Catholic Foundation director retires from ‘blessed’ career
Faithful work: Catholic Foundation director retires from ‘blessed’ career
By Elisabeth Smith, Contributing Writer
The Lord has guided Joe DiMario to unexpected and extraordinary opportunities throughout his life.
He was raised in Homewood to Catholic parents who lived their faith and ensured their children and grandchildren did, too.
That faith would guide DiMario for his entire life. At age 89, DiMario is stepping down as director of The Catholic Foundation, the Diocese of Greensburg’s philanthropic arm. He held this role for three years and previously was director of planned giving for 10 years. He turned over leadership to Interim Director John Stevens at the start of this calendar year.
But this is hardly DiMario’s first call to service in the church — or to extraordinary leadership.
DiMario was just 10 years old when he started working as a shoeshine boy on weekends. At 14, he was hired at an Isaly’s ice cream store in Pittsburgh for 50 cents an hour, quickly becoming head clerk while also attending high school and playing intramural basketball.
“My father was a laborer, and he kept saying, ‘You’ve got to go to college; I don’t want you to be a ditch digger,’” DiMario recalled. “But my high school guidance counselor told me I wasn’t smart enough for college and I should pick up a trade. The reality was, however, that my family couldn’t afford to send me.”
With a leap of faith, DiMario’s father, who immigrated to the United States from Italy, cashed in $750 of cash value on his life insurance policy and encouraged his son to apply to a university. DiMario chose the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University), to study civil engineering.
“I was surprised I was accepted because it was the only place I applied,” DiMario said.
He worked 40 hours a week while taking five courses. As a result of the heavy college and job load, he failed three courses. He tried again the following semester and failed them again.
“I went to my dean and told him maybe my high school counselor was right, I’m not made for this. I should drop out,” he said. “But he came to me with a plan to make up the courses over the next three summers so I could graduate on time. And it worked!”
By the time he graduated in 1954, the Korean War was raging, and DiMario knew he was in line to be drafted. So, he chose to make his own path in the military.
“I wrote to all branches and told them I just earned an engineering degree and asked if they had any commissions,” DiMario recalled. “I thought I could make a different kind of contribution.”
The U.S. Air Force accepted DiMario’s offer, and he was assigned to a base in California as an operations officer. He excelled, and eventually the Air Force offered to send him to Johns Hopkins University for his master’s degree in civil engineering in exchange for an additional four years of service and a promise of an assignment in Southern California or in Spain.
“Those were both preferred assignments in those days, but I had recently gotten married to my wife, Gloria, and I didn’t want to start a lifelong military career,” DiMario said.
He was honorably discharged as a captain after four years of service. Then he jumped back into the idea of grad school, applying to both Stanford University in California and Carnegie Mellon — and getting accepted to both. He chose Carnegie Mellon (which honored him with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2014). During his time there, the DiMarios welcomed their daughter, Joanna.
After graduating in 1960, DiMario landed at Touche Ross & Company (now Deloitte) in Pittsburgh, earning his CPA and working his way up to a partner position. It would be the start of an accomplished 60-year career in Pittsburgh and its suburbs that included roles as vice president of finance, operations and strategic planning with General Nutrition Corp.; president, CEO and vice chairman of the board of Latrobe Die Casting Co.; executive vice president of Mellon Bank Corp.; and senior vice president of Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh. He also served on more than
a dozen boards and foundations, including as president of the board for Pittsburgh Catholic Publishing.
DiMario also dedicated nearly a decade to his own consulting firm, DiMario Consulting Group, from 1990-98. It was during this time that he experienced a new test of faith, along with a consulting offer that was truly divine.
“Because my work life was so hectic, my wife and I never vacationed,” DiMario said. “So, we finally went to Florida over the Christmas holidays in 1989, and I received a call on New Year’s Day learning my mother had died; and just 30 days later my dad passed away, and all while I was trying to start a business.”
The next phone call he received, however, would renew his purpose. Cardinal Adam Maida phoned to ask DiMario to serve as executive director of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Foundation, which would fund the creation of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center that opened in Washington, D.C., in 2001.
“It was such a moving part of my life,” DiMario said. “I believe the cardinal chose me because I was a devoted Catholic, and he knew my philosophies and thoughts and knew my track record in the business community.”
As he worked to fundraise $60 million for the project, DiMario and Gloria had multiple opportunities to be one-on-one with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican and his summer home, Castel Gandalfo.
“How many people can shake the hand of a saint?” DiMario asked.
Also in 1979, he spent time with Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, as part of a speaking engagement in Pittsburgh.
In 2008, DiMario joined the Diocese of Greenburg as Director of Planned Giving. In 2018, he was appointed Director of The Catholic Foundation.
God has blessed DiMario not only with professional success and outstanding calls to leadership, but also with happy outcomes from health challenges, including quadruple bypass surgery and a stroke.
“When I think about my many life experiences and reflect on them, the one conclusion I draw is that God said, ‘I’m not ready for you yet. You still have some work to do for me,”’ DiMario said.
As he enters retirement, DiMario will help guide The Catholic Foundation in a consultative role toward its next chapter. He says of this new time in his life that he is just “shifting gears a bit.”
“I feel good about what I’ve done and can really say I have been a good steward of my blessings,” he said.
Joe and Gloria DiMario with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1992
DiMario receives an honorary doctorate in business from La Roche University, Pittsburgh
The DiMario family