Head of Catholic Charities Rockville Centre Credits Success to Mission-Focused College Years

Alumnus Laura Cassell ’79 is the first female executive director and CEO of Catholic Charities and the first layperson to serve in this capacity in any of the eight New York state dioceses.

Serving others is something Laura Cassell ’79 does on a daily basis as the head of Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre, N.Y., and it’s something she credits to the values she learned at Manhattan College.

The 25-year veteran of Catholic Charities has served as executive director and CEO since 1999. She is not only the first woman to hold this position within the Diocese of Rockville Centre but also the first laywoman to serve in this capacity in any of the eight dioceses throughout New York state.

Although each day brings something different to her schedule, from going to a board meeting or a senior’s 100th birthday party, her responsibilities overseeing the service and administrative operations for this health and human service agency always remain. Another key part of her role is to instill Catholic Charities’ mission and vision into everything that her team does. 

“Part of my role is cultivating relationships with the folks who are going to help us be good stewards of our funds, and people who are going to help us determine what kinds of ministries are important, what may be needed tomorrow, which may be different from what you’re doing today,” she explains.

Long Island’s Caretakers

Catholic Charities was founded in 1957 to help provide basic needs to the poor, troubled, weak and oppressed. In 2012, the organization served more than 60,000 people throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties in a variety of ways, including programs for chemical dependence, mental health, developmental disability residences, and immigration, senior and veteran services.

Working alongside 133 parishes, Catholic Charities is reaching people throughout Long Island. It helped more than 1,500 families in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and is still assisting 800 of them. Cassell remembers one woman, in particular, that they assisted last year. 

“It seemed like everything that could go wrong did for this woman, with her father-in-law passing away, her business closing and needing to lay-off people, and her home was damaged,” Cassell says. “With the assistance of their local parish and Catholic Charities, this woman and her family were able to rebuild their home.”

Stories like this inspire her every day. Cassell has met many people since beginning at Catholic Charities in 1988. Prior to her current role as executive director and CEO, she served as director of finance and chief operating officer. She was also appointed to the Bishop’s Cabinet as secretary for social services in 2001.

A Vocation of Service

Before joining Catholic Charities, Cassell worked for Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) in New York City and became a licensed CPA after graduating from Manhattan College with a B.S. in accounting. She was an internal auditor and assistant controller, too, at Southside Hospital, a 500-bed facility located in Bay Shore, N.Y.

It was wonderful to be in an institution that was so grounded in our faith and to be able to get the education to embark upon a financial career that has led me to this place.

Her passion for serving others is also evident in her involvement with numerous committees and boards, including the Diocesan Lay Pension Committee and the Cleary School for the Deaf.  

In addition, she is a member of the board of trustees at Molloy College, from which she received an honorary degree in 2004. Cassell is still very much connected to her alma mater, Manhattan College, and serves as a member of the School of Business’ board of advisors, as well as its mission and strategic planning committee. 

This connection and her professional success is, as Cassell describes, all thanks to a chance encounter with Brother David Von Hollebeke, FSC, a former associate director of admissions at the College, who visited Cassell’s high school. As a result of their conversation, she began to seriously consider the idea of going to college. She says it was a turning point in her life.

Her first introduction to the College may have been unforeseen, but what she achieved at Manhattan and in the ensuing years was anything but, as Cassell, whom The Long Island Business News recognized in 2003 as one of the year’s 50 most influential women, has taken a path that seems providential.

“It was wonderful to be in an institution that was so grounded in our faith and to be able to get the education to embark upon a financial career that has led me to this place,” she adds. “It’s not anything I would have ever planned for or mapped out, but it’s the combination of the hand of God and the faith element of Manhattan College.”