people who are models for our students,” Pisido said. She added that fundraisers to help potential students for the academy are needed because “the concern of families about the cost can be intimidating.”
Information about attending or supporting the Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy 97th Anniversary Celebration can be found at iccaastoria.org/97.