Joseph S. Barbaro of East Meadow spent decades as one of Long Island’s most high-profile humanitarians.
Even after he retired from a long career leading Catholic Charities and the Nassau County Department of Social Services, Barbaro continued serving people. He led fellow members of St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church in East Meadow on trips to a nursing home and made weekly visits to homebound parishioners.
“He never stopped being a social worker,” said one of his sons, Roger Barbaro of Yaphank. “It wasn’t just social work. It was a combination of doing good unto others [and] putting people ahead of him.”
Joseph Barbaro died on March 23 from a heart attack at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. He was 94.
Barbaro was the first director of Catholic Charities when the Diocese of Rockville Centre was organized in the 1950s. He later was appointed the diocese’s first lay director of administration, his son said.
Barbaro was born and raised in Brooklyn. At age 20, he received a bachelor of arts degree from St. John’s University in Queens and later received a master’s degree in social work in 1949 from Fordham University in the Bronx.
During World War II, Barbaro served in the Army and treated soldiers returning home from the war as chief psychiatric social worker at Camp Swift in Texas. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant before his discharge, Roger Barbaro said.
The elder Barbaro led Catholic Charities from 1957 to 1965, when Nassau County Executive Eugene Nickerson appointed him commissioner of social services. Barbaro left the department in 1970 to resume leadership of Catholic Charities.
He was the diocese’s administration director from 1981 until he retired in 1986.
Barbaro was president for about two years of the New York State Public Welfare Association, representing social services directors across the state, his son said. He also was the national director of social services for the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America from 1956 to 1957 and a part-time professor at Fordham from 1951 to 1955.
“More than anything, he was a man of deep faith,” Roger Barbaro said. “He touched so many people’s lives.”
Barbaro and his wife, Ann, married in 1945 after they met at a church social in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Long after she died, Barbaro made daily visits to her grave, Roger Barbaro said.
In addition to his son Roger, Barbaro is survived by his sons Peter Barbaro of Punta Gorda, Florida, and Joseph Barbaro Jr. of upstate Cold Spring; three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by another son, Robert.
A funeral Mass was offered Monday at St. Raphael’s Church. Barbaro was buried next to his wife at Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury.