Alfonso Procaccini, a beloved professor and scholar of Italian literature whose erudition and insights inspired and charmed generations of students, friends, and family, passed away peacefully in his home on Friday, Dec. 16, in the loving care of his wife, Ariane Vuono. A gifted thinker and renowned raconteur, his intellect and wit were matched only by his unbridled generosity and infectious warmth.
Born in the hilltop hamlet of Pettoranello del Molise, Italy, on Jan. 1, 1945, Alfonso immigrated to the United States at the age of 10 aboard the U.S.S. Constitution. The family, parents Angelo and Ermelina and brother Italo, settled in Kingston, where Alfonso’s love of learning and bonds to the Italian community took firm root. He earned his doctorate in Italian literature in 1975 at Johns Hopkins University and taught at Yale University before joining the Italian Department at Smith College where he served as a pillar of the campus community for 37 years. Alfonso taught courses on many subjects, ranging from Dante’s Divina Commedia, Bocaccio, and Machiavelli, until he retired in 2018. He raised his three children in the language and traditions of their Italian heritage and introduced countless students to the joys of that culture.
Alfonso was a latter-day Renaissance man. Delighting in pursuits both physical and intellectual, he enjoyed gardening, cooking, painting landscapes and still lifes, translating Dante, listening to music, and going for a passeggiata. He read widely and cultivated the fine art of conversation. A host without equal, he regularly entertained friends and colleagues with tasty regional Italian dishes, stories of his adventures, and the occasional accordion concert. Of all these interests, nothing made him happier than spending time with his family; he was devoted to his parents, wife, and children, who were his best friends, and he adored his grandchildren, who were his pride and joy. As a lionized patriarch of gentle, self-mocking mirth, he could offer the sagest of advice in the form of a fable or a homely folktale. His words will long resonate within us.
He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Ariane, his children Piero, Pia (and husband Stan), and Francesca (and husband Marc), his grandchildren Eliza, Brayden, and Aria, his brother Italo, cousins Robert (and wife Laura) and Mariella, sisters and brothers-in-law, and nieces and nephews, all of whom he loved.
A wake will be held at Mather Hodge Funeral Home, 40 Vandeventer Avenue, Princeton, on Wednesday, Dec. 28 from 6 to 8 p.m., and services will be held at St. Paul’s Church, 216 Nassau Street, Princeton, on Thursday, Dec. 29 at 10 a.m. The mass will be available via live stream at stpaulsofprinceton.org. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to the Professor Alfonso Procaccini Fund, which was established in honor of Alfonso to support students studying in the Florence Junior Year Abroad program of Smith College. The address for the fund is Smith College Gift Accounting, 76 Elm Street, Northampton, MA 01063.