By Michael Rizzo
That’s the question Msgr. David Cassato, pastor of St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst, said he asked when he was told that he had been selected as a chairman’s honoree for the Josephine Foundation Follow Your Dreams dinner on June 21 at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, N.Y.
Andrew Koslosky, Chairman of the foundation, had the answer when he introduced Msgr. Cassato to the evening’s more than 300 attendees. He cited Msgr. Cassato’s work as a priest, pastor and NYPD chaplain.
Koslosky said Msgr. Cassato embodied the spirit of the Josephine Foundation and, like the other honorees, served “God and all His people.”
“He’s got a direct line to the an above,” Koslosky said later, pointing his finger heavenward. “He’s revered by the communities where he’s served. He’s compassionate. He’s a leader.”
Msgr. Cassato said he saw the honor as less about him and more about helping the causes of the foundation — which, among other things, supports the Bishop Mugavero Residence for Retired Priests at the Immaculate Conception Center (ICC) in Douglaston.
“They help the senior priests,” Msgr. Cassato said. “And I’m becoming one soon,” the 72-year-old added. “But they also get young people to develop their talents. They do it through the arts. They work at having young people develop skills that they can bring forward to other parts of their lives.”
The Josephine Foundation provides grants to groups that conduct arts and sports activities. The foundation has staged theatrical productions at ICC and has donated funds to the Center. It also supports groups at parishes throughout the Diocese of Brooklyn and said it has given away more than $4 million in grants since its awards dinner began 17 years ago.
“This is for a lifetime of work, not just one thing,” said Charles Bertolami, a lifelong parishioner from St. Rita’s in Long Island City who said he met Msgr. Cassato when the new priest was assigned there in 1972. “He’s an inspiration.”
“He listens. He’s attracted to people who have needs and he wants to assist them. He’s an everyday person and when he meets you he comes to your level.”
Cassato family representatives included monsignor’s niece, Eileen Cassato Durante who grew up in St. Jude parish in Canarsie but now lives in St. Francis de Sales parish in Belle Harbor.
“He’s dedicated,” she said of her uncle as her father, Robert, monsignor’s brother, stood nearby. “He gives back much more than he gets. It’s in his heart. It’s an honor to be here to see him being honored.”
There were no acceptance speeches but Msgr. Cassato made a point to congratulate fellow award winner Bob Reid who was honored, in part, for his support of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Academy in Bayside.
Msgr. Cassato heaped praise on all his fellow honorees.
“There are many others more influential than me,” he said. “But I want to use this to let people to know about the good work this Foundation does.”
Good works by Msgr. Cassato himself can come in unexpected ways and one occurred even before he was ordained. His friend Richard Forte said when his own younger brother was born, his mother was unsure what to name her new son.
She decided on David. Her inspiration? The living example of Richard’s 14-year-old friend David Cassato.
“The shepherd in him wants to change the culture for the better,” Koslosky said when asked what people should know about Msgr. Cassato.
It was another answer to the question of “why me?”