February 24, 2020

Friar Flashback with Dr. Mario DiNunzio: An Unofficial History of PC From a Student-Turned-Professor

posted on: Thursday November 14, 2019

by Julia Acquavita ’22

News Staff

Providence College takes pride in the fact that the Friar Family runs deep, meaning current and past students will always have a special place in their hearts for PC. Dr. Mario DiNunzio ’57, a history professor here at PC, is living proof of the impact can have on its past students.

DiNunzio graduated from PC in 1957 as an English major, after switching from a history major. After graduating from the College in 1957, DiNunzio claimed he did not plan on being a professor at all. He started as a radio announcer following college, but then decided to go to graduate school, earning a masters degree and PhD. It was attending graduate school that convinced him teaching was a good profession, causing him to return to his old stomping grounds at PC as a professor in 1960.

DiNunzio kick-started his teaching career as an American history professor, but when the Development of Western Civilization program began in 1971, he began to teach DWC, as well. 

Although DiNunzio has now been retired for 10 years, he continues to teach one class: an honors section of DWC. In this honors section, DiNunzio usually teaches the course alone or with one partner. Currently, for the fall 2019 semester, DiNunzio teaches his honors DWC course with Fr. David Stokes, O.P.

DiNunzio talked about how things have changed quite a lot since he was a student here. Back in the 1950s, PC was an all-boys school and the only dorm was Aquinas Hall. DiNunzio described the campus, saying, “The library was on the third floor of Harkins, the Dominicans lived on the fourth floor, the basement of Harkins was a gym. The dining hall was in a back room of the basement of Aquinas, and everyone stood around this table because there were no chairs.” Picture the campus ending where the Aquinas building is, and that would be the PC campus DiNunzio attended. 

Next to PC, there was a women’s reform school called the House of Good Shepard. What is now the president’s house was once the home of the nuns that ran this reform school, and Feinstein and Saint Joseph Hall were the school and dorm for women. According to DiNunzio, “A chain-link fence separated the girls from the boys, separating PC from the reform school.”

Having been in the PC community for over 50 years, DiNunzio has had his fair share of vivid memories, some he looks back on fondly, and others he looks back on with sadness. One very painful and tragic memory for DiNunzio was the fire in Aquinas in December of 1977. As the story goes, “Students had thrown a snowball party that day, and when they went back to dry off, apparently a hair dryer caught fire on the top floor.” Only the top floor caught on fire, but seven women passed away. DiNunzio recounts this day as the “saddest day in the history of the College.”

Despite having this painful memory, DiNunzio also has many exciting memories he will cherish forever. He has been able to witness the great changes that the school has undergone to transform PC into the school we know now. The biggest change for DiNunzio was going co-ed in 1971. “Enrollment had been declining, so we decided to go co-ed and that’s been the most positive change here, as women at PC have done a great deal to elevate the academic and social level of the college.” 

DiNunzio was a member of the faculty senate, and between the years of 1969-1971, the senate decided for the College to become co-ed, revising and revamping the curriculum in the process, ushering in the beginning of the Development of Western Civilization program. 

Another vivid memory for DiNunzio was the on-campus protests against the Vietnam War. “The students went on strike and the senate endorsed the student strike in protest of the Vietnam War right after students were killed at Kent State. Classes were canceled after the protest,” said DiNunzio.

When asked why he decided to stay here for over 50 years, he responded, “I love teaching. That’s why I kept doing it after retiring. I enjoy dealing with the students, classes, and seminars. Grading papers will always stay the worst part of what I do.”

Outside of PC, DiNunzio has two grandchildren, Eli (eight years old) and Zoe (two years old), who currently live in Washington, D.C. “They love coming to campus and going with their grandpa to class,” said DiNunzio. He hopes that one day they will follow in his footsteps and join the Friar Family when they begin to apply to colleges.

DiNunzio has been a member of the PC community since the 1950s, serving as an excellent professor and PC alum. Having dedicated almost 65 years to this school, he has been with the College through all of its ups and downs, good times and bad times, and improvements that make it the beautiful school we love and know today. 

One takeaway that any propsective student of Dr. DiNunzio should know is his famous saying,“Syllabi are largely works of fiction.”  

Dr. DiNunzio currently teaches honors DWC.
photo courtesy of mario dinunzio

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