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Jan. 20, 2004 • Volume 13 Number 9

Retired GSSW Faculty Member Castagnola Dies

A funeral Mass was celebrated Jan. 7 at St. Denis Church in Westwood, Mass., for Assoc. Prof. Robert Castagnola (GSSW), a much-beloved faculty member who infused his social work teaching with humor and spirituality.

Prof. Castagnola died of a blood infection on Jan. 4. He was 75.

A Boston native whose father managed a meat-packing plant, Prof. Castagnola graduated from Boston College in 1951 and earned his master's degree in 1958 at the BC Graduate School of Social Work, where he returned in 1962 as a part-time faculty member. He joined the faculty full-time in 1968 and taught for the next 32 years before retiring from his position, although he continued to teach at the school's Stonehill site.

Named Social Worker of the Year in 1968 by the National Association of Social Workers, Prof. Castagnola received the Companion of Justice Award from Boston College during the celebration of the 500th Jesuit Anniversary in 1991 as a person whose life and work expressed Jesuit ideals.

Colleagues and former students recalled Prof. Castagnola as a true believer in the social-justice mission of social work and in the importance of a strong social worker-client relationship. But he also had a firm belief in clients' ultimate ability to help themselves.

"He used to liken clients to sunflowers," said William Sullivan MSW '00, a former student of Prof. Castagnola now working as a licensed social worker. "Like sunflowers, he said, our clients were 'looking for the light,' and all you had to do was help clear the junk out of their way so they could bloom and realize their potential."

The metaphor was part of Prof. Castagnola's mystique, and many of his students and colleagues wore small sunflowers to the final GSSW graduation he attended as a full-time faculty member.

The role of spirituality in social work was another defining aspect of Prof. Castagnola's teaching, and for more than 20 years he would invite groups of students, often to his home, for periodic discussions.

"He would call these 'pizza and God talks,'" said GSSW Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Services Regina O'Grady-LeShane. "It was something really close to his heart."

Liz Cinquino, a 1984 GSSW alumnus who is now the school's assistant director for academic and student services, regularly attended these sessions. "We would talk about how our spirituality, whatever form it took, affected what we did as social workers," she said. "Prof. Castagnola said we shouldn't be afraid to explore faith, especially in our dealings with clients. At the time, there weren't a lot of opportunities to discuss these kinds of issues, especially outside the classroom, so he definitely filled a great need.

"His main point was that, as a social worker, you use yourself the way clients need you. He had his faith, and he also had a great sense of humor, and these were ways he would be able to help people."

Prof. Castagnola spelled out his philosophy on social work in The Pragmatics of Healing, a booklet for beginning students.

"Sometimes through the use of community resources and advocacy we can change a small part of the system to benefit our client," he wrote. "Now this may mean at times we have to stand up and shout in order for the system to hear us. Sometimes we have to be ready to be insulted, disparaged, and rejected. It can hurt, but this is part of our job."

Prof. Castagnola, who had served in the Air Force, was a social worker in the Department of Mental Health and also worked in the Massachusetts prison system. He was a frequent volunteer at the Pine Street Inn and spent much of his sabbatical year working there.

He is survived by his wife, Charlotte A. (Salerno); two sons, Raymond of Cambridge and Christopher of Dedham; a daughter, Robin of Cleveland; and two grandchildren. -Sean Smith

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