Brianna Caliri and Joshua Bunch are inspired each day they step into the Father Vincent Capodanno Catholic Academy on Staten Island where Cardinal Dolan led a ribbon-cutting dedication and blessing of a Father Capodanno statue Jan. 21.
“Since I was in third grade, I heard story after story about him,” said Brianna, an eighth-grader. “You work to be a better person every day because you see the statue, you think of the stories and we pray (for his intercession) every morning.”
Brianna and Joshua were both students at St. Adalbert School, which featured a playground named for Father Capodanno about 15 years ago. St. Adalbert and Holy Rosary schools merged for the 2020-2021 school year and became the Father Vincent Capodanno Catholic Academy, which is located in the former Holy Rosary School and has 310 students in grades 3K through eight.
Father Vincent Capodanno, M.M., a Staten Island native and Maryknoll priest, was a U.S. Navy chaplain who was shot 27 times and died while ministering last rites to a wounded Marine in Vietnam on Sept. 4, 1967. He was awarded a Medal of Honor posthumously and a navy ship, the USS Capodanno, was named in his honor. His cause for canonization opened in 2002 and he was proclaimed a Servant of God in 2006.
“At St. Adalbert, I learned a lot about him,” said Joshua, an eighth-grader. “He always went the extra mile and he wanted to help others. It inspires me to do better and inspires me to put others before myself.”
Joshua added, “I was a little sad because I’ve been at St. Adalbert since I was in kindergarten, but this building is really nice. I like being here.”
Diane Hesterhagen, principal of the academy, served as principal of St. Adalbert for 23 years before the current school year and was friends with Father Capodanno’s older brother, the late James Capodanno.
“Many people knew about Father Capodanno and now many more will,” she said. “This school will be a school that cultivates citizens with strong faith and patriotism.
“I feel something wonderful has happened with the merger of the two schools. We meshed two wonderful school communities and the new adventure is beginning”
Mrs. Hesterhagen served as master of ceremonies at the outdoor event that included the Pledge of Allegiance, the singing of the National Anthem and an opening prayer from Father Michael Martine, pastor of Holy Rosary.
Guests included Auxiliary Bishops John J. O’Hara and Edmund Whalen; Msgr. William Belford, who is regional dean for Staten Island and pastor of St. Teresa’s parish; Msgr. Peter Finn, retired regional dean for Staten Island; Michael Deegan, archdiocesan superintendent of schools; Zoilita Herrera, regional superintendent of Catholic schools for Staten Island; Staten Island veterans; and members of the Capodanno family.
“I’m grateful for our wonderful Catholic schools because they teach a sense of duty,” Cardinal Dolan said. “It’s about a sense of responsibility and a sense of duty, a sense of duty to God, a sense of duty to our country, a sense of duty to our church and a sense of duty to the common good, the welfare of others.
“Jesus said it, greater love than this no one has than to give his or her life for another. Father Vincent Capodanno, the Servant of God, did it well.”
Cardinal Dolan closed his remarks with a hopeful thought shared by Mrs. Hesterhagen and the many others who have been inspired by Father Capodanno’s story.
“The only wish that I have on this beautiful morning is that one day I’ll be here to rededicate this to St. Vincent,” said the cardinal, drawing applause from everyone attending the ceremony.