2019 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients

Niagara Catholic is proud to announce the 2019 recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award. Please see the photos and biographies below.

John Groetelaars


John Groetelaars

John Groetelaars attended St. Therese and Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Elementary Schools in Port Colborne, before attending Notre Dame College School in Welland, graduating in 1984.

From there, he attended Kettering University in Michigan, earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1990, and completed a Masters of Business Administration from Columbia University in New York City.

John has worked in many places in North America and Europe throughout his career, specializing, in medical and pharmaceutical technologies, helping to transform lives. He has held domestic and international leadership positions throughout his career, including Vice-President of C.R. Bard, which specializes in medical technologies for vascular and surgical medicine, as well as urology and oncology, and Executive Vice-President and President of the Interventional Segment at Bection, Dickson and Company, overseeing the global strategic, operational and commercial performance of the Interventional Segment. His current position is that of President and Chief Executive Officer of Hill-Rom Holdings, a leading supplier of medical technologies in the healthcare industry. He is also a member of the company’s Board of Directors.

Currently based out of Chicago, John is committed to his Catholic faith and a dedicated family man, husband to Pauline and father to Matthew, Ellie and Sara. John was a key member of a group supporting the Puerto Rican recovery efforts while leading Bard in 2017, and has given tirelessly in many of the communities in which he has lived for causes such as soup kitchens, pediatric cancer and supporting young entrepreneurs.

While in Rhode Island, he was told by a friend who had lost a colleague of the family’s struggles, in particular, for post-secondary education. John not only guided a grieving young man through the university application process, he spoke to the University of Rhode Island on behalf of the man’s son and wrote a heartfelt letter on the boy’s behalf. Beyond that, he and his friend took on responsibility for paying for children to attend university.

John truly walks in the footsteps of Jesus, and is a living example of the Catholic Graduate Expectations. For his commitment to others through his career and in his personal life, and for his example of service before self, we recognize John Groetelaars with a Distinguished Alumni Award.

Robert Murray


Dr. Robert Murray

Robert Murray is a graduate of Denis Morris Catholic HIgh School’s Class of 2001. While a student at Denis Morris, he was a student trustee, and was the initiator of the Board-wide Graduation Celebration.

After graduation, Bob attended Brock University, where he received an Honours Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Arts in Political Science, before attending his PhD in Political Science from the University of Alberta. As a PhD candidate, Bob spoke at the United Nations on UN Reform.

Bob’s area of expertise focuses on national and global political and policy issues. He has published multiple books, academic articles in journals and has appeared in local, provincial, national and international media outlets as a respected voice on political issues and policy. His accomplishments have been recognized by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Rotary Club, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Education Foundation of Ontario.

Bob has volunteered for a number of organizations throughout his career, including time spent with the Organization for the Prevention of violence, which tackles the challenging issue of hate-crimes, and served as the Director of Legislative and Political Affairs for the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association. He is a Director with Autism Edmonton, and is also the Director and Chair for the Public Affairs Committee for the Council of the Great Lakes Region, a binational organization focusing on economic development in the Great Lakes zone.

He holds Senior Fellowships at the Canadian International Council, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, as well as research fellowships at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies, and the University of Edmonton’s European Union Centre of Excellence.

All of this is done on Bob’s own time. He also holds the very prestigious position as Canada Managing Director of Dentons Canada LLP Government Group, which provides expertise to clients on global strategic advice, policy and political intelligence. His practice focuses on strategic development and planning, crisis and management issues and risk analysis and mitigation.

For his commitment to serving Canada on the international stage, as an advocate for individuals living with autism and for his efforts to create a racially harmonious community, we are proud to recognize Dr. Robert Murray with a Distinguished Alumni Award.

Father Rico Passero


Fr. Rico Passero

Father Rico Passero attended Canadian Martyrs Catholic Elementary School and Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School, graduating in the year 2000.

Following his graduation, Father Rico graduated with a finance degree from Brock University in 2005, before he recognized the sacred mystery of God’s presence in his life, and was called to serve the Lord as a priest. He entered Christ the King seminary from 2008-2011, graduating with a Masters in Divinity. On June 11, 2011, Rico Passero became Father Rico following his ordination as a priest.

Father Rico did not just assume his responsibilities as Associate Pastor of Our Lady of the Scapular Parish in Niagara Falls. Rather, he dove in and created many new initiatives that were welcome additions to the parish, including bringing Hospice Niagara to his parish, raising funds for hospice care, actively engaged youth from Saint Paul Catholic High School and its family of schools in a number of activities, and was involved in Retrouvalle Ministry for troubled or broken marriages. He also assists with marriage preparation weekends, hosts parish “God Talk” gatherings, and assists with RCIA retreats.

Father Rico is a collaborative contributor who finds meaning, dignity and vocation in work which respects the rights of all. An example of this is the time he spent serving as Chaplain at Attica State Prison, Mount St. Mary’s Hospital, and served in Ministry to Migrants. He has attended three World Youth Days in Toronto, Germany and Australia, and has led groups to Spain and Poland for World Youth Day.

Father Rico was appointed pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Grimsby in 2015. He has led pilgrimages to Egypt, the Holy Land and Italy (for St. Mother Teresa’s canonization), and is currently in Italy on pilgrimage. He collaborates regularly with the Board’s Chaplaincy team, and assists in faith-based celebrations at his own parish community and throughout the Board. As the Director of the parish’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Fr. Rico is truly a priest for the modern times.

For his unwavering commitment to his faith, to the parishioners he serves at St. Joseph Parish and all those he serves throughout his many outreach projects throughout the Diocese, we are proud to recognize Father Rico Passero with a Distinguished Alumni Award.

Bonnie Vadacchino


Bonnie Vadacchino

Bonnie Vadacchino attended St. Joseph and St. Mary Catholic elementary schools in Niagara Falls, before attending the Loretto Academy, graduating from the all-girls Catholic high school in 1962.

Upon graduation, Bonnie attended Teachers College in Hamilton, and quickly obtained a job teaching at St. Mary Catholic Elementary School at the age of 17. Throughout her teaching career, Bonnie taught at several Catholic elementary schools in Niagara, touching the lives of thousands of students before retiring in 2000.

Bonnie had anticipated travelling in retirement with her husband, Vince, but his ill health prevented that. She took on the role of his principal caregiver, until he died in 2008. Even during those difficult times, Bonnie took the time to serve the parish community of St. Kevin, asn an extra-ordinary Minister of the Eucharist and a reader. She also instilled her own deep Catholic faith and foundation in her own 10 grandchildren.

As a widow, Bonnie dedicated herself to serving others in many ways. She supported and serve Catholic patients in the hospital (as well as those of other faiths), bringing them weekly Eucharist, praying with them and simply offering those in need of it a friendly word, smile or company. She became the lead at St. Kevin for young families wishing to have a child baptized, and meets with them to educate them about the sacrament, and continues to be involved in Catholic elementary schools as a volunteer. Most recently, she supervised students from St. Augustine Catholic Elementary School prepare for the Heritage Fair.

Bonnie has travelled to Guatemala with Wells of Hope more than once, assisting dental teams bringing much-needed care to the impoverished community, and has helped in a school in the Dominican Republic. On each of these Mission trips, Bonnie arrived loaded with school, art and athletic supplies for the students she would see.

She is an impeccable role model to her three children, their spouses and 10 grandchildren who are all either students or alumni of Catholic schools. She makes sure they understand faith isn’t something you learn about in school and think about on religious holidays, it is something to be lived and treasured every day. She has offered her grandchildren extraordinary opportunities to witness history, taking two of her grandchildren to Rome for the installation of Pope Francis, and walking in the El Camino pilgrimage with another.

For her outstanding commitment to faith, family and the community, for the many ways in which she strives to bring those around her closer to the Lord and for the lessons she instilled in children in classrooms in Catholic schools in Niagara during her teaching career, we are proud to recognize Bonnie Vadacchino with a Distinguished Alumni Award.