Rocco and Mary Abessinio became interested in helping Casa San Francisco, Catholic Charities’ emergency shelter and food pantry in Milton, one Sunday when they were attending St. Ann’s in Bethany Beach.
During Mass, there was a representative who “was soliciting food, not money, but food,” Rocco Abessinio recalled recently.
“We were intrigued and decided to drive to Milton to visit the facility. Casa San Francisco was in dire need of not only food, but the money to provide the basics to the needy families. We decided to make this one of our main interests. We are pleased to see the facility now under construction that will go a long way in providing for those in need in downstate Delaware.”
Supporting Casa San Francisco’s expansion is one example of the Abessinios’ “commitment to promoting the well-being of people by providing caring service to those in need,” said Richelle A. Vible, Catholic Charities’ executive director.
In recognition of that commitment, Catholic Charities is presenting the Abessinios the Msgr. Thomas J. Reese Award at its Tribute Dinner April 15. (See box.)
Rocco Abessinio is chairman and chief executive officer of Applied Bank and Roch Capital, Inc. His wife, Mary, is CEO of the Abessinio Family Foundation.
Rocco Abessinio, 74, grew up in Sacred Heart Parish in Wilmington where he learned his Catholic values first from his family. He remembers his parents and Italian immigrant grandparents “thanking God daily for what they had.
“We said prayers at mealtime, attended church every Sunday and made novenas, probably like they did in the old country,” Abessinio said.
“My grandfather, Rocco, who was the proprietor of a shoeshine parlor, made vows to God that he kept until his death.
“We were all ingrained with respect for the priests and nuns.”
Serving as an altar boy, attending Salesianum School and eventually graduating from Neumann University “all had a positive impact on my Catholicism,” Abessinio said.
His banking career started at Delaware Trust’s consumer division and focused on “the credit card portfolio,” he said.
After jobs in finance in New Jersey, Florida and Pennsylvania, Abessinio started “a credit card servicing company” that led to what is now Applied Bank, which grew into one of the biggest issuers of Visa and MasterCard credit cards in the country.
From 1971 to 1993, the Abessinios were members of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Wilmington, where Mary volunteered at many school activities, included serving as a “hot dog mom” at lunchtimes.
“We loved the pastor” — the late Msgr. John M. Donohoe — “who received Mary into the Catholic faith,” Abessinio said.
“Being a convert, my wife goes out of her way to ensure that we live by the tenets of our faith. I sincerely believe that the Lord has guided me in my everyday life.
“We are constantly in awe of the numerous individuals in religious life that we look up to as role models.”
The Abessinios now spend most of their time at a home in Boca Raton, Fla., and when they come north attend a bilingual Mass at St. Rocco’s Church in Avondale, Pa. They rejoice that their four children, all Catholic school grads, live near each other in nearby Pennsylvania and have blessed them with 10 grandchildren.
“My wife and I are humbled to receive the Msgr. Reese Award, named after an individual who personified charity,” Abessinio said.
“Catholic Charities has many dedicated employees and volunteers who do wonderful work with the underprivileged and needy. It requires funding support. We hope that your readers will understand the importance of giving to Catholic Charities and open their pocketbook for this great cause.”
Catholic Charities’ Annual Tribute Dinner
Rocco & Mary Abessinio
April 15, 5 p.m. at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, Wilmington
For tickets call: (302) 655-9624 or
go to cdow.org/charities.html