By Mia Summerson
Niagara Gazette — A party will be held today in celebration of the career Bob DiFrancesco, who is retiring after serving the past decade as the principal of Niagara Catholic High School.
DiFrancesco was hired for the Niagara Catholic position in 2003, after being a top pick among all the board members, according to Jim Catanese, owner of Mom’s Restaurant, who was board president at the time.
“We had 30 applications, and we noticed that Bob — who was an outstanding community person — had submitted an application,” Catanese said. “Everyone went home with their top five, and when we came back everyone had Bob as number one. We were very fortunate that he retired from the public school system at the same time we were looking for a principal and we were very fortunate that he was a Bishop Duffy graduate who wanted to come back to his school and lead it. The timing was perfect.”
DiFrancesco has spent more than 40 years working in schools around Niagara Falls. He began working at LaSalle High School in 1969 as a history teacher. Then in the late ‘70s he became the dean of students at Trott Vocational High School.
Throughout the ‘80s he worked as a vice principal at several junior high schools and also at the old Niagara Falls High School.
Since 1987, DiFrancesco has found himself in the role of principal at a number of schools including LaSalle Junior High, both the old and the new Niagara Falls High Schools and, of course, Niagara Catholic.
“He had a real passion for Niagara Catholic,” said Joe Colosi, who is on the current Niagara Catholic Board of Trustees. “Not only was he a student there when it was Bishop Duffy, but he really spent a lot of time and energy promoting the school to the community and he did a lot with the organization of the school.
“It was his idea to go to the four-day school week which we have now, and it’s been successful so far. He had good academic ideas that helped foster the improvement of Niagara Catholic.”
After having spent most of his life in school, DiFrancesco says he is feeling a little apprehensive about leaving.
“When I wake up Monday morning, it will be the first time in 61 years that I haven’t gone to school,” he said. “It’s a little bit scary, but it’s been a very good run.”
“It’s a culture shock,” said Elissa Brisolari, an English teacher at Niagara Catholic, describing how she imagined retirement might be for DiFrancesco, especially in light of his evident affection for and involvement with his students. “You know, you spend your whole life in school one way or another and then you wake up on Monday and don’t have to go, I think that would be tough on anyone, but I think he’ll adapt, he’s very active in the community. He’ll keep busy.”
DiFrancesco is heavily involved in a number of community organizations. He was on the Niagara County Youth Board from 1982 to 1998 and the Niagara County Head Start Board since 1983. He’s been president of the latter since1986.
He is involved with the Niagara Police Athletic League since 2001 and is currently the second vice president. He has been active with Niagara Cerebral Palsy for 34 years, where he was president from 1986-87, 1989-92 and in 2012. He’s also been involved in the Cerebral Palsy Association of New York State for 21 years and was president there from 1998-2002.
His community efforts earned him the honor of having the 24th Street school re-named, The Robert M. DiFrancesco Center for Early Childhood and Head Start Education.
DiFrancesco says that his volunteer work will remain a big part of his post-retirement life. He also would like to do a few projects around his house and hopes to do some traveling with his wife.
“She’s just the best part of my life,” he said of his wife, Sheila. “She’s always been supportive and allowed me to do all the crazy things I’ve done over time.”
Many people have had a hand in the planning of DiFrancesco’s retirement party, which will be held at the Como Restaurant on Pine Ave. from 1 to 4 p.m. It costs $25 to attend, including the price for a retirement gift.
“Some of my friends say if they had to do it over again they’d change and do something different. If I had to do it again, I’d do it again,” He said. “Being able to work with our greatest treasure, our kids, is a noble profession, and it’s always made me feel comfortable, and it’s made me feel good.
“If I had to leave you with a message it would be about doing good things for our kids, you can never go wrong.”