In memoriam: Tiziana Serafini, 62, teaching professor of Italian

Author: Mary Kinney

Tiziana Serafini, an Italian teaching professor in the Department of Romantic Languages and Literature, died in Rome last month from stomach cancer. She was 62.

An Italian native, Serafini received her master’s degree in American, English, and German Literature and Languages at Sapienza Università di Roma in Rome before completing her master’s and doctoral degrees in Italian Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. She then received her master's in language pedagogy, or teaching and promoting Italian as a foreign language, from Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice in 2015.

Tiziana Serafini
Tiziana Serafini

She came to the University of Notre Dame in 2016, after she served as the director of the Italian language program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and taught Italian language and literature courses at UCLA, the University of Southern California, Santa Monica College, and Los Angeles City College.

Once at Notre Dame, Serafini dedicated her time to teaching students her native Italian language and was known for her warmth and availability.

“Freshman year I had her as my first Italian professor ever,” Adele Bonomi, a senior who worked closely with Serafini, told The Observer. “I had never taken it before. It was online. She was the one who made me super passionate about Italian.”

In addition to bonding with students, Serafini also connected with her colleagues in the Department of Romance Languages and Literature. Alison Rice, chair of the department and a professor of French, said they crossed paths frequently during the 2022 fall semester and she looked forward to the quick but warm interactions they shared, bonding over their love for reading, European chocolate, and dedication to their work.

“I admired many of Tiziana’s qualities, including what appeared to be boundless energy and a true desire to make a difference, in whatever way she could,” Rice said. “She was genuinely devoted to her students, never missing a chance to engage with them and never hesitating to spend meaningful hours in her office with them, going over course materials but also getting to know each of them. She took the time to establish personal relationships with students and colleagues alike, in the most professional manner.”

Her care for others extended beyond the classroom. In 2022, she partnered with the Office of Digital Learning to offer an online course called Learning and Teaching Beyond the Classroom, which empowered students to become educators themselves by teaching basic Italian to African refugees as they relocated to Italy. Serafini co-taught the course with Suzanne Shanahan, Leo and Arlene Hawk Executive Director of the Center for Social Concerns, and sought to make language learning all the more meaningful for students.

“We really need to rethink the teaching of foreign languages,” Serafini said of the project. “We need to be thinking in terms of the social needs that we see arising in societies every day, more and more with all the wars and tumultuous situations we see in the world.”

This passion for connecting and helping others through language is what made her so memorable, and what made her passing so difficult, Rice said.

“I miss Tiziana. My colleagues do as well,” Rice said. “We are grateful for her countless contributions to our department and will not soon forget her dedication to sharing the beauty of Romance languages and literature with others.”

Serafini is survived by two children. Following her death, a funeral service was held in Rome and a memorial service was held Sept. 1 at Malloy Hall Chapel on Notre Dame’s campus.