Hall of Fame 2015


Rocco Abessinio ’59
Mr. Abessinio’s career in Finance began at Delaware Trust Company, where he served as an officer.  Prior to his founding of Cross Country Bank – now known as Applied Bank – and Applied Card Systems, Mr. Abessinio developed one of the first Credit Card Affinity programs in the late ‘70s.  Applied Bank quickly earned millions of account holders and rose to become the 10th largest issuer of Visa and Mastercard credit cards in the United States.   

Beyond the consumer credit market, Applied Bank and its affiliates are active in making business loans and have a regional branch banking presence, offering an array of finance services to consumers and businesses in the mid-Atlantic.  Mr. Abessinio currently serves as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Applied Bank, Applied Card Systems, Carbon Golden Malted and Roch Capital, Inc., whose varied holdings include real estate, food, and manufacturing interests.

Mr. Abessinio earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from Neumann University.  In 2014, Neumann University bestowed Mr. Abessinio with a Doctorate of laws degree in honor of his commitment to Catholic education and the University.  Mr. Abessinio and his wife, Mary Frances, have received numerous other awards and commendations for their service to the Church and education.  Most recently, the Abessinio’s were the recipients of the Diocese of Wilmington’s Msgr. Thomas J. Reese Award and, in 2006, Mr. Abessinio was awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontfice Cross, the highest papal honor that can be given to the laity.

While at Salesianum, Mr. Abessinio played for the legendary football coach Dim Montero and was proud of making the varsity team as a freshman.  In the year’s since his graduation, Mr. Abessinio’s generosity helped propel Salesianum’s scholarship and financial program and, notably, in 2002, he became Salesianum’s first million donor.  Beyond Salesianum, Mr. Abessinio is a committed supporter of Neumann University, and is also the driving force behind the funding and founding of St. Rocco Church – a national Catholic Hispanic Church in Avondale, Pennsylvania, serving the needs of the growing immigrant community in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Mr. Abessinio is a major contributor to local charities including Nemours Children’s Hospital and Christiana Care.

Judge Vincent A. Bifferato ’55
Judge Bifferato served as a State Legislator in 1967 and was Chairman of the Delaware ABC Commission, 1967 – 1968, he was Associate Judge in the Delaware Superior Court 1968-1992, Resident Judge of the Delaware Superior Court 1992-2000.  In June, 1999, he was the first recipient of the Delaware State Bar Association Distinguished Mentoring Award. In 2000, he received an award from the American Board of Trial Advocates, Delaware Chapter, honoring him for his thirty-two years as a trial court judge.  In October, 2000, he received the Champion of Justice Award, given by the Delaware Trial Lawyers Association. June, 2001 – First State Distinguished Service Award, given by the Delaware State Bar Association. In November, 2005 he received the Benemerenti Medal, an honor by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at the request of Most Reverend Michael A. Saltarelli, Bishop of Wilmington, for outstanding service to the Diocese of Wilmington.

Judge Bifferato is a legend among Delaware attorneys as being a tough but fair jurist. His knowledge and dedication of Delaware law led to a long, credited career on the Delaware bench. Ever a mentor to young attorneys, he taught numerous classes and seminars at all levels, to ensure that future generations of attorneys would be well-grounded, tried and tested. In fact, he established an informal monthly forum, now known as the “Judge Bifferato Superior Court Trial Practice Forum,” to help lawyers develop their trial skills and knowledge from experienced members of the Bench and Bar, in a tradition of mentoring. "Judge Biff" is a credit to his family, his profession, and to his Alma Mater, Salesianum School.

Col. James Fiorelli ’58
James attended the US Air Force Academy, where he graduated in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in science and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Air Force.  Upon graduation, he attended primary pilot training at Webb Air Force Base in Texas and then moved on for combat crew training in the F-100 Super Saber at Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona.  

In 1966, he was ordered to South Vietnam, where he commenced twenty months of combat duty assigned to the 531st Tactical Fighter Squadron.  He flew a combined 490 combat missions and 58 combat sorties with the “Misty” forward air controllers, an elite organization who's mission was to interdict enemy men and equipment being shipped into South Vietnam.

He earned the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying crosses and the Air Medal with 26 oak leaf clusters.  He was also an F-16 flying instructor at the Tuscon Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona, where, as the first F-16 Squadron Commander at Tucson, formed the brand new 148th Fighter Squadron- The “Kickin’ Ass” Squadron.  He was inducted into the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013.

Thomas Higley ‘61 AIA
Tom is a Salesianum graduate, Class of 1961.  His class was the first to enter as freshmen in the “new school” at 18th and Broom.
     He attended Catholic University in Washington, DC and received a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1966.  After graduation he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.  He was commissioned in 1967 and assigned to the 15th Air Force, SAC as a Civil Engineering Officer.

     Upon completion of his military service, he was awarded a scholarship to the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in the design studio of architect Louis Kahn.  He received a Master of Fine Arts in Architecture degree in 1972.  

     Tom began his professional architectural career that same year in the office of Bonner, Funk and Associates in Wilmington.  He was made a partner in 1980 and continued in his role as principle and project architect until his retirement in 2009.  He remained with the firm as a design consultant until 2013.  

     In the more than 40 years as an architect, Tom was principle/project designer for a wide variety of public and private projects and received awards for design.  Project clients have included the State of Delaware, University of Delaware, Delaware Tech, Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Ministry of Caring and Salesianum.  

     Tom began working with Salesianum in 1998 as part of the strategic planning process initiated by President, Rev. Thomas Curran, OSFS.  From this initiative, Tom with his firm, ABHA Architects, created a long range Master Plan to provide for improvements to the “new school” at 18th and Broom.  During the past 15 years they have designed 17 projects for Salesianum resulting in major additions and renovations to the school.

     He has served on the Board of Trustees at Salesianum as well as several private schools and non-profit organizations and has provided pro-bono architectural services to charitable organizations and religious ministries.

     Tom and his wife, Anne Marie, have three children, Tom ’86, Beth, and Matt ’88 and eight grandchildren. His grandson, Tommy, will graduate from Salesianum in 2015.

  Dr. Steven Leach M.D. ’78
Steven Leach is the David M. Rubenstein Chair and Director of the Rubenstein Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Following graduation from Salesianum, where he was the Class of 1978's valedictorian and co-captain of the football team, Dr. Leach received his bachelor’s degree with high honors in Biology from Princeton University.  He then completed medical school at Emory University, where he was a Robert Woodruff Fellow, followed by additional clinical and scientific training at Yale and M.D. Anderson.  His first faculty position was at Vanderbilt University, where he was a busy cancer surgeon specializing in the care of pancreatic cancer patients. In 2000, he moved to Johns Hopkins University, where over the years he became Professor of Surgery, Oncology and Cell Biology, the Paul K. Neumann Professor in Pancreatic Cancer, Chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology, and Vice Chair of Academic Affairs in the Department of Surgery. He moved to Memorial Sloan Kettering in 2014.  After several decades as a busy pancreatic cancer surgeon, Dr. Leach shifted his efforts towards directing a large research team focused on the biology, genetics and treatment of pancreatic cancer.  Dr. Leach’s lab has a long track record of groundbreaking discoveries, including the identification of several genes and pathways that are now being targeted in clinical trials for pancreatic cancer patients.  In addition to his academic activities, Dr. Leach currently serves on the Princeton University Board of Trustees and also chairs the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network's Scientific and Medical Advisory Board.  He and his wife Annette have two sons, Alex, a musician, and Nathan, a college student.

Rev. Joseph McCoy, OSFS ’24
Immediately after graduation in 1924, Joseph L. McCoy joined the Oblates, and was ordained a priest in 1931. As an undergrad he pursued degrees in English and Philosophy, eventually receiving a Masters and an honorary Doctorate of Literature degree. Father McCoy was renowned as an orator and retreat master, often preaching to diocesan and religious priests as well as lay organizations.

During his 36 years as a priest his organizational and leadership skills were well recognized, and the Oblates called upon Father McCoy to found three separate communities in various far-flung parts of the province. No matter what job Father was called upon to perform, or wherever his assignment, his first love was always teaching English in the classroom, and he tried to do this as much as he could, preferably at Salesianum.

Father McCoy served as principal of Salesianum from 1938 to 1944, whereupon he returned to the classroom at North Catholic and then back to Salesianum, when he also served as the chaplain to the Visitation Convent. During the 1950s he was Pastor of St. Anthony’s Parish in Wilmington, founding Padua Academy, often teaching English part time at Salesianum.

Following the exhortation of St. Paul and St. Francis de Sales for us to be “…all things to all men,” Father Joseph McCoy integrated his talents as a teacher, pastor, principal, and preacher throughout his vocation.

Rear Admiral Timothy Szymanski ’80
Timothy is one of four Salesianum graduates from his family. He was a three-year varsity letterman in wrestling with a third-place finish and two runner-up finishes at Delaware State Wrestling Finals. In 1980 he was selected to represent the United States in an international AAU Freestyle wrestling tournament held in Tokyo, Japan.  He holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and was the 2000 world champion in his age & weight divisions as a blue belt.

Timothy attended the US Naval Preparatory School in Newport, Rhode Island before graduating from the US Naval Academy in 1985. At USNA, he won the Plebe Summer Boxing Smoker and was a three-year varsity letterman in wrestling for the Naval Academy. He qualified for Nationals in wrestling his senior year.

Upon graduation, he served two years in the Naval Surface Warfare (NSW) community, earning his Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) qualification. He applied for and was selected to attend the Navy's Basic Underwater Demolition School (BUD/S), graduated and was subsequently awarded his Trident while serving at his first command at SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2. He has served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. His Naval Special Warfare operational assignments include: Platoon and Task Unit Commander at SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2; Troop Commander, Squadron Commander, Operations Officer and Deputy Commanding Officer at Naval Special Warfare Development Group; Commanding Officer Special Boat Unit 26; Commanding Officer, SEAL Team 2; Commanding Officer of a Joint Task Force in Afghanistan; and Commodore, Naval Special Warfare Group 2.  He served as Deputy Commanding General to Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan/NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan.

His previous staff assignments include: Officer Community Manager for NSW and Enlisted Community Manager for SEALs, Navy Divers, EOD Technicians, and Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen. He served on the Joint Staff as the J3 Deputy Directorate for Special Operations as the Global War on Terror Branch Chief and as Chief Staff Officer of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell.

He currently serves as Assistant Commanding General, Navy, at Joint Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, NC.

He completed his Masters of Joint Campaign Planning and Strategy at Joint Advanced Warfighting School. He has been awarded numerous citations, awards, honors and medals for service to our country.

Timothy attributes much of his success to his family, especially the loving support provided throughout his distinguished military career by his wife of thirty years, Marcela, and two sons, Clinton and Mischa.