Dr. Matilde Mignone Fava passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by her family. She is survived by her loving husband of nearly 49 years, John; her adoring daughters and their husbands, Palmina (Richard), Doreena (Paul), and Joanna (Anthony); nine grandchildren who admired her, Milena, Eric, Gianni, Leonardo, Eva, Matthew, Marco, Francesca, and John; five heartbroken siblings and their spouses, Drs. Nino (Madeline) Mignone, Maria (Dr. Rocco) Pallone, Dr. Biagio (Kathy) Mignone, Dr. Domenico Mignone, and Agnese (Michael) Amato; sisters-in-law, Sheila Mignone and Dr. Lois Mignone; brother-in-law, Thomas Fava; an aunt Dr. Florinda Iannace; and dozens of nieces, nephews, and cousins. She is predeceased by her daughter, Rita, who died at birth; two brothers, Drs. Giuseppe Mignone and Mario Mignone; and her parents, Roberto and Palmina Mignone.
Matilde emigrated to the United States from San Leucio del Sannio (Benevento) in September 1960, settling in the Bronx. Like many Italian immigrants at the time, she faced discrimination and, as a woman, was stereotyped for particular jobs; after grueling days laboring in a factory, she returned home to the two-bedroom apartment she shared with six siblings and her parents and helped care for her younger siblings. Determined to succeed and to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a teacher, she took English classes at night and on the weekends. With much hard work and perseverance, she realized the first step in her dream by teaching first grade at Our Lady of Victory in Mount Vernon beginning in 1962. At roughly the same time, Matilde was accepted to Fordham University’s School of Education; she toiled for seven years working full-time and going to school at night to earn her degree. During that period, she organized an Italian Club at Fordham and worked to change the course credit values from two to three and the graduating credit requirements from 135 to 125, impacting tens of thousands of future Fordham University students. In 1971, NYU awarded Matilde a Teaching Fellowship; over the course of the next ten years, Matilde earned a Master of Arts and a Ph.D. in Italian Language and Literature from NYU – while working full-time and raising a family. Also during that time, through her zealous advocacy and student leadership, Matilde preserved the Italian graduate program at NYU. Matilde worked tirelessly to salvage the Italian studies programs at numerous high schools and colleges in the tri-state area over the last 40 years.
Matilde surpassed her childhood dreams by working her way up the ladder of academia, teaching in high school, serving as an adjunct professor at several colleges in New York and New Jersey, and becoming a tenured professor at Farmingdale State College – where she served on the faculty for over 35 years, implemented an Italian Studies Minor, established a successful Multi-Cultural Student Club to showcase the rich cultures among the student body, and created hybrid and online classes well before the pandemic necessitated. Matilde served with distinction as a Chair or Member of many College-wide committees, leaving an indelible mark at Farmingdale. Moreover, despite battling cancer and caring for her young grandchildren multiple days each week, Matilde spent the last two years as Chairperson of the Modern Languages Department at Farmingdale. In addition to these responsibilities, Matilde served for over 45 years as an adjunct professor at Fordham University.
Matilde lectured at conferences around the world, published two books, taught over 10,000 students, and introduced students to Italian culture through an immersive summer study abroad program in Rome for 17 years. Throughout her career, she taught Italian, Spanish, and French language, Italian Literature, Italian Culture and Civilization, and very popular courses on international and Italian cinema.
Matilde advocated for improved treatment of Italians and Italian-Americans, advanced women and immigrants throughout her career, and served as a role model for achieving not just the American Dream but the work-life balance of a successful, professional woman. Matilde’s professional achievements were recognized over the years with the New York State University Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Service, Bene Merenti Award from Fordham, Achievement in Education Award, Ambasciatori Award as an Outstanding Italian-American Leader, an award for Dedication and Service from the Bronx Italian Women Society, Calabria Region Literary Award, Teacher of the Year from Fordham University, and a Certificate of Appreciation from the Westchester County Executive who recognized Matilde as “an individual whose leadership and generosity have enriched the lives of all with whom she has come in contact.”
Among those most impacted by Matilde’s compassion, guidance, tenacity, and courage are her loving family, to whom she was unendingly devoted. She was an engaged and present mother to her three daughters and Nonna to her 9 grandchildren, for whom she would do anything and to whom she taught life’s most important lessons; a loving wife, partner, and best friend to John with whom she built a happy life; and a caring and loyal sister, aunt, niece, and cousin to an extended family which she cherished dearly.
Matilde demonstrated a lifelong intellectual curiosity, a passion for imparting knowledge, and a tireless devotion to her family, her community, and her students. To continue Matilde’s legacy of supporting student research and learning, in lieu of flowers or other gifts, the family asks you to consider a donation to the Dr. Matilde Fava Student Scholarship Fund, which will be used to promote the study of Modern Languages, Literature, and Culture and of the immigrant experience in, and contribution to, America. Donations may be sent to her family, with checks made payable to the Dr. Matilde Fava Student Scholarship Fund, or through the following links:
The family will receive visitors on Friday, March 5 from 3:30 to 8:00 p.m. at Yannantuono Funeral Home, 584 Gramatan Avenue in Mount Vernon. A mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, March 6 at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, 129 E. Birch Street in Mount Vernon.