Longtime Catholic Charities director in Diocese of Rochester retires
ELMIRA — It was the mid-1970s, and Tony Barbaro was fresh out of college, making good money in the accounting/finance field while living in Virginia. Life was unfolding pretty much as he’d envisioned.
“And then an extraordinary thing happened,” he said.
Barbaro had what he considers to be a genuine spiritual conversion. From there, his future was to take on a much different direction.
“I wasn’t really a practicing Catholic, but something happened where that switch got turned on,” he said. “I found that church life was more rewarding.”
Barbaro’s altered career/vocational path eventually led him to a job opportunity in Elmira with Catholic Charities.
“I said to God, ‘This is your decision on the matter. I’m going to keep myself out of this.’ And the rest is history,” Barbaro said.
That history has now spanned 34 years and been marked by considerable regional growth of Catholic Charities under Barbaro, who will retire June 30 as the agency’s associate diocesan director.
Barbaro, 71, is a native of Auburn, earning his bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and later obtaining a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Boston College. In 1985, Barbaro joined Catholic Charities as executive director of what was then known as the Southern Tier Office of Social Ministry, which had been established five years earlier.
In 1994, the agency was renamed Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier. Programs and services increased so greatly under Barbaro’s leadership that, in 2003, it was transformed into a new regional network made up of Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler, Catholic Charities of Steuben, Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga and Food Bank of the Southern Tier. At that point, Barbaro’s title changed from executive director to associate diocesan director; in that role, he has served as liaison to diocesan Catholic Charities for the four Tier-based agencies. He also was interim executive director of Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes from 2005-07 and served on the state Council of Catholic Charities directors from 1993-2007.
“It’s amazing to see the progress the organization has made, the infrastructure,” Barbaro remarked. He noted the many Catholic Charities programs that have emerged along the way, addressing such areas as poverty, employment, hunger, substance abuse, homelessness, youth and family services, domestic violence, housing, health, immigrants and people with developmental disabilities. The ability to serve so many needs, he said, has been enhanced by establishing strong connections with church, community, business and government representatives so as to gain financial and volunteer support and advance public policy.
Although his organization is Catholic, “We serve anyone regardless of race, religion, color or creed,” Barbaro said, adding that all are welcomed regardless of their personal circumstances: “They know they can come here for help. I do try to impress upon our people the understanding of the dignity of each and every person. It’s the hallmark of what we do.”
Barbaro asserted that folks who work for Catholic Charities are a special group, motivated by a genuine concern for helping others rather than making a big paycheck: “The work is infectious.” Remarking on his 34-year tenure with Catholic Charities, he said, “I wouldn’t have imagined that. But things just continued to blossom, and there’s been satisfaction in my work.”
As for his impending retirement, Barbaro said he’s made no firm plans but can see immersing himself in some kind of ministry.
“My faith is a very important part of my life. I think there’s a vocation kind of thing coming, but I don’t know what it is yet,” said Barbaro, who lives in West Elmira with his wife, Joyce. They have two grown sons and belong to Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish.