Shown from left to right are Chaminade Principal Bro. Joseph Bellizzi, S.M. '78; Mr. Robert Casella, director of maintenance; Mrs. Lurdes Mendes, banquet manager and cafeteria staff; Bro. Richard Hartz, S.M. '59, director of development emeritus; and Chaminade President Bro. Thomas Cleary, S.M. '81.
Robert Casella, Bro. Richard Hartz, S.M. '59, and Lurdes (Maria) Mendes were honored as Founders of Chaminade High School at the annual Founders Dinner Thursday, Jan. 31. Among the highest honors given to a member of the Chaminade Family, the Founders Award is presented to individuals who have exemplified the school's mission – their dedication has been outstanding in the continuous creation of the Chaminade idea.
Recipients range from faculty members, parents, students, alumni, alumni parents, grandparents, and friends. The Founders Award is a special recognition which reminds us that Chaminade is the work of many, and we stand on the foundation poured by those before us.
Especially in recent years, the Chaminade campus has become something of a small city. Any municipality has a good infrastructure manager. Bob Casella is ours.
When he started as a mechanic in September 1991, he recalled, "All we had was a school and a garage on the corner!" Bob maintained and repaired the school's fleet of vehicles – including some you might not expect. He remembers a time he had to drive from Kellenberg Memorial to Chaminade on a Ford tractor – the kind you'd more likely see on a dirt road than Old Country Road.
"I was driving this tractor through the middle of Nassau County, on busy roads, past the courthouses," he said with a smile. "I thought, 'what am I doing?'"
The longer Bob was here, more facilities were added to the school campus. His background made him perfectly suited to take over as maintenance director and facilities manager in 2003. He applied his knowledge of automobile repair to solve problems on a larger scale – correcting electrical or air-conditioning issues, for instance. There are now more than 20 members of the maintenance staff Bob coordinates; in the early days of his career here, there were six or seven.
Bob has also shared his family with ours. Bob's wife, Judy, was a mainstay on the cafeteria staff for 21 years. Judy passed several weeks ago. Her spirit will remain with us always. Judy and Bob's son, Joseph, graduated from Chaminade in 2001. Every day is different, Bob said. And he loves that about his work. It is fitting for Bob to be named a founder of Chaminade High School – his work keeps it up-and-running.
Bob reflected, "Chaminade has been great to me. I've tried to do the same for them."
Bro. Richard Hartz, S.M.
He had a route delivering the Long Island Daily Press before getting a job at the A&P. Richard Hartz was stocking shelves, ringing up groceries at the checkout, and paying his own way through high school.
"I didn't know much about Chaminade before I took the entrance exam," he remembered. "I do know Our Lady wanted me to come here."
After graduating in 1959, he followed the Blessed Mother's call into the Society of Mary. Bro. Richard took his first vows in 1960. He taught German and, in 1978, began working with the Alumni Association. He added director of development to his responsibilities in 1994.
"I got to teach young men and then get to know them as mature adults," Bro. Richard said. "My role has allowed me to do that. It's been a wonderful experience."
For many years, Bro. Richard was the reason many of us knew what was going on at school. He moderated the Photo Service, edited the Chaminade News, and spoke to thousands of alumni at events from Long Island to California. All of that allowed Bro. Richard to know, and be known by, much of the Chaminade Family. In fact, he is the longest-tenured faculty member in the school's history.
One could not imagine Chaminade without Bro. Richard. The school may also credit many of its programs and projects to his fundraising work. Bro. Richard stewarded the annual Torch Fund since its inception in 1987. Since then, more than $30 million has been passed back to families in the form of tuition abatement.
A founder of Chaminade High School in every sense, Bro. Richard considers his time with us, "a marvelous grace."
Lurdes (Maria) Mendes
Meals bring families together. Whether we're celebrating a special occasion, discussing a challenge, or simply catching up, there's often a table between us. Twenty-five years ago this month, Lurdes (Maria) Mendes started preparing meals in the Chaminade kitchen.
"What I remember about that time is how I felt welcomed into the family right away," she said. "The brothers and I cooked together for a few school events, and we made a great team."
It wasn't long before Maria's responsibilities grew from feeding students in the Courtyard Café to managing supplies for every on-campus event. Maria is a familiar face during and after school to students, parents, and the entire Chaminade Family.
She laughed, saying, "We've known each other a long time!"
One of Maria's staple servings is her smile. She loves seeing Chaminade's young men every day and reconnecting with them years later at events. Her own son, Daniel, sat at the family table as a student, graduating from Chaminade in 2007. It's not uncommon for students in the cafeteria to join in singing "Happy Birthday" to Maria or her coworkers.
"The kids are very friendly. They say 'good morning.' I enjoy them very much."
Perhaps the most important ingredient Maria brings to Chaminade is the joy she shares with others. She has left a mark on every meal and every event. Maria's is a special seat at our table.
"I'm extremely proud of this unbelievable honor," she explained. "Not everyone can say they love their jobs, but I can."