‘Children Need to Be in a Classroom,’ Msgr. Cassato Says
BENSONHURST — Getting students back to school and doing it as safely as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic is the top priority of Msgr. David Cassato, the new vicar for Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
The title was formerly known as vicar for Education.
“Children need to be in a classroom,” Msgr. Cassato told The Tablet. “It’s very critical that we open our network of Catholic schools. Of course, a lot is going to depend on where the governor is on this and what decisions he makes.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has stated that he will decide when and how New York’s public schools will re-open after being closed since March due to the pandemic. The diocese will monitor the developments and then decide how and when to reopen its school buildings.
Msgr. Cassato said he plans to work closely on a plan with Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, the superintendent of schools in the diocese, and Joseph Esposito, the former commissioner of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, who has been tapped to head a task force on school reopening.
Esposito chaired a previous task force that worked with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio on reopening churches.
Msgr. Cassato, pastor of St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst, knows Esposito well. Esposito, who is also a retired New York Police Department chief, is a St. Athanasius parishioner. Msgr. Cassato is a NYPD chaplain.
Bishop DiMarzio named Msgr. Cassato vicar for Catholic schools earlier this month. He succeeds Auxiliary Bishop James Massa. Bishop Massa is leaving the post to become the new rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Dunwoodie, New York.
Msgr. Cassato’s new job will mean that this very busy man is about to become a lot busier.
In addition to his position as pastor of his beloved “St. A’s” and his work as an NYPD chaplain, he is a member of Community Board 11 in Bensonhurst. He also sits on the Board of Trustees of Maimonides Medical Center.
He can make it all work, he said. “I have wonderful priests in my church and my staff is great. When you have that kind of support, you can do it.”
He is becoming vicar at a tough time for Catholic education. The diocese recently announced the permanent closures of six Catholic academies in Brooklyn and Queens. The key reason for the closures was the financial problems in the schools that were exacerbated by the pandemic, according to the diocese.
Msgr. Cassato, who holds a Master’s Degree in Science, Education and Administration from Mercy College, said a main part of his mission will be to work to increase student enrollment. He plans to do this promoting the diocese’s schools.
“We have to get the message out about how great our schools are. There are still children and families out there who are reachable. A tremendous outreach is needed. You have to be out there and you have to be involved. We should be talking about how our schools are very diverse. We have been educating people of color, minorities and immigrants for years,” he said.
There are signs of hope, he said. “Look at the CCD programs at churches,” he said. The St. Athanasius CCD program has an enrollment of more than 600 children, he said.
A major roadblock to Catholic education for many parents is money. Msgr. Cassato said he recognizes that and is prepared to address it by working with Futures in Education to inform the public about available scholarships. Futures is a scholarship program established by the non-profit Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn & Queens.
CORRECTION: The original version of the article had the incorrect seminary Auxiliary Bishop James Massa will be heading. It is St. Joseph’s Seminary and College.