Plaque dedicated to memory of Johnston's Matthew J. DiIorio hung on JHS library wall


Sallyann and Jack DiIorio thought they were going to a friend’s house for dinner.

Instead, they were driven to Johnston High School and led inside toward the library.

They passed a piece of fabric hung on the wall and gasped as they recognized friends and family filling the library.

This was no ordinary dinner. Instead, it was a carefully organized tribute to their late son, Matthew.

Donna Danielian and Kathy Medici, close friends of the DiIorios, removed the fabric unveiling a plaque in memory of Matthew’s lasting legacy.

The plaque left Sallyann speechless and in tears.

Framed in wood, the brass plaque features a portrait of “Matthew J. DiIorio, Class of ’99” and the following inscription: “Matt was the perfect example of triumph over adversity. He will continue to inspire all those who were lucky enough to know him. (June 2, 1981-July 4, 2021)”

To cap the event, the family realized their intensive fundraising efforts for the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA) — the organization searching for a cure for the disease that claims Matthew’s life — have crossed the million-dollar mark.

“What a Thanksgiving!” said Danielian, a close family friend and one of the organizers of last Thursday’s tribute to Matthew DiIorio. “(Sallyann) just found out that our fundraising efforts made the $1,000,000 mark. We are actually at $1,000,700. The DiIorios are beyond excited.”

The plaque and dedication was a gift from Sallyann and Jack DiIorio’s close friends: Donna and Jeff Danielian, Harriet and Mike Sukaskas, Kathy and Ed Medici, Maureen and Vito Sciolto, Joanne and David Thomas, and Pat and Allan Waterman.

Donna, Harriet, Maureen and Sallyann met in the first grade, and have cherished a 60-year lifelong friendship.

Harriet Sukaskas read a tribute to Matthew, who passed away in July at age 40. He had been fighting a decades-long battle with Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA), a debilitating neurodegenerative disorder.

The Johnston native was diagnosed with the illness in 1994 at age 13.

“We all agree that our time with Matt was much too brief, but when we think about the experiences he was able to share with us the word that comes to mind is ‘impactful,’” Sukaskas told the crowd gathered in the library. “Do you recall the traffic jam his funeral mass caused and the astounding number of people who filled the church pews, the church foyer, and the church parking lot? These people were young and old, close friends and mere acquaintances, his doctors, his teachers, his coaches, his football watching buddies, his college friends, his high school friends, his FARA team, and the list goes on and on. Matt left his mark wherever he went. He impressed all those who came in contact with him.”

During his life, Matthew was a tireless advocate for FARA. He found comfort in helping others who struggled with the same disease. He found strength in building up others.

“Johnston High School was a good fit for Matt,” Sukaskas said. “He actually had to fight his mom and dad to get back to Johnston after a short time at Mount Saint Charles, and we are so thankful that he won that battle. He chose to participate in all that (Johnston High) had to offer. He danced to ‘I Feel Pretty’ at a Senior Send-off. He managed the Panther basketball team earning him an induction into the Athletic Hall of Fame. He worked on class floats, and he traveled to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and New York on class trips. He was chosen king of just about every event including Homecoming, which is quite an honor, all while achieving academic success.”

The school was good for Matthew, and Matthew inspired everyone he met.

“Yes, the school positively impacted Matt, but the impact Matt had on the students and faculty at J.H.S. was far more significant,” Sukaskas said. “Fortunately, Matt’s influence will continue through the DiIorio Family Scholarship generously set up by his brothers, Nicholas, Andrew, and parents, Sallyann and Jack. This scholarship benefits students facing challenges in their lives. Matt tackled each and every challenge placed in his path. He did not allow his circumstances to remove him from the scene. He thrust himself in the middle of it all and showed others how to live. The lessons he passed on to those around him at Johnston High School and elsewhere are far greater than anything learned in the classroom. For that reason, we felt Matt’s legacy of grit and determination should forever be on display at Johnston High.”

Johnston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr. offered remarks. School Committee members Robert LaFazia, Joe Rotella and Sue Mansolillo, and Town Council member Lauren Garzone, attended last Thursday’s tribute.

Faces from Matthew’s school days were also in the crowd —Greg Russo, Matt’s former class advisor, and Jim Hopkins, the varsity basketball coach when Matt managed the team for four years.

Matthew was the first recipient of the Gary Mazzi Hall of Fame Lifetime achievement award.

A golf tournament and a race (The Race for Matt and Grace) are held annually in his honor.

Meanwhile, the battle against FA continues. Matthew’s family and friends have pledged to continue the fight.

Donations can still be made to FARA in Matt's memory. More information can be found at (checks to FARA may be mailed to 533 W. Uwchlan Ave., Downingtown, PA 19335; reference RFMG).


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