John F. Castellano '71
In beautiful manifestation of the Gospel message that "whatever you do for the least of my sisters and brothers you do unto me," John Castellano has shaped his life's work in serving those most in need.
It is an unfortunate reality of today's culture that even the legal system can overlook the most vulnerable among us. So we are fortunate indeed that John reminds us-and our courts of law-of our responsibilities.
Unlike protections offered by the United States for the poor who are facing criminal charges, there is no constitutional right to counsel for low-income people facing a civil legal emergency.
A public service attorney, John has committed his life to ensuring that his clients, his sisters and brothers, are provided with the desperately needed, even life-saving assistance and protections they require and deserve. He represents men and women living in poverty, many of whom also live with serious and persistent mental illness. Since 1997, he has opened more than 2,000 cases representing people who face termination of cash payments from public assistance, Social Security, and disability; who have had limits placed on to their health care access through Medicaid and Medicare; who have been evicted or at risk of illness because their food stamps or utilities have been cut off.
He has done this work since 1997, when the Mercy Advocacy Program was founded at the Long Island social service agency Mercy Haven, located in Islip Terrace, New York. There, he works with colleagues who acknowledge the dignity and potential of people who are homeless, ill, and suffering.
Immediately after graduation from Holy Cross where he majored in psychology and was one of the first participants in SPUD-newly formed by students who wanted to make a difference in the community-John taught religion at high schools in Worcester and Baltimore before deciding that his path toward working for justice lay in the law. After graduating from Hofstra University in 1976, he served as an attorney for Nassau-Suffolk Law Services, Westchester Legal Services and MFY Legal Services. Then, he and Mercy Haven joined forces.
In 2008, John, along with his colleagues from People Organized for Rights, was victorious in a Food Stamp class-action litigation, Graves v. Doar, that resulted in an increase of $150 million per year in federal Food Stamp benefits for 20,000 group home residents and 95,000 more recipients residing in public or subsidized housing throughout New York State.
Most recently, in November of last year, John played an essential role in Mercy Haven receiving a $2.5 million state grant to develop new housing for homeless families.
For his passion, his extraordinary faith, and for bringing his expertise in the law to serve and deliver justice to those who suffer, the College of the Holy Cross presents to John F. Castellano the Sanctae Crucis Award.