WILMINGTON – The next time Salesianum’s football team plays at their home field across 18th Street, they will be doing so at Abessinio Stadium in a facility named after school graduate, businessman and philanthropist Rocco A. Abessinio.
Abessinio and his wife, Mary, committed $16 million through their foundation to help build a new stadium where Baynard Stadium now sits. Some of the money also will be used to support the school’s endowment, which provides financial aid. It is the third-largest gift to a Catholic secondary school in U.S. history, according to the school.
The gift was announced on Dec. 10. It was the latest development in the ongoing partnership between Salesianum and the city of Wilmington to replace Baynard, the aging facility that hosted high school football and other sporting events for decades. The stadium hosted its last event in November.
The new venue will be known as Abessinio Stadium.
“Rocco and Mary Frances Abessinio have a long history of generosity of generosity, not just at Salesianum, but across the region,” said Brendan Kennealey, the school’s president. “There are very few people who have both the ability and the willingness to make such a transformational gift. Rocco has again responded to the call for support with abundant generosity. Like so many Salesianum students, Rocco came from humble means, and today he is using his success to benefit others.”
Abessinio is the founder and chief executive officer of Applied Bank, a personal and commercial back headquartered in Wilmington. He also founded Roch Capital, which owns, among other properties, the former Rollings Building on Concord Pike in Wilmington. He grew up in Wilmington and played football at Salesianum under legendary coach Dim Montero.
He has contributed to a number of local institutions, including Christiana Care, the A.I. duPont Hospital for Children, St. Rocco Church in Avondale, Pa., and Neumann University, from which he received a degree. He has previously supported Salesianum as well.
“This is an opportunity for me and my family to support Salesianum and help the city in its resurgence. We want to ensure that students like me – the son of immigrants – have a place at Salesianum. That’s the idea behind the endowment and we’re always happy to support it,” Abessinio said.
The current stadium will be demolished as soon as late spring, and construction is expected to start as soon as the necessary permits are secured. It is expected to take 15 months to complete once started and be open for the 2020 fall football season.
Abessinio Stadium will include a turf field, an eight-lane composite track, new grandstands, lights, locker rooms, press box, community room, scoreboard, concessions, offices and a maintenance facility for Delaware State Parks.
Salesianum and the city of Wilmington announced an agreement in October following nearly a year and a half of negotiations for the all-boys school to lease the Baynard Stadium site for 50 years, with 50 one-year options after that. All of the current users of Baynard are guaranteed use of Abessinio Stadium, and non-Salesianum users will have a minimum of 360 hours of availability per year. Wilmington-based youth athletic leagues will have free access. An additional 90 hours of daylight per month will be set aside for public use in certain areas of the stadium.
Youth leagues will be able to sell concessions and keep the funds they raise, according to the deal. The calendar for Abessinio Stadium will be publicly available.