Principal Moves Up to Superintendent

St. Gregory Barbarigo Principal Cathleen Cassel is moving up in the Catholic School world, leaving a grateful parish behind


Father Joseph P. LaMorte, Pastor of St. Gregory Barbarigo Church in Garnerville, with Principal Cathleen Cassel, recently named assistant regional superintendent of Rockland. LaMorte said Cassel will be missed at St. Gregory's.

In seven years Principal Cathleen Cassel had established herself as a well-regarded and steady force at St. Gregory Barbarigo Catholic School in Garnerville. She oversaw an increase in enrollment and maintained the school’s positive reputation and educational performance.

Now, she’s moving up in the world, as she’s been named by the Archdiocese of New York the assistant regional superintendent for Rockland County. The assistant will be dropped from the title after one year if all goes well and then Cassel will be in charge of setting the path to the future for seven different schools in Rockland County.

Cassel takes the job during a critical period of time as Catholic schools are implementing the new “Pathways to Excellence” initiative intended to rescue the system during tough financial times. Cassel told the Rockland County Times one reason she applied for the job is that she wanted to help implement Pathways.

“It’s basically to help sustain Catholic schools,” Cassel said. “To make strong school stronger and to support weaker ones.”

There are 50 different areas of focus in Pathways, but one basic change is the funding mechanisms Catholic schools will receive beyond tuition. In the past, the seven parishes with schools supported those schools alone. Now all 18 Rockland County parishes will provide subsidies to Rockland’s Catholic school district.

Makes sense since kids from all 18 parishes can go to a Catholic school. The whole point of the Pathways project is to make the transition “seamless to parents and kids,” Cassel said. So while she will be busy working behind the scenes to change the administration of the schools, the faithful may not notice any of it.

Father Joseph P. LaMorte, the pastor of St. Gregory Barbarigo’s Parish, dide not hid his emotions when asked how he really felt about Cassel leaving. “I’m disappointed that we’re going to lose an excellent principal, but I think I knew she had makeup of someone in a supervisory role….it’s very sad to lose the leader of the school,” he said.

Father LaMorte will be in charge of finding a replacement for Cassel.

The changes at the parish take place during the parish’s 50th anniversary jubilee.

Parishioners have been celebrating the found of the church in 1961 and the school in 1963. Cardinal Edward Egan visited the parish in January and is hopefuly in June 2013, Cardinal Timothy Dolan will cap off the jubilee with a visit.

Coming up on June 21 the parish is holding a golfing fundraiser and the Rotella Course in Haverstraw. There will also be a parish picnic at the close of summer in which LaMorte said a car is likely to be raffled off in a fundraiser.

The school and parish had an interesting start, LaMorte noted. The Catholic Church bought 55-acres of property in the area in the late 1950s and upon setting up the church, sold the surrounding property to mostly young Catholic families who worked as police officers and blue collar workers in New York City.

As such, the church had its flock built right into the neighborhood.

The school opened in 1963 and LaMorte noted that the tuition was quite a bit more affordable back then. In fact, there was a time when there was no charge for Catholics to go to Catholic school.

Unfortunately as tuition has gone up, so have property taxes for public schools. As such, Catholic and other private schools are at a disadvantage in the marketplace, which is one reason the Pathways to Excellence project has been launched.

Cassel and LaMorte both said that school vouchers or tuition tax credits would be a great boon to private schools. There has not been much reason for hope in New York, or many other states, however.

Catholic School students rate at or above public school students in measures of academic excellence, Cassel said.

Seeing is believing, most people who have observed Catholic school students notice their better manners and discipline. Cassel said this is because they learn in a “Christ-centered” environment where their faith is kept in the forefront.

Catholic schools do not shy away from taking on low-income students, Cassel noted, and scholarship programs are in place for many.

Cassel said the achievement she was most proud of in her tenure at St. Gregory’s is the fact the she “has happy kids who get a quality education.” She also noted that during her tenure enrollment boosted, although partially because other schools closed.

In the past decade four of 11 Catholic schools in Rockland closed, but the church hopes that has leveled off and there is bright future ahead. Cathleen Cassel is positioned to be one of those steering the local Catholic school system into that future.