The Diocese of Des Moines
Longtime education leader to retire
January 12, 2018
Written By: Kelly Mescher Collins

Dr. Joe Cordaro will soon be closing the books on his 47-year career in Catholic education when he retires at the end of this school year.

Thirty of those years were spent as principal at St. Anthony Catholic School in Des Moines.

His love for St. Anthony is a family affair. Not only did he and his five siblings attend St. Anthony, but his grandmother, father and grandchildren all attended the school.

“Five generations at St. Anthony,” he said. “My most proud day was when my first grandchild entered school at St. Anthony – that was a memorable day.”

Cordaro credits his late father for inspiring him to be a great Catholic man and educator.

“My father taught at Dowling for many years,” he said. “He was the athletic director when he passed away in 1969. He loved his job. He said it all the time. And there never was a time when he said he didn’t want to go to school.

“And I’ve always heard what a great gentleman he was and a great teacher he was,” Cordaro continued. “He’s been gone for 50 years and I still meet kids (he taught) today and they always say what a great guy he was and what a great teacher he was. So I want to be able to affect people as much as he did.”

His parents’ strong Catholic faith and devotion impacted all of the Cordaro kids.

“[My brother] Frank was a priest and now manages the Catholic Worker House,” he said. “Bill is my next brother. He was the director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Kansas City for 20 years and taught at St. Augustin prior to that. Now he’s the director of development for Catholic churches and is working with parishes. 

 His brother Tom is a peace and justice minister for a parish outside Chicago; his sister  does a lot of volunteering; and his youngest brother Rick works for Principal and also volunteers around the community, Cordaro said.

 “I credit my parents,” he said. “Both were very strong Catholics, very traditional. Their parents were Italian immigrants on the south side and church was the center focus of a lot of things we did in our family. They instilled that in us that it’s more than just going to church. It’s taking part in the community and schools and anything that deals with kids. That was what they did.”

He started his career as a teacher and coach at Assumption High School, then joined the staff at the former Visitation School (now Holy Family School) in Des Moines. In 1976 he began 12 years of teaching and coaching at Dowling Catholic High School before being named principal of St. Anthony School in 1988.

Much has changed in the 30 years since he first started as principal, he said.

“It was a simple time,” he said. “But as you grow into this, it’s important that you do things right, and we needed to learn how to do it right. And as an administrator, it magnified even bigger.”

Cordaro earned his doctorate degree in education and school administration in 1996 from Drake University.

“When I first started, summers were easy,” he continued.

 Now you need to become a professional safety manager, a professional on government programs and the list goes on.

“It’s just one thing after another gets piled on to what’s required,” he said. “And those things are very important, but they can really wear on you.”

One of the most important projects he participated in during his time at St. Anthony was adding the Spanish immersion program, he said, which started eight years ago.

“What a great program that’s turned out to be…,” Cordaro said. “It’s a thrill to watch [our teachers] work and how professional they are. And they fit right into what they do. It’s the miracle of kids learning another language.”

The kids start learning Spanish in kindergarten and by fifth grade they will be fluent, he added.

He looks forward to some time off in retirement, but not too much idle time.

“I’m probably going to be looking for some part-time work and relaxing in between,” he said. “I also want to do some volunteering. Nothing’s firm, but in the making.”

He announced his retirement in a statement that described his time as an education leader not just as a job but as an adventure.  

 “Since 1988, I have had the wonderful opportunity to come back to the school that raised me and my entire family, then allowed me to become the principal,” he said. “Since that first day, through the help of many, much has been accomplished over the many years.  This I am proud of, but most proud of the many students, parents, faculty, and staff I have been able to serve in some small part of their lives.

“After all this, the time comes to say goodbye.  At the end of the 2017-18 school year, I will be retiring from an adventure – not a job.  I will always remember the many friendships, stories, and most of all, the deep love one has for their family, school, and parish.  The St. Anthony family is rooted in my heart and memory for ever.

“God bless and thanks for allowing me to be part of this unique parish and school.” Save to


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