Mario S. De Pillis, Sr. passed away from cancer and complications incident to old age In Amherst on November 18, 2021.
He was pre-deceased in 2013 by his first wife, Freda Rustemeyer. He is survived by his second wife, Constance M. McGovern.
Mario was the second of three sons of Vincent Carmine De Pillis and Giacinta Angelucci De Pillis. He was born in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on January 22,1926, and baptized in May of that year at the old English-Irish church of Saint Rita on Broad Street.
Just before the Crash of 1929 his father bought a house in West Philadelphia on the edge of the city. Around 1937 his father was admitted to one of Pennsylvania’s tuberculosis sanatoriums, where he died in 1940.
He attended St. Callistus Elementary School (long defunct along with its associated parish church). From there he went to one of the tuition-free Catholic high schools, St. Thomas More (closed in 1977).
During World War II, he joined the Army Air Corps, training as an airplane and engine mechanic for B-24 bombers and C-46 transport planes at Keesler Field, Mississippi, and Buffalo, New York. In December 1945, the Air Corps sent him to serve in the occupation of Germany. He left Boston on a Liberty Ship and arrived in Le Havre, France, traveling thence by box car to Bavaria, where he began training as a counter-intelligence agent (partly because of his knowledge of German). He was assigned to the 970th Counter-intelligence Corps covering the Frankfurt area. There he received a direct appointment to warrant Officer JG.
Returning to the United States in 1948, he attended the College of the University of Chicago (BA 1952, MA in history 1954). There he met Freda, whom he married on June 21,1952. In 1955-56 he matriculated at Yale University, taking a second MA and a Ph.D. in American history. His dissertation won the George Washington Egleston Prize.
Coming to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1958, when it was still strongly agricultural, he rose slowly through the ranks, having put “service” before publication. He served on the first Board of Trustees (1960) of the Hancock Shaker Village, which was saved from becoming a race track. In 1965 he joined a group headed by the art historian David C. Huntington in preserving Olana, the architectural masterpiece of Frederic Edwin Church.
His major scholarly work concerned the extension of the story of Mormon communalism into the 20th century. From 1994 to 1995, he served as President of the Mormon History Association, the first non-Mormon to do so. He was the founder of three scholarly journals still leading their fields: the Journal of Social History (with Peter Stearns); the Journal of Mormon History (assisting Jan Shipps and Leonard Arrington and others), and Communal Societies. He was the founder and editor of Communal Societies, proud of specifying the typeface and design and using the last linotype printer in Massachusetts.
An activist in town matters, Mario founded the West Downtown Association in 1997 to deal with the loss of families from that area and unsupervised rentals. But he devoted most of his energy to fighting the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church since 2002, working with Ann W. Turner, Joan Smola, and others to found the Voice of the Faithful. This group was instrumental in removing the Bishop of the diocese of Springfield.
In 1964, President John Lederle appointed him to a committee for the establishment of a branch of the University of Massachusetts—now the thriving University of Massachusetts at Boston. In the 1970s Mario and two other faculty members revised the constitution of the Faculty Senate to give the faculty a greater voice in governance. Mario also, with Michael P. Sullivan, was instrumental in the expansion of the UMass 5 College Credit Union from one room in Draper Hall to the various off-campus locations of today. He assisted fellow History Department members Howard H. Quint and Louis Greenbaum in establishing the first Honors Program and for ten years he taught the first History Honors course. His most distinguished student was Kenneth R. Feinberg. The Honors Program recently became a vast new Commonwealth Honors College with its own building and almost four thousand students.
In 2017, he married Constance M. McGovern, an historian in her own right. They spent their twilight years pursuing their mutual interests in historical research and writing. Returning to Europe for the last time, they traveled to Rome to visit Mario’s only living cousin, Roberto Campitelli. They traveled as well to the sites of Mario’s international lecture stints in Munich and Constance, Germany, reuniting with old friends and colleagues. At home they welcomed visitors, family and friends from afar.
He is survived by his wife Constance M. McGovern, his three sons: Vincent and his wife Kristin Bedell of Seattle; Mario, Jr., and his wife Annie Walton of Amherst; and Alexander and his wife Debra Ann Pinsof-De Pillis of Montpelier. He leaves five grandchildren: Lydia De Pillis of Washington D.C., Sophie De Pillis and her husband Tom Winterbottom of Oakland, California, Alexander and Rafael De Pillis of Amherst, Gabriel Nathaniel Pinsof De Pillis of Montpellier, and one great grandson Frederick Fane De Pillis of Oakland. His brother Vincent J. De Pillis of Philadelphia survives him as well.
Funeral arrangements will be handled by Douglass Funeral Service of Amherst. A memorial service will be held at the Hope Church on Gaylord Street in Amherst on December 4, 2021, beginning at 1:00 p.m. A reception will follow. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hancock Shaker Village,1843 West Housatonic Street, Pittsfield 01201 or Voice of the Faithful, P.O. Box 423, Newton Upper Falls, MA 02464. The town of Amherst requires masks for all indoor gatherings. The family assumes attendees will be vaccinated.