By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 18, 2018
ATLANTA—One of Mary Anne Castranio’s biggest joys came only after facing her fears. Castranio hated to fly but still boarded an airplane for a life-altering trip in June 1998. Then in her early 40s, she traveled to China to be united with her daughter, Amy, whom she adopted.
Marking the 20th anniversary of the adoption this year, she wrote on her Facebook wall, “The very best, most wonderful baby girl became my daughter. The joy continues on.”
From that experience, she fostered tight-knit friendships with families with children adopted from China.
“Mary Anne was the kindest of souls. She never met a stranger. She was very loving. Her faith for God always shone through in everything she did. Amy was the light of her life,” said Karen Campbell, a longtime friend who also adopted her daughter from China.
Castranio, the executive editor of The Georgia Bulletin, died Friday, Oct. 12.
She had traveled to Washington, D.C., for a conference with Catholic Press Association and Catholic News Service colleagues when she collapsed. She was 61.
Castranio joined the archdiocesan newspaper as the executive editor in August 2003. She was a well-respected colleague and friend, contributing to the conversations surrounding Catholic newspapers, magazines and online publications on a national level by being elected to the Catholic Press Association board. Castranio was the vice president of the board and the Southern regional representative.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said that Castranio willingly placed her communication skills at the service of the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
“She always presented the Church’s teachings and principles with integrity and honesty. That type of integrity gained her many fans and widespread respect. Her colleagues at the Archdiocese will miss her cheerful demeanor and enthusiasm,” said Archbishop Gregory. “As we begin to recover from the shock of her sudden death, we need to praise God for the gifts that she brought to the mission of the Church here in North and Central Georgia.”
Her office at the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Atlanta in Smyrna remains as she left it. Excerpts from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 and Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”—“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting”—hang on the walls. Books of prayer and the Catechism of the Catholic Church share shelves with books on history and writing. A placard on her desk states: “I’m silently correcting your grammar.”
Born at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on Feb. 21, 1957, she was mostly raised in Cary, North Carolina, the oldest of four children. Her late father, John, a Korean War Marine pilot, worked for 29 years as an IBM engineer; her deceased mother, Patricia, was an emergency room nurse.
She was a proud fan of the Carolina blue worn to represent her beloved University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She recently, on a Facebook post, called Chapel Hill “the Southern part of heaven!”
Castranio earned a bachelor’s in English and music education from the university. She received a master’s degree in secondary English education from Georgia State University.
Later, Castranio studied for a master of science degree in technical communication from Southern College of Technology, Marietta, now part of Kennesaw State University. She worked as a senior technical writer for over 12 years at IBM and for nine years at MAPICS, Inc. She also spent two years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention editing articles for the “Emerging Infectious Diseases” scholarly journal before joining the archdiocesan newspaper.
From the Girl Scouts and the adoption community to the parish music ministry, Castranio lived a life of doing for others.
“She was never too busy to do what people asked her to,” said Sister Carolyn Oberkirch, a member of the Sisters of Mercy. The women knew each other starting in the 1980s at Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Atlanta, and kept in touch when Sister Carolyn moved to Mobile, Alabama. “She had a lot of giving to share. She was a very loving, loving person.”
Mark Beno, the St. Joseph Church, Marietta, music minister, where she played piano nearly every Sunday, called her a “model of humbleness in her ministry. She was an excellent pianist, and played similar to her personality, with an inner strength and love for life,” he said in an email.
With a knack for drawing people together, Castranio was key to starting the local adoption support group to serve single mothers.
“She was a big part of FCC Atlanta. She wasn’t big; she was huge. She knew she could make a difference,” said Roxanne Lau, who served as a leader of the Families With Children From China Atlanta chapter.
Castranio was devoted to her daughter and joined the group for support and out of a desire to root her daughter in Chinese culture with cultural camps and celebrations. Said Lau, “Her life was her daughter. Amy was her life. There’s nobody who ever doubts that.”
Beginning in 2003, she led The Georgia Bulletin through changes in the media landscape with the social media boom as the newspaper staff earned awards from the Catholic Press Association. Under her direction, the newspaper and its website were completely redesigned. She facilitated creation of Facebook and Twitter accounts and a blog early in her tenure and more recently an e-newsletter featuring key stories of interest.
Tom Aisthorpe, advertising manager at The Georgia Bulletin, met Castranio in the early 1990s when the two worked with the youth ministry at Our Lady of the Assumption Church.
“She brought more of the spirituality to the group,” he said about the youth program. “She was the voice of reason, the mother,” he said.
Outside of the parish, she’d join Aisthorpe and others for games of spades. When the position at the archdiocesan newspaper became available, he encouraged her to apply.
“She was always very involved with the church. She had the Catholic part. I knew she was a writer and editor,” he said.
The Georgia Bulletin allowed her talents in writing and editing and a deep faith to intersect.
When Castranio merged her faith and professional work, she found “a unified vocation that was very genuine and deep,” said Gretchen Keiser, who worked with Mary Anne closely as the editor from 2003 to 2017. “Her accomplishments both in the Atlanta Archdiocese and beyond blossomed at every turn with the help of the Holy Spirit,” she said.
Keiser thought of the Gospel story of the loaves and fishes when she considered Castranio’s skills. “There were never quite enough resources to accomplish what Mary Anne envisioned, but that never stopped her from trying to reach toward those ideals. She showed a daily faith and brought about accomplishments that seemed out of reach.”
There’s a cross-stitch sampler at Keiser’s home completed by Castranio. It says, “In everything, give thanks.”
“I am trying to follow that Scripture and am truly thankful to have had her as a boss, colleague and friend for the last 15 years,” said Keiser.
Her faith and her love of the news took her to the leadership role at the Catholic Press Association.
Her peers knew Mary Anne was “committed to the craft,” said Joe Towalski, the president of the Catholic Press Association. He is the communications director of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and the editor of the diocesan newspaper, The Visitor.
“She was a journalist who always did things the right way. She tried to shed more light, than fire with the coverage she did,” he said.
Towalski saw Castranio’s personal side. “I always think of the Catholic press as a family. She is one of the family members I always wanted to see. She always made me feel comfortable. She had stories. She made me laugh.”
Greg Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, first worked with Castranio when they were temporarily filling in for others who had left the board of directors of CPA.
“I was immediately impressed with Mary Anne’s energy and commitment. When I became president of the CPA I asked her to get involved with CPA committee work,” said Erlandson.
He said she understood the value of the Catholic press and the role it plays in communicating both the substance and the relevance of the church to readers.
“In her service on the CPA-CNS Liaison Committee, she was both funny and insightful, direct in her comments and supportive in her actions,” he said.
She disliked purveyors of discord and fake news and loved the Archdiocese of Atlanta, he recalled.
“I don’t think I was ever in a meeting when she didn’t mention at least once the powerful witness of Eucharistic adoration in the archdiocese,” said Erlandson. “The Catholic press is in mourning, for we have all lost a great journalistic leader and a great friend.”
Castranio is survived by her daughter, Amy, of Kennesaw; her brother, John Francis Castranio and his wife, Judee, of Cary, North Carolina; her sister, Connie Mooney and her husband, Michael, of Raleigh, North Carolina; her brother, David Castranio and his wife, Lisa, of Cary, North Carolina; beloved nieces and nephews; and her longtime friends Tina and David Levitt, of Kennesaw, and their family.
The family was to have a private burial. A memorial Mass for friends and colleagues will be celebrated on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 12 p.m. at St. Joseph Church, 87 Lacy St., NW, Marietta.
Contributions in memory of Mary Anne Castranio may be made to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Home Auxiliary in Atlanta here.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s column about Mary Anne Castranio is featured in “What I Have Seen and Heard.”