Donna Marino, the new president and CEO of Catholic Education Arizona, came upon her career leading non-profit organizations quite by grace.
“I always had a call to service,” she told The Catholic Sun. At Boston University, Marino studied speech pathology and audiology, thinking she would work one day in a clinical setting.
Catholic Education Arizona works to make Catholic education available, affordable and accessible to all families.
During her senior year, however, she got involved raising money for “Jerry’s Kids” through the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“I really liked it,” Marino said. “I was invited by their regional office in Massachusetts to make a presentation to the board.”
From a modest background, she had no familiarity with boards of directors but made a strong impression. It turned out to be a defining moment; Marino would devote her life to helping non-profits such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society become successful. She spent five years working alongside Archbishop William Lori in Bridgeport, Conn., leading the archdiocese’s charitable appeal, foundation and endowment fund for parishes and schools.
In 2007, Marino relocated to Phoenix where she led the Catholic Community Foundation until 2013. Most recently, the Our Lady of Joy parishioner served as chief administrative officer for Childhelp, a national child welfare/behavioral health organization dedicated to the prevention, intervention and treatment of child abuse.
As the new president and CEO of Catholic Education Arizona, Marino brings a fresh vision and unique perspective to the role. She said she identifies with students whose parents can’t afford to send them to Catholic school. Her parents couldn’t either.
Marino also identifies with parents who want not only top-notch academics, but also the religious and moral training that define Catholic schools and help create future leaders for the Church and society.
“Our Catholic schools are helping shape the culture by producing great leaders,” Marino said. She’s hopes to add “financial fuel to fund the mission” and said she’s got some fresh ideas about how to make that happen.
“Non-profits in the U.S. and in many dioceses have great success when it transcends the money,” Marino said. It’s about being part of the mission and being able to put a face on those who are helped by scholarships. Donors want to know they’ve made a difference in someone’s life, she said.
Marino also hopes to increase participation by those who don’t have children in Catholic schools. She loves it when she hears people talk about a nun they had in elementary school who helped them become the person they are today.
MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent of Catholic schools, emphasized the key role Catholic Education Arizona plays.
“Catholic Education Arizona is vital for the formation of students who will be disciples in this world, loving God and neighbor,” Mueller said. “Donna will be instrumental in the continued development of this important organization.”
Some 14,000 students attend Catholic schools in the Diocese of Phoenix. Many are from families who cannot afford to pay the full cost of tuition. That’s where Catholic Education Arizona steps in to help fill the gap between what families can pay and what the schools need to educate students. Since Catholic Education Arizona began, over $126 million in tuition support has been awarded via some 87,000 scholarships to lower-income families with qualified financial need.
“It’s OK when people say, ‘Oh no, here she comes, asking for money for the mission.’ I like that. I’m happy if that’s my reputation,” Marino said of her work. “That’s my job and I enjoy it. It comes naturally to me.”