BENSONHURST — Students of St. Athanasius Catholic Academy became ambassadors for all parochial school students in the Diocese of Brooklyn Thursday as they bid a special goodbye to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who retires on Nov. 30.
The students filled St. Athanasius Church across the street from their school for the “thank you and goodbye” prayer service on behalf of all schools in the diocese. The parish’s pastor, Msgr. David Cassato, presided. He is also vicar of Catholic Schools.
During his 18 years guiding the diocese, Bishop DiMarzio was a champion for quality and affordable Catholic education in Brooklyn and Queens.
Under his leadership, Catholic schools managed to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic — some even grew enrollments — while public schools shuttered.
Also, during the bishop’s tenure, diocese elementary schools had a 2.5 % enrollment boost and created an online Catholic elementary academy.
Following the service, Ted Havelka, diocesan director for enrollment, said that the top half of the diocese’s 70 elementary schools added 1,009 new students this year.
To show appreciation, diocesan Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tom Chadzutko announced the creation of two Angel Scholarships in Bishop DiMarzio’s name. The awards will pay the annual $1,500 tuition for two students, one in Brooklyn and the other in Queens.
“Wonderful,” is how the bishop described the awarding of the two scholarships.
“We’re trying to make our schools affordable to everyone,” Bishop DiMarzio said after the service. “There has to be some ‘buy in’ from the parents, but for most of them, they can’t afford the whole thing. So we subsidize it and that’s important.”
“I always give a scholarship myself, but then to have one in my name is really very enlightening and really appreciated,” he said.
Diane Competello, principal of St. Athanasius Catholic Academy, led students in presenting several keepsake gifts to Bishop DiMarzio.
“When we put the event together, we really wanted to do something from the children,” Dr. Chadzutko said. “All of his 18 years here with the diocese, Catholic education was always (Bishop DiMarzio’s) priority. He always spoke about praying with the children, listening to the children, getting the children to laugh.
“I think it’s fitting that we had an opportunity to bring the children of St. Athanasius together and all the children of the diocese to give him an actual farewell for all he’s done,” the superintendent added.
Bishop DiMarzio smiled broadly throughout the service and expressed profound gratitude for the students’ appreciation. He urged them to never forget what they’ve learned in Catholic schools.
“Catholic education is so important,” he told the students. “It’s important to me, it is important to you, to your parents, to our Church and to our world. Because here you really learn well; you have academics here, but also you have good values that we share.
“You understand your faith, because that faith is what gets us through this life,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “If we have no faith, life can be very hard, very difficult. By being good students and by working hard in school, we’ll make sure you have a great future as you’re growing up in this difficult world.”