Saint Mary Basha ’89
Seton Catholic High School ’93
Out of 8 children, I was the 4th born to Santino and Socorro Bernasconi. My mother Socorro whose name means “help” in Spanish was a Precious Blood Sister at the age of 16. At the same time, my father, Santino, was in the seminary studying to be a priest at St.Patricks in San Francisco. After the stars aligned, they met in the small town of Guadalupe just south of Phoenix, they married in 1970. They dedicated their lives to raising and educating their children in the Catholic School system. Sending 8 kids to Catholic Schools 1st to 12th grade was a massive endeavor…financially and in all other ways. Santino & Socorro’s mission of educating their children in Catholic Schools did not end with paying tuition.
They lived a life dedicated to social justice. In 1968, after getting her Masters in Counseling Socorro worked as a school counselor in the Tempe School District. She would soon come to learn the District’s practice of placing Spanish only speaking students into Special Ed classes. Socorro organized the parents to speak out against this practice and was reprimanded. A lawsuit ensued and after several years and a trip to the United States Supreme Court, Bernasconi v Tempe School District assures through case law that the practice of putting non-English speaking students in Special Ed because they cannot speak English is prohibited.
They lived a life of service by following the teachings of Jesus. As devout parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe for more than 60 years, they catered to the community. They are the first to be called when parishioners or family pass away, need consoling or a sacrament such as Anointing of the Sick or Eucharist. Their service was not only evident in the way they decided to raise their children but the work they did professionally. Santino was the CEO of a non profit outpatient mental health clinic and Socorro was the Director of a shelter for abused women and children for 20 years.
They lived a Catholic life and all were welcomed. Santino was ordained a Deacon and after 40 years of ministry baptized nearly the entire town. He also provided marriage preparation classes, confirmation classes and quinceanera classes. Nothing speaks more to their faith than the comfort they offered immigrants. During the Guatemalan civil war of the 1980’s Santino & Socorro would welcome asylum seekers into their home by the dozens. They provided food, shelter and spiritual comfort to hundreds of immigrants escaping the violence that plagued their native land.
They sent all their children to Catholic schools to get the foundation and understanding of what it means to be Catholic. Then, they made their lives a living example of how to live Catholic. Throughout the years they have inspired countless people who have been touched by their work and have been recognized for it. Santino was awarded a Kellogg Fellowship and Socorro was awarded a Petra Fellowship as well as ASU’s Dr Martin Luther King Jr Service award.
What impact did Catholic schools have on you and your family?
I believe the impact Catholic schools had on our family was two fold. First, it reinforced everything my parents taught us about living a life of service. Service was part of the Catholic school curriculum as we were required to perform a certain amount of hours of community service. Second, it reinforced the core family unit. Our family is close and I am proud to report that all my siblings are happily married with children of their own. The Bernasconi family unit is as strong as it gets and has proven to be more than sufficient in overcoming life’s challenges.
Personally, Catholic schools have instilled in me a sense of community. I feel as if it defined what community means to me. I find myself trying to recreate that community in the work that I do today. Having founded a not for profit with my wife Melissa, we constantly strive to create that community within the organization.
Why was the opportunity to attend Catholic School important to you?
Catholic schools were forced on me and my 7 siblings. We were not given a choice to attend anywhere else. Looking back, the lack of choice was definitely a blessing. Having a teenager (whom I’m very proud of) of my own leads me to think that I may have made a bad decision had I had that choice. Having said that, it’s clear to me that my parents, as brilliant and talented as they are, could not have raised 8 kids on their own. The Catholic School community was the support they needed to successfully raise a gang of 8.
The Bernasconi family high school accomplishments include 2 Homecoming Kings, 2 State Championships, 1 State Champion runner up, 2 Hall of Fame Recipients, 2 State Basketball records and 1 State Football records.
I have few accomplishments to note but 1. When I was in college I provided attendant care to my college roommate Ben. Ben was born with severe Athetoid Cerebral Palsy and was physically unable to care for his own personal needs. I provided all of Ben’s attendant care needs to include bathing, feeding, toileting and medicating 16 hours a day, 7 days a week. Ben was a brilliant mind trapped in a body that didn’t work. Ben’s only means of communicating was through a computer and it was painfully slow. iPads didn’t exist and I became Ben’s arms, legs and oftentimes his voice. We became “best buds” throughout our college experience – going out, traveling, getting into trouble. I made every attempt to give Ben the typical college experience ;)
Having worked with Ben for several years in 1999 Melissa, my wife & I decided to start a not for profit agency to help people in Ben’s situation. We founded Quality Connections in our garage with the Mission to help people with disabilities become independent productive members of our community by providing employment, training and practical life learning programs. The organization has since grown to have 125 employees providing services to over 300 disabled individuals a year. Our programs include a Pre School, a Montessori School for disabled adults, Employment Services, In Home Supports, Licensed Residential settings and a social enterprise.
Ben passed away in 2012. My biggest and proudest accomplishment was helping Ben live his best life. And we had FUN! Lotsa fun😜!
In 2010 I was fortunate enough to have gone on a pilgrimage with my dad to Assisi Italy. My dad being from San Francisco, taught me all about St Francis and St Claire as we toured both Basilicas. Giving rise to an epiphany he pointed out that the work that I do, I live my life unwittingly following the teachings of St Francis & St Claire. This helped me realize how they instilled the call to service in all their kids and why the work and teachings of our Holy Father Pope Francis speaks to me so strongly. I plan to continue what I do for as long as I can.