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Frank Macchiarola, R.I.P.

Few people have done more to bring Catholic values into the civic life of their community than the former New York City Schools Chancellor Frank Macchiarola, who died Tuesday at the age of 71. Macchiarola was a problem-solver who took on the toughest issues facing his city, whether it was near-bankruptcy in the mid-1970s or the failures of its school system. He headed the law school at Yeshiva University. Then he headed St. Francis College in Brooklyn. He was a leader of the city's business community.Macchiarola's signature achievement was to serve with distinction as chancellor of the nation's largest public school system as the city was still staggering from the fiscal crisis. One secret of his success in that position, in my observation, was that he brought with him some of the fundamental values of Catholic schooling, especially an emphasis on discipline and order. Many Catholic school-trained educators followed him into the public school system and brought those same instincts with them. As administrators, they have played an important if unnoticed role in improving the system, part of Macchiarola's legacy.Anyone who knew Frank Macchiarola knew he was a man of faith. Joe Berger notes that well in an excellent obituary in today's Times, closing it with Macchiarola's reflection on what it takes to be a successful school leader:

As chancellor I constantly prayed not to confuse myself with God, he said. They need to find a chancellor committed to providing leadership but who never shuts the door to someones ideas, or to the people who harangue and torture you. Otherwise, you end up defending something just because its yours.

Macchiarola could become frustrated with the institutional church - he was not one to defend an institution "just because it's yours." But he and his wife Mary always served the church. In his later years, for example, he took part in efforts to save Catholic schools in his home Diocese of Brooklyn. Macchiarola's faith showed through in his ethic of service. Reflecting on his role as president of St. Francis College, he told Peg Steinfels in a 1997 Commonweal interview:

In life youre either a policeman or a social worker. I am a social worker. I keep telling people we cant stop doing good because there are people who take advantage of us. We do good because we are required to do good. That is our obligation. Were not being nice. Were not being liberal. Were not being tolerant. Were being who we are. Who we are requires us to do that. Its a two-step process. First decide who you are and then you have to act in consistency with that. As an institution we have to internalize that. We have to promote that.


About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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Thanks Paul. I was just about to post an RIP here. Fitting that a Brooklyn guy should get there first. Frank was an amazing person and Catholic too! It was always invigorating to chat with him at meetings, fund raisers, and conferences--and usually good for a lot of laughs. A memorable event: Commencement at St. Francis where he stood beside every student receiving a diploma and insisted that pictures be taken--because, as he said, these were the first college graduates in their immigrant families and their families should celebrate and remember. I know because I sat there for a couple of hours while this went on along with the faculty!Forgot about that interview, which took place in his office at St. Francis--a post he took, as he once said, to pay back for everything the school had done for him.For those nearby: Funeral Mass at Cathedral of St. James, Brooklyn, 10 AM Friday. His wake will be at St. Francis in Brooklyn Heights today (Wednesday) and tomorrow (Thursday), 2-5; 7-9.

Euge serve bone et fidelis.

The above means: "Well done good and faithful servant." The full sentence is: "euge serve bone et fidelis quia super pauca fuisti fidelis supra multa te constituam intra in gaudium domini tui." Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.(I have been requested to provide the translation)

Though I'd met Frank, I didn't know him well, but he always struck me as a deeply thoughtful and enlightened person. All my sympathy to his friends and family.

Thanks, Peg.

Paul: You spoke of "Macchiarolas reflection on what it takes to be a successful school leader:"

As chancellor I constantly prayed not to confuse myself with God, he said. They need to find a chancellor committed to providing leadership but who never shuts the door to someones ideas, or to the people who harangue and torture you. Otherwise, you end up defending something just because its yours.

Sounds as if what it takes to be a successful school leader, is what it would also take to be a successful bishop.

The link provided by Bill Mazzella didnt work for me. I found two links for a video about Macchiarola. Bill can tell us if its the same one he was directing us to.

Here's an excellent article by Macchiarola on the sociology of New York City. It's from 1993 but much of it still reads as if written yesterday. An excerpt from the section on religion:"One of the most profound differences between Manhattanites and outer borough New Yorkers involves their attitudes toward religion. In the outer boroughs, religion is based on Gods law, as expressed in the traditions of Christianity or Judaismor, with the influx of new immigrants, of Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism. Manhattanites, on the other hand, tend to follow a secular religion. They get their sermons daily on the editorial page of the New York Times, where they learn less about what they ought to do and more about what others should do."

Here are a few more quotes from the obituary:

Frank J. Macchiarola was widely regarded as one of the canniest and most effective New York City schools chancellors of the last half-century....He was the standard for chancellor, [former Mayor Ed] Koch said in an interview. He had great courage, extraordinary knowledge, and his administrative abilities effectuated what he wanted to do. Dr. Macchiarola was notably outspoken in a job known for inspiring taciturn discretion. There were also defeatsHe lost [a] power struggle when he took on the teachers union. Still, he earned the unions respect. When he decided to step down in 1983,Albert Shanker, the unions president, appealed to him not to resign. It was the best job I ever had, and I loved it, Dr. Macchiarola told an interviewer.

If any of this leaves you thinking, Id like to know a little more about this guy, do take a look at the video for which Bill Mazzella has kindly provided the link. Its only nine minutes long, and it really does give a sense of who Macchiarola was.

Great Video! Watch it. Very Frank! Very Brooklyn. Very New York.

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