Visitation dads have dandy dinner to help daughters’ school
Visitation Academy is a prestigious Catholic school for girls in Bay Ridge, but on Wednesday nght, it was the men associated with the place who grabbed the spotlight.
The ballroom at Gargiulo’s in Coney Island had a decidedly masculine air as the Visitation Academy Father’s Club held its 42nd Annual Beefsteak Dinner to raise money for the school and to acknowledge the accomplishments of three dads whose daughters are students or who have attended the school in the past.
John Abi-Habib, founder and president of MSI Net, Inc.; Frank Grasso, owner of TGI Office Automation; and William Guarinello, president and CEO of HeartShare Human Services of New York; were all named Men of the Year by the Father’s Club for their efforts on behalf of Visitation Academy.
John Celona, chairman of the Father’s Club Board of Directors, presented the three honorees with plaques and a written blessing from Pope Francis. “Each of these men has given us their selfless talent and support,” Celona told dinner guests.
The Papal blessing was appreciated, Abi-Habib said. “It’s a great honor,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.
Abi-Habib’s daughter is a fifth grader at Visitation Academy, located at 8902 Ridge Boulevard. Grasso’s daughter graduated last year. Guarinello’s daughter is member of Visitation’s Class of 1993.
The dinner, which included a buffet with trays of mouth-watering Gargiulo’s pizza, calamari, pasta, chicken, sausage, salads and other tasty treats, offered the guests plenty of chances to help raise money for Visitation Academy. A Night at the Races event allowed guests to bet on horse races that were shown on a large screen. There were also dice games and at times, the ballroom looked like a Las Vegas casino. “Bet high because everything goes for the benefit of our beautiful daughters,” Celona told the dads at the dinner.
In addition to the horse races and betting opportunities, dinner guests also raised money for the school by buying chances to win dozens of prizes that included tickets to a Bette Midler concert at Barclay’s Center, a free month of membership to Harbor Fitness, an Oster microwave oven, luggage, tickets to Mets and Yankees games, tickets to the Broadway smash hit “Wicked” and golf clubs. There was even an Aero Queen-size bed on the list of prizes.
By tradition, the Beefsteak Dinner is an all-male event – no women allowed – but the guys always make an exception for Visitation Academy Principal Arlene Figaro. “I’m the only woman allowed in!” she proudly told the Eagle. Figaro saw to it that a female reporter from the Eagle was allowed entry, too.
But while it was a boys’ night out, there was no mistaking that the purpose of the dinner was to promote and support educational opportunities for the young females in their lives.
“We are a school that produces confident and smart young women,” Celona said.
The Beefsteak Dinner is just one of many events the Father’s Club sponsors throughout the school year to support Visitation Academy, an educational institution founded and supported by the Sisters of the Visitation, a Catholic religious order of nuns. The school, which educates girls from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, is located on the grounds of Visitation Monastery in Bay Ridge.
The Visitation refers to Luke’s Gospel in the New Testament describing Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary is pregnant with Jesus Christ while Elizabeth is pregnant with John the Baptist. Elizabeth tells her cousin, “Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
The Father’s Club sponsors a father-daughter Valentine’s Day Dance, an ice skating day, a golf outing and a Communion breakfast among other events. The fathers also organize the school’s Field Day, a day in which the grounds of Visitation Monastery are turned into a picnic area with breakfast and lunch cooked and served by the dads.
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