Paul J. Asciolla, a former Roman Catholic priest, onetime candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, former Fauquier County School Board member and retired public school teacher, died Thursday at Fauquier Hospital after a long battle with cancer. He was 65.
A memorial service for Asciolla will be held at 4 p.m. today at Warrenton's First Baptist Church, 39 Alexandria Pike.
Asciolla, a longtime Marshall resident, was known locally for his advocacy of public education, but his life spanned several careers: activist priest in Chicago, director of a national Italian American foundation in Washington, Piedmont region newsman, popular high school teacher in Culpeper, witty and sometimes acerbic local politician.
In a profile in a Fauquier Hospital newsletter six years ago about his struggle with his illness, Asciolla said: "I'm the classic stereotype of an active person. I have 18 jobs, and I can handle all of them at the same time."
His friends described the panache with which the fast-talking, well-read Asciolla handled those jobs.
"He was just a fascinating individual," said Peter Fakoury, Fauquier Hospital's spokesman, who was a friend of Asciolla's through their participation in Fauquier Community Theatre. "He just exuded love to everybody he met. He had such a love for education and children."
Virginia Asciolla, his wife of 21 years, seconded that sentiment. "His vocation and his avocation was education and politics," she said. "Other than that, it was his family." He also leaves a 13-year-old daughter, Rosa, and a 12-year-old son, Anthony.
Asciolla was born and reared in Bristol, R.I., one of three children of a working-class family of Italian immigrants. His mother worked in a shoe factory and his father worked in restaurants. Asciolla studied for a time at a seminary, then graduated from Bristol High School.
He matriculated to Providence College, and from there went back to seminary in Staten Island, N.Y. Soon after taking his vows with the Scalabrinian religious order, Asciolla was transferred to Chicago, where he held various positions, including principal of a small seminary, editor of a community newspaper and administrator of a nursing home.
A self-described "Hubert Humphrey liberal," Asciolla was molded in Chicago's worker-priest tradition. He joined civil rights marches in Selma, Ala., and was active in local ethnic associations. He left the order in 1976, after working at a Washington center for urban ethnic affairs.
In 1978, he married Virginia Cassiano, whom he had met through her work in a community ethnic arts program. In 1976, he became the first executive director of the National Italian American Foundation. After a few years there, he accepted a political appointment to the National Endowment for the Arts.
He worked there until 1981, when he and his wife built a house in Marshall. Seeking to stay closer to home, Asciolla took a pay cut and accepted a job as news director at WCVA radio in Culpeper. In 1988, he went to work at the Culpeper schools.
He held various positions there, including as a spokesman for the schools, an alternative schools teacher and an English teacher at Culpeper High School.
"He had an excellent rapport with the students," said Kelley Fabish, an assistant principal at the high school. "He was caring and compassionate and took an interest in the students personally."
In 1995, Asciolla, active in the local Democratic Party, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Fauquier County School Board left by the resignation of Larry Czarda (Marshall). Asciolla stood for election in November and won.
On the School Board, Asciolla was a vocal promoter of increased schools spending and was oftentimes at odds with the Board of Supervisors.
A colleague on the School Board, John A. Williams (Center), said Asciolla was instrumental in securing financing for the new James G. Brumfield Elementary School and restoring teacher aides to the classroom, after funds for their positions were cut.
"I think he achieved a lot while he was here," Williams said. "He was definitely a staunch supporter of making sure kids had the best kind of education they could get."
In 1997, Asciolla ran a shoestring campaign as the Democratic challenger against the popular incumbent, Del. Jay K. Katzen (R-Fauquier), for the District 31 seat to the Virginia House of Delegates.
The contest was marked by strong words from both camps. Asciolla labeled Katzen an "extremist." Katzen, meanwhile, called Asciolla an "abortionist" and portrayed him as soft on crime. Katzen handily defeated Asciolla, capturing 63 percent of the vote.
"He was a good Democrat and ran when nobody else would take on the job," said John Fry, Fauquier County Democratic Party chairman, of that race.
Asciolla retired from the Culpeper schools in 1998 and, with his health in decline, stepped down from the School Board last summer.
CAPTION: Paul Asciolla, who lived in Marshall for nearly 20 years, was a former Fauquier School Board member, teacher, priest and delegate candidate.