As the homecoming pep rally wrapped up Oct. 18 at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, students swarmed Franciscan Brother David Migliorino, jostling for selfies with him as 2,400 students in the gym chanted, “Brother David! Brother David!”
Moments earlier the crowd had broken into a joyous uproar when Migliorino played “Let’s Make a Deal” with longtime Assistant Principal Brother Joshua DiMauro. Migliorino presented three envelopes to DiMauro — the one he ultimately chose gave students and staff the next Monday off to honor DiMauro’s 50th year as a Franciscan brother. (The other envelopes? One held two tickets to the opera; the other, dinner for four at Prime in Huntington.)
In two short months as the school’s new principal, Migliorino has become something of a legend, giving away ice cream sundaes in honor of DiMauro’s anniversary and dancing with the cheerleaders at football games (the video of the latter has gone viral).
“His presence is very electric. He has really injected a lightning storm of spirit into the school,” said DiMauro, 68, who has worked with seven principals in 47 years at the school. “But behind all of the antics … is a very structured and organized man,” he added. “He has captivated the kids and really it’s almost like tricking them into education.”
Migliorino, 69, has quickly adjusted to his role as St. Anthony’s principal. On Aug. 16, he was working in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where he had been Notre Dame Regional School's principal for 20 years, when he received a call from the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn saying he was needed in Huntington. (Brother Gary Cregan, St. Anthony’s principal of 16 years, had resigned.)
Just four days later, Migliorino uprooted and set off on a thousand-mile road trip to his new home. On the Sunday before he left, Notre Dame threw a hasty send-off in the school gym that drew more than 1,000 people.
“I cried like a baby when I got the news I had to come here,” Migliorino said, tearing up as he recalled his last words at the school: “Wherever there are children, I am home.”
Bonnie Westrich, Migliorino’s secretary at Notre Dame, remembers the energy at his send-off as “big and bold.”
“People loved him and wanted to celebrate him, but it was sad, too, because a big part of us was leaving,” she said. “He was like our glue.”
Notre Dame is across from the rolling hills of a dairy farm, a far cry from Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan where Migliorino grew up.
Talking about his time at Notre Dame, Migliorino recounted a parent telling him that her daughter would miss class to “show a lamb,” resulting in a conversation reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” Migliorino repeatedly asked the mother “showing the lamb what?” Eventually he learned the girl would be taking her lamb to the county fair.
Through moves from New York, where he began his career, to Connecticut then Missouri, Catholic schools have always felt like home for Migliorino. Being a Catholic school student inspired him to become an educator.
One memory in particular stays with him: when his fourth-grade teacher Sister Joseph Loretta planned a “class trip” to Brazil. The students brought suitcases to a transformed classroom: The desks were decorated like canoes, which the students got into and used to travel around the room to view film strips of Brazil. At the end of the day, the students “returned” to New York: The teacher opened the classroom door to reveal parents with “welcome home” signs.
“I’ve never forgotten that day, and every time I reflect on why I’m a Catholic school teacher — because I don’t think I’m the principal, I really think I’m a teacher — I see Sister Joseph Loretta,” Migliorino said.
He also cultivated his larger-than-life school spirit in Catholic school. He was a cheerleader at Power Memorial Academy, a former boys school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, cheering on the basketball team, including retired pro Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, two years Migliorino’s senior.
After graduating, Migliorino attended St. Francis College and St. John’s College. Then he taught fourth grade at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows and later taught world history at St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, Connecticut.
Migliorino then spent four years as principal of St. John the Baptist High School in St. Louis before working at Notre Dame.
“I love being the principal because you get to see every facet of the school in operation,” he said.
At Notre Dame, he oversaw some 500 students. He got to know each student — and sometimes their families. His wants to do the same at St. Anthony’s.
“Slowly that’s happening. My goal is to try to get to memorize as many names and faces as possible,” he said. He sits with students at lunchtime to get to know them, much to their befuddlement. “I say, ‘Can I sit here and eat with you?’ and they look at me like I’m crazy. ‘Yes, brother, of course.’”
At the school's homecoming game, Migliorino danced with the cheerleaders. As he walked along the sidelines of the game, a section of the stands clapped and waved at him, cheering and thanking him for the upcoming day off. At halftime he rode with the homecoming king and queen in the parade.
Student body president Aidan Sullivan, 17, said Migliorino’s presence has changed the school.
“He’s such an energetic, happy person,” he said. “The hallways are happier when he gets on the intercom, it’s like happy vibes everywhere.”