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Saying Thanks to Teachers Who Changed Their Lives

Their work completed, members of the alumni of La Salle Military Academy celebrate the installation of the statue outside the chapel of Christian Brothers Academy with members of the Christian Brothers and academy representatives. Pictured, from left: Matt Mattera, Brian Sullivan, Dominick Cusumano, Brother Ralph Montedoro, Marty Bevilacqua, Claire Mattera, Anthony Giammona, Artie Capone, Vinny Mattera, Brother Joe Brienza, David Quan, Donna Toscano, Jackie Hunter, Mike Toscano and Mike Sullivan. (Photo: Courtesy of Mike Sullivan)

La Salle Military Academy Alums Show Love for Christian Brothers

MARINE PARK — A group of friends, who went to La Salle Military Academy together in the mid-1970s, wanted to show their appreciation for the Christian Brothers who taught them and made them the men they are today.

Initially, they weren’t sure how. But then they decided to erect a statue in honor of the Brothers. And so stands a five-foot-high marble statue of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, on the grounds of Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft, New Jersey.

It’s there because La Salle Military Academy, the boarding school run by the Christian Brothers, closed in 2001. Another reason: a few of their former teachers are still around, living on the campus of the Christian Brothers Academy. 

“We were happy to do it. We’d do anything for the Christian Brothers. That’s how much they mean to us,” said Mike Sullivan, who spearheaded the endeavor.

Sullivan and friends Marty Bevilacqua, Anthony Giammona and Dominick Cusumano were students at La Salle Military Academy in Oakdale, New York.  

They say the memories they shared and the deep love they have for the Christian Brothers influenced their decision to get the statue erected.

“I grew up with a tough crowd when I was young,” Bevilacqua said. “I was in and out of trouble. When I got to La Salle, my life turned around. The brothers nurtured me. And I grew really close to the guys in my class because we all lived together.”

They obtained the statue from the Diocese of Brooklyn, transported it to the Christian Brothers Academy, built a base for it, and, after several months of planning, installed it there in July, 2021.

It all started with a simple phone call in 2020. Donna Toscano, administrative assistant at Christian Brothers Academy, got on the phone to her old friend Sullivan. They both grew up in Marine Park and attended Good Shepherd Church as kids.

Toscano called Sullivan for help after a conversation she had with Brother Ralph Montedoro, the retired principal of Christian Brothers Academy, who taught at La Salle Military Academy years ago. Brother Ralph told Toscano that he would love to see a statue outside the chapel on the academy’s campus.

“I called Sully because he knows everyone. I figured he would know where to get a statue,” she recalled.

Sullivan, owner of Brennan & Carr, a famed Sheepshead Bay restaurant, does indeed know a great many people. Still, this was a daunting task. “I got off the phone with Donna and said to myself, ‘How am I going to pull this off?’ But I never say no to anybody,” he said.

After months of searching and coming up empty, Sullivan was having dinner with a friend, Peter Castellana, and they ran into Father Jim Cunningham, associate pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Belle Harbor, Queens. Father Cunningham told them about Msgr. John Bracken, the director of patrimony for the Diocese of Brooklyn. 

Msgr. Bracken is the man in charge of safeguarding statues and other religious artifacts from churches that have closed. The items are stored in a warehouse in Bushwick he oversees.

Sullivan reached out to Msgr. Bracken and asked him about obtaining a statue — a trickier undertaking than it might seem. “We don’t sell statues for someone to put on their front lawn,” Msgr. Bracken said. “But since this was to be a gift to the Christian Brothers, I had them come to the warehouse.”

Sullivan and his friends picked out the statue of St. Joseph and Jesus and gave an $8,000 donation. The next challenge: getting a statue that weighed hundreds of pounds from Brooklyn to Lincroft, New Jersey.

Luckily, several of the La Salle alums own businesses dealing with construction. Bevilacqua is president of Oceanville Mason Supply. Giammona owns Wholesale Marble and Granite. Cusumano is the owner of Cusumano Construction Inc. 

Working together, they transported the statue to Bevilacqua’s shop in Rockville Centre, New York, where a concrete base was built for it. 

“You can’t just install a statue on grass. It will topple over,” Giammona explained.

At the Christian Brothers Academy, a hole was dug and a foundation was built for the base. Once that was done, the statue was put in place, and dedicated with a prayer service.

The Christian Brothers are grateful. ​​And for Brother Ralph, it sparked memories. “For me it was like being back at La Salle, seeing all the men working together and reliving so many of the memories we had while we were all at the academy. The spirit of generosity and caring was planted in their hearts by their parents, nourished by the Brothers and staff of LaSalle to help create the wonderful men of today,” he said.

“It was wonderful of the guys to want to give something back to the Christian Brothers,” Toscano said. 

“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Cusumano said.

One thought on “Saying Thanks to Teachers Who Changed Their Lives

  1. Thank you Paula, for sharing this beautiful story of love, devotion and friendship. These truly are selfless, remarkable men. They were bonded by the brotherhood they shared at La Salle and it continues today. They would do anything for each other and even more for those in need. I’m so grateful for their friendship.
    With my deepest gratitude, Donna Toscano