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Queens Chronicle

New pastor at St. Helen devoted to serving needs

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Posted: Thursday, October 9, 2008 12:00 am

A lifetime of spiritual leadership and social services accompany the Rev. Msgr. Al LoPinto into St. Helen R.C. Church in Howard Beach, where he began serving on Oct. 1.

The 63-year-old Brooklyn native is pleased with his new home and community. “The reception has been very warm on the part of the people,” LoPinto said, adding that he is excited to be at St. Helen and looks forward to working with those in the parish and with the lay leadership.

Among LoPinto’s goals are the development of more lay leaders in the community and the growth of the congregation. He wants St. Helen to be the center of life for the community, just as his home parish, Our Lady of Loreto, was. “It wasn’t just the religious center, it was also a community center,” he recalled.

While he works toward achieving these goals, LoPinto will also continue serving as vicar for human services for Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens. He was appointed vicar in 2005 and has since overseen Catholic Charities’ human services efforts and its 167 programs throughout the two boroughs.

“It’ll be a lot of balancing between my diocesan responsibilities and my parish responsiblities,” LoPinto said. But it seems the two go hand-in-hand. “What you take from one to the other is the commitment to people and to the needs to people,” both spiritual and physical.

Helping families and building caring communities is what it’s all about, LoPinto explained. Catholic Charities provides home-health and support services for the elderly, counseling programs for families and youth, and additional services for people with disabilities. “All of those also relate to a parish as part of our larger diocesan efforts,” he said.

LoPinto’s background in social work is extensive. He received a master’s in the field from the Columbia University School of Social Work and, since being ordained at St. James Cathedral in 1970, served five years as the national director for the Campaign for Human Development, an anti-poverty program operated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Monsignor traveled around the country working with groups that were engaged in helping people overcome situations of poverty, and later spent seven years working for the Diocese of San Bernardino in California, directing their Catholic Charities program. He also worked for the Bishops of California as a social policy advocate.

He returned to New York, served briefly at St. Camillus in Rockaway and then became the pastor of St. Therese of Lisieux in Brooklyn for seven years. Prior to joining St. Helen, LoPinto spent a short period of time at Brooklyn’s St. Charles Borromeo Church.

In the last decade or so, LoPinto has come to recognize the needs of the people of New York City, particularly Queens and Brooklyn. “The needs of housing are tremendous,” he said, adding that there is always a need for spiritual development, social services and family support.

“Right now, with the financial crisis, we’re seeing tremendous stresses being placed on families at all levels,” LoPinto said. Many families in the two boroughs spend 50 percent or more of their income in order to just keep a roof over their head, the monsignor added.

Access to health care coverage is a serious problem as well, according to LoPinto. “There are tremendous human needs both for the individual and for families,” particularly for seniors. Queens and Brooklyn, he noted, have the largest concentration of seniors in all of New York State, and so the needs of housing and support services for seniors are dire in the city.

In times like these, when the city’s economic outlook is grim, unity is critical, LoPinto said. He plans to work closely with not only St. Helen, but also the neighboring parish, Our Lady of Grace Church, in order to meet the needs of the residents of Howard Beach.

Stressful times call for strong support, according to the Monsignor. “If we’ve known stress to this point … we could only anticipate that that stress is going to increase considerably going forward,” he said. “We’re going to be dealing with much larger numbers of unemployed and that’s going to put considerable stress in people’s ability to maintain themselves and their families.”

LoPinto indicated that one of the greatest concerns of the church right now is stress on the family unit. It is working to help alleviate that stress by offering support. “As you go through change, you have to, as an organization … adapt to that change and make sure that you’re doing what you need to do to ensure that you can continue to provide quality service.”

That is what the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens is doing and what the Catholic community as a whole is attempting to do. LoPinto, meanwhile, will first have to adapt to his new environment and community. The physical location of his home has changed, but LoPinto’s heart, mind and mission are unwavering.

Welcome to the discussion.