Diocesan News

St. Bernadette Chairman Says He’s Ready For Challenges Ahead

William Guarinello says the education he received at St. Bernadette School helped prepare him for leadership roles later in his life — like his job as president and CEO of HeartShare Human Services of New York. (Photo: Courtesy of HeartShare Human Services of New York)

DYKER HEIGHTS — William Guarinello retired from his job as president and CEO of HeartShare Human Services of New York on Jan. 1 after serving at the nonprofit agency for 52 years, but retirement doesn’t mean he’ll be taking it easy.

Far from it, in fact.

He now has more time to devote to his passion — promoting Catholic education in the Diocese of Brooklyn. 

“I’m really looking forward to the next chapter of my life, and I’m excited about getting the chance to give more time to things I care about, namely St. Bernadette,” he said.

Guarinello is chairman of the board of St. Bernadette Catholic Academy in Dyker Heights. And he is about to get busier. Impressed by his work at St. Bernadette, Fontbonne Hall Academy recently asked him to join its board.

Guarinello was appointed to the St. Bernadette board immediately after the academy was established in 2015. It had been St. Bernadette School before then. With the establishment of an academy, St. Bernadette assumed responsibility for financially supporting the educational institution rather than relying on funding from the Shrine Church of St. Bernadette, which had sponsored the old school.

Guarinello, who lives in Bensonhurst, is the only chairman the board has ever had in the seven years of the academy’s existence, and he believes the job he just retired from — running HeartShare — was a major reason he was tapped for the role. “I do think I brought managerial skills to the table,” he recalled.

According to Guarinello, the eight-member board operates smoothly because it understands its role. “Schools run into trouble when they don’t know what a board of trustees does. You see cases where a board tries to overstep their bounds. Yes, we are the governance. But we are not the day to day. That falls to the principal. The board is really the supervisor of the principal,” he explained.

“Our job is to really make sure that, first and foremost, the school is solvent and that if it’s running into a bad direction, we have to come up with our plans to make it solid,” he added.

With an enrollment of nearly 300 students, St. Bernadette Catholic Academy appears to be on solid ground. During the pandemic, there was a waiting list to enroll, largely due to parents becoming disenchanted with the public school system and seeking alternatives, like Catholic school. 

But Guarnello sees challenges ahead and said St. Bernadette is working hard to meet those challenges.

Chief among them is the economy. Inflation is the highest it has been in 40 years and the dollar doesn’t stretch as far as it did, meaning that Catholic school tuition is an even bigger struggle for parents. 

Another challenge is the demographic changes in neighborhoods like Dyker Heights, where Italian-Americans who are Catholic are moving out and making way for new residents of other nationalities who are not Catholic. 

“Yes, we’re solid, but I think there are a lot of forces at play. I think the public education system is trying to make a comeback. I noticed the construction going on in neighborhoods like mine. It looks like there’s a new school building going up on every corner,” he said, adding that a free public school might be enticing to a cash-strapped parent.

Guarinello believes strongly in the value of Catholic education because he is a product of it. 

He is a graduate of St. Bernadette School (the former name of the academy). The school first opened in 1953 and Guarinello’s class, the Class of 1962, was the first to start in kindergarten and go all the way to eighth grade. He is still friends with many of his classmates.

St. Bernadette Catholic Academy had so many students seeking to enroll during the pandemic, a waiting list had to be created. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

“I have so many great memories of my time at Bernadette,” he said. “Most of our teachers were nuns, not lay teachers, and there was a closeness between all of us.”

After St. Bernadette School, Guarinello went to Xaverian High School and from there, to St. Francis College, graduating with a degree in psychology. “When you add it all up, I’m a product of 16 years of Catholic education,” he said.

Guarinello, a life-long parishioner of the Shrine Church of St. Bernadette, said the things he learned in his childhood at church and in school planted a seed in him that led him to take leadership roles later in life.

In addition to his role at St. Bernadette Catholic Academy, he is chairman of Brooklyn Community Board 11 and is president of the Fort Hamilton Citizens Action Committee. Mandated by the city charter, community boards function as neighborhood-level city halls and city councils. The citizens action committee, formed in the 1990s to fight plans to close the Fort Hamilton Army Base in Bay Ridge, now works to promote the base.

Guarinello looks back on his years at HeartShare Human Services with a great deal of fondness. 

He first walked into the agency (then called the Catholic Guardian Society of Brooklyn and Queens) in 1970 after a stint in the National Guard. He took a job as a social worker and worked his way up the ladder, becoming president and CEO in 1993.

HeartShare Human Services, which operates schools and provides housing, counseling and other programs for the developmentally disabled, is now the third-largest child welfare agency in New York City, serving 31,000 people a year.

When he started 52 years ago, the Catholic Guardian Society had 25 employees. In January, when he left HeartShare, there were 2,300. “It was gratifying to watch an agency grow and to feel I played a part in that,” he said.

One thought on “St. Bernadette Chairman Says He’s Ready For Challenges Ahead

  1. Bill, his brother and I both graduated from Xaverian HS. While I was a Xaverian Brother I was able to teach him at Xaverian. We have maintained contact through the years. He is a legend in the Diocese and we are very proud of him. It’s great that he is able to devote his time/enegry toward his home parish and school. St. Bernadette’s and Fontbonne Hall will both benefit from his service.