Steven Virgadamo, associate superintendent for leadership formation of the archdiocese, received the Msgr. John F. Meyers Award from the National Catholic Educational Association at the organization’s convention last week in Cincinnati.
He was one of five recipients from across the country recognized April 2 with The President’s Awards that are given in the names of past NCEA presidents to honorees who model the characteristics that advance the mission of Catholic education.
The Msgr. John F. Meyers Award is presented to an individual “who has provided substantial support for Catholic education through contributions in the areas of development, public relations, scholarship programs, financial management or government relations.”
Virgadamo, who also serves as executive director of the Curran Catholic School Leadership Academy of the archdiocese, said he remains “humbled and honored” by the award.
“All I ever set out to do was to serve Him well, and to make sure that young people had opportunities to encounter the Risen Christ in our schools, and use the gifts that they have been given, by their actions and words in life, to spread the Good News of the Gospel message.”
Throughout his career in Catholic education, the NCEA calculated that, in a consulting capacity across the country, Virgadamo has worked in 120 dioceses in 6,000 Catholic schools and, as a result, was responsible for the formation of 10 board members in each school, or 60,000 lay leaders in boards of schools. He helped those 6,000 schools raise more than $500 million in new funding through philanthropic giving, ensuring those schools’ futures are secure through strategic planning, improved governance organization and effective marketing.
“The one thing I noticed in the 6,000 Catholic schools,” Virgadamo said, “is that the single biggest difference between a school that was able to not just survive, but flourish, was the leader in that school.
“I say that, knowing that a third of the Catholic schools in the country right now have a wait list. The one ingredient that those Catholic schools that have a wait list have, clearly, is a very strong leader in that school.”
Virgadamo said part of the reason he came to the archdiocese four years ago at the invitation of Dr. Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools, “was to work in forming a generation of new leaders for Catholic schools because if this legacy is going to continue, it’s going to be dependent on who we have leading those schools.”
He said he was fortunate to be in a generation that was formed by men and women religious, and wants to pay that forward and continue to form the leaders who are going to be able to “rewrite this script for Catholic schools.”
In accepting his award, Virgadamo acknowledged his mother and late father who nurtured him in the Catholic faith and made the decision to send him to a Catholic school.
“That decision,” he quipped, “really was a precursor to my future because in elementary school, I spent so much time in the principal’s office that by the time I graduated from elementary school and they handed me that diploma, I had the equivalent of a master’s in school administration.” In that vein, he credits the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who taught him “how to run a successful school.”
The award, he said, also goes to all those who formed him personally in the field, particularly through their mentoring, guidance and formation from an educational or pedagogical perspective as well as spiritual formation.
Born in Brooklyn, he attended Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal School, Ridgewood, and Christ the King High School, Middle Village, both in Queens.
Before coming to the Archdiocese of New York, he worked for four years as director of the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, in leadership formation both on campus and throughout the country. He cited the good example of the Congregation of Holy Cross Fathers and Brothers there and when he was dean of student life at Holy Cross High School in Flushing, Queens, where he began his career in Catholic education.
Virgadamo said his favorite Gospel message is the Tranfiguration, and it is there that he made a parallel to his work in his remarks at the awards dinner.
“This is a lifetime achievement award. There’s still a lot more work to be done. So let’s all of us get back down that hill. And my call to the people at the dinner was, let’s begin to identify, recruit and form this next generation of lay leaders.”