Wandering through a small village in Abruzzo, a region of Italy, in search of his father’s childhood home, Carlo D’Ortenzio came upon an elderly woman walking across the piazza with a bucket and mop. When he told her his father grew up in the village, she immediately said “you look just like him”.
Intrigued, Carlo inquired, “What was his name?”
“Gino,” she replied correctly.
As it turned out the woman was once his father’s next-door neighbour. Carlo couldn’t help but chuckle as he recalled: “I think she had a fondness for my dad because she knew too much about him. She took me to his family home and described in intricate detail the décor of the rooms, including the one he slept in.”
His pilgrimage in the 1990s to his father’s village Castiglione a Casauria, a small town in the province of Pescara on the Adriatic coast, which by then had only about 300 residents, was a pledge he made to himself after his father’s sudden passing at the age of 59. Gino, who had worked tirelessly at General Motors Holden for three decades, had intended to retire on his 60th birthday and finally visit his siblings abroad for the first time since leaving Italy.
Out of eight D’Ortenzio children, Ginaldo (Gino), his brother Guiseppe and a sister, who later returned to Italy, were the only siblings who came to Australia, while the rest were scattered across the globe. It took eight years for Carlo to fulfil his mission.
During his visit to Gino’s village, he aspired to meet all those who had known his father. Serendipitously, the mobile greengrocer happened to arrive in town that day. Since most of the elderly villagers couldn’t travel to Pescara, about 60 of them gathered around the truck. After they had purchased their fruit and vegetables, Carlo extended an invitation to the only bar in town for a drink or a coffee.
“It cost me 280 euros, but I got to meet them all. I made sure to return on the same day next time and did it all over again,” Carlo recalled.
This ability to connect with people seems to have been a guiding force in Carlo’s life and his successful business career which included overseeing mergers and acquisitions for a global publicly listed company in London and contributing to the growth of Tourism SA and the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust.
“People, people, people,” Carlo stressed as he articulated his strategy for his senior management position at the Archdiocese. “I will consistently include them in the journey, and I will maintain transparent communication.”
Carlo’s people-focused mindset has its roots in his childhood in Flinders Park. Most of the market gardens in the area were owned by his mother’s family, the Zerellas. There were rarely fewer than 25 to 30 people gathered around the lunch table.
“The Zerella family had a large land holding from Flinders Park through to Fulham Gardens – it was all Zerella land, and the family occupied most of those streets on the periphery,” he said.
“We lived in Captain Cook Avenue, the same street as the parish church and the Catholic school (St Joseph’s) where I began my schooling.”
“We went through all our sacraments there at St Joseph’s, attending church on Sundays with the family, including two generations of grandparents and great-grandparents. The church was full by the time the Zerellas and the rest of us got there, there was no room for anyone else.
“It was a big family, but it was fun. I grew up with people all around us. My parents would say ‘la famiglia e` dove la vita inizia e l’amore non finisce mai’ (family is where life begins and love never ends).”
The family later relocated to a larger house in Hectorville. As the eldest of three children, Carlo assumed domestic responsibilities, as his father left early for shift work and his mother commuted by bike to the Badenoch factory in Woodville.
“I would get up early and make breakfast for my siblings. I grew up in a household where hard work and sacrifice were expected,” he said.
“My parents worked tirelessly to give us a quality education; education was everything.”
Following another relocation, to Prospect, Carlo commenced his education at Blackfriars Priory School when he was about eight years old. Despite residing in Rosary parish, the family’s spiritual connection led them to St Laurence’s Church in North Adelaide, where their cousins worshipped. Carlo remains an active parishioner at this church to this day.
After completing his school years, Carlo pursued studies in commerce and tax law, ultimately becoming a chartered accountant. However, his professional journey took a notable shift when he assumed an executive management position with the City of Elizabeth, now known as Playford.
After seven years at the council, he established his own chartered accounting practice, specialising in corporate turnarounds and change management. This venture eventually led to his involvement in the establishment of Clinpath, the second-largest provider of health and pathology services in Australia.
It was becaue of this work that he made his most important ‘connection’, thanks to a persistent medical centre receptionist who wanted him to meet one of her single friends. He eventually met Enza Belperio, a clinical psychologist working at a large medical clinic north of Adelaide. This meeting led to coffee, which turned into dinner, and then a whirlwind engagement and marriage within nine months. “And I got the appointment,” Carlo cheekily added.
The couple followed Enza’s family tradition and were married in St Patrick’s Church, Grote Street, followed by a typically grand Italian celebration.
“We had around 280 at the reception, her parents had 900!” Carlo said.
The Belperio family was deeply involved in the St Maximilian Kolbe Church community at Ottoway. Enza’s father, a bricklayer/concreter, contributed to building and rebuilding the church, which had been destroyed by fire in 1983.
Carlo’s career continued to thrive while he and Enza raised their three children. His time at Tourism SA, under the leadership of the highly respected CEO Bill Spurr, was marked by growth in regional tourism, the development of major events, the introduction of direct international flights to Adelaide, and hosting segments of the 2000 Olympic Games. This phase also fuelled Carlo’s desire for higher education, leading to his attainment of a Master of Business Administration, a Master of Law, a Doctor of Business Administration, and a Doctor of Philosophy over the next two decades.
With a long-standing interest in property development, Carlo assumed the role of deputy CEO with the Makris Group, overseeing significant marina and retail developments across the country. This was followed by his appointment as the chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust in 2011.
During this period, Carlo and his family faced their most challenging test: their eldest daughter, Vittoria, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, an extremely aggressive tumour, while in Year 11 at St Dominic’s Priory College. Vittoria displayed remarkable resilience, pushing forward with her studies during a year-long hospitalisation and numerous complications. She not only defeated the cancer but also achieved an impressive ATAR of 95.5 and gained entry into a commerce and law degree.
Carlo and Enza did their best to ensure that life remained as routine as possible for their two younger children, Luke and Isabella. Vittoria is 26 now and a corporate lawyer, Luke, 23, is in his final year of commerce and law and Isabella, 20, is studying psychology.
All three attended his farewell at the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust after which Luke said: “Dad we are so proud of what you’ve achieved and the legacy you have left, but your new role will be by far your greatest calling and your greatest challenge.”
As for his 90-year-old mother, Clara, who still lives independently, she was a “bit flummoxed” by Carlo’s new appointment at the Archdiocese and asked him “what do you do, count candles, aren’t you a big boss anymore?”.
After trying to explain that the Archdiocese included not only churches and parishes but also schools, social services, pastoral care, aged care and more, he realised the message wasn’t getting through.
‘Let’s look at it as a calling,” he said.
“God’s is asking me to help, so I am.”
At a time in his life when retirement could be tempting, Carlo said “that’s not me.”
“I don’t play golf, I don’t like gardening and I don’t go fishing. I enjoy learning and being with people, hence I have no intention of staying home doing house chores.”
Carlo is a passionate advocate for humanitarian law, working to combat the exploitation of women and children and championing the sanctity of human life in all its forms. His commitment to these causes includes writing articles to raise awareness and capture the attention of politicians and policy makers.
“I believe my time has arrived to give back, I’ve been so fortunate in life…thanks to my parents I had the opportunity to study, I have been blessed to work with inspirational leaders who have also been mentors and secured unbelievable employment opportunities where I have been challenged and succeeded,” he said.
“I believe all this preparation has been for a reason, culminating in the biggest challenge of all – working with the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide. I am looking forward to many years of working with the Church, excited to be part of the team and look forward to contributing my best to our collective success.”Jump to next article