My Cousin the Saint: A Story of Love, Miracles, and an Italian Family Reunited

( 5 )


Justin Catanoso, born and raised in New Jersey, knew little of his family beyond the Garden State. That changed in 2001 when he discovered that his grandfather's cousin, Padre Gaetano Catanoso, aaaaawas a Vatican-certified miracle worker. A typically lapsed American Catholic, Justin embarked on a quest to connect with his extended family in southern Italy and, ultimately, to awaken his slumbering faith.

A compelling narrative written with grace and honesty, My Cousin the Saint ...

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My Cousin the Saint

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Justin Catanoso, born and raised in New Jersey, knew little of his family beyond the Garden State. That changed in 2001 when he discovered that his grandfather's cousin, Padre Gaetano Catanoso, aaaaawas a Vatican-certified miracle worker. A typically lapsed American Catholic, Justin embarked on a quest to connect with his extended family in southern Italy and, ultimately, to awaken his slumbering faith.

A compelling narrative written with grace and honesty, My Cousin the Saint is a testament to the challenge of being Catholic in twenty-first-century America. More than a biography, more than an immigrant memoir, more than a chronicle of renewed faith, it is a love letter to a family now reunited across oceans and years.

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Editorial Reviews

Gay Talese
“Justin Catanoso went to Italy in search of his canonized cousin. In finding the story of his own family, he has written a warm and candid memoir that I admire.”
James Martin
“A glorious book! Part spiritual journey, part detective story, part travelogue, Justin Catanoso’s engrossing new memoir shows how discovering God always leads to discovering yourself. His quest to learn about his saintly cousin leads him to a fuller and richer understanding of his faith, his family, and, ultimately, himself.”
Antonio Monda
“A beautiful book that brings with it the joy and recognition of family and of faith.”
America: The National Catholic Weekly
"Glorious. . . . It’s a great story: part travelogue, part detective story, part spiritual journal, and beautifully told."
The Catholic Standard & Times
“Vividly brings to life one of the Church’s newest canonized saints.”
“A fascinating quest for ancestry and an illuminating wrestling with faith.”
Cape May County Herald
“A book for history lovers. . . for students of theology, for those who question their faith, or for anyone stumbling down life’s highway.”
Greensboro News & Record
“Worth worth reading for the travelogue alone.”
America: The National Catholic Weekly
“Glorious. . . . It’s a great story: part travelogue, part detective story, part spiritual journal, and beautifully told.”
Publishers Weekly

After learning that his grandfather's late cousin would soon be canonized (declared a saint), Catanoso, a journalist, made several trips to southern Italy, taking part in family feasts and funerals and listening to stories about Padre Gaetano Catanoso's holy life and amazing miracles. Back home again, he researched the American branch of the family founded by his grandfather, Carmelo, Born eight years and half a mile apart, the two young men would take differing paths. Gaetano stayed in Calabria and became a priest; Carmelo emigrated to America in 1903, fathered nine children and rarely spoke of his Italian roots. The book starts slowly, with a barrage of information about the saint, the province of Reggio Calabria and the immigrant experience. A hundred pages in, the writing becomes more personal: Catanoso meets his Italian cousins and begins reflecting on his own experience as a Catholic Italian-American. Informative and thought provoking throughout, the chapters on his brother's bout with cancer are especially poignant. Why, he wonders, would a family saint answer some prayers for healing, but not others? (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061729324
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/16/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 698,962
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Justin Catanoso is a journalist who also teaches writing and editing at Wake Forest University. Since 1998, he has served as the executive editor of The Business Journal, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. A Pulitzer Prize nominee, he has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Business Week, and appeared on National Public Radio. He lives in Greensboro with his wife and their three daughters.

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Read an Excerpt

My Cousin the Saint
A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles

Chapter One

Cousins in Chorio

Not everyone can become a saint. Aurelio Sorrentino and Giuseppe D'Ascola knew that. But the two priests, fellow seminary students and native sons of Calabria, believed they knew someone with the rare qualities to become one.

It was late fall 1978, and the priests were in a hurry, striding down Via della Conciliazione in Rome toward St. Peter's Square. They were on their way to an important meeting. All the bishops of Calabria, the southern-most region of the mainland of Italy, had been summoned to the Vatican. John Paul II, the newly elected pope, had called a series of such meetings to greet church leaders from Italy and share with them the priorities of his emerging pontificate.

Sorrentino, stocky and thickset with a round face and dark eyes, was the archbishop of Reggio Calabria-Bova, the largest diocese in Calabria. D'Ascola was not a bishop at all. He was a monsignor who lived in Rome and worked for the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Sorrentino had invited his friend D'Ascola to go along with him to meet the first non-Italian pope in centuries, Karol Wojtyla, a former Polish cardinal, young and vibrant at age fifty-eight.

The new pope, though, was not on their minds at the moment. Sorrentino began talking instead about a beloved fellow Calabrian, a humble parish priest who had left an indelible mark on both their lives and their shared vocation. His name was Padre Gaetano Catanoso. He had died in Reggio Calabria fifteen years earlier at age eighty-four. He had been their teacher during their seminaryyears in the 1940s, an enduring inspiration to them. He had been their confessor, as well, the priest they trusted most to hear their sins. Sorrentino had never forgotten Padre Catanoso's spiritual bearing and sweet, benevolent example. The archbishop had quietly organized a commission in Reggio earlier that spring to begin gathering information on the long life of his late mentor. He now divulged the reason.

"What do you think of a canonization cause for Padre Catanoso?" Sorrentino asked, knowing full well that the route to sainthood was long and laborious, never assured.

Monsignor D'Ascola, shorter and with a bit less girth than the archbishop, was a Vatican insider. He knew the long odds associated with attaining sainthood. He knew there had not been a saint declared from Calabria in more than four hundred and fifty years. He also knew that Padre Catanoso was different. He was special. D'Ascola embraced the idea as if it were his own. "Excellency," he said, "what are we waiting for?"

Arriving a few minutes later at the private offices of the pope near the basilica, the two priests joined their Calabrian peers for a small reception. Pope John Paul II, resplendent in his long white cassock and matching shoulder cape and skullcap, made sure to spend a few moments with all those attending. The pope was intrigued to hear that D'Ascola worked just across the square in the unheralded office of saint-making. He asked D'Ascola what aspect of his work with saints interested him the most.

"I am interested in all the saints of the world!" D'Ascola blurted, eager to demonstrate this enthusiasm to his new boss.

John Paul II gave him a peculiar look. Then raising a finger to accentuate his point, the pope offered some advice. It was the kind of advice he would later share with others of spiritual authority in Rome and around the world, advice that would lead to the most dramatic changes in the office of saint-making in hundreds of years, advice that in time would make the new pope the Catholic Church's busiest saint-maker in history.

"You must be interested in the saints of your land, your region," John Paul implored. "That's what I am interested in."

D'Ascola nodded solemnly, then looked to Sorrentino as the pope moved on to speak with others. The archbishop had heard the remarks and thought immediately of Padre Catanoso. The last saint named from Calabria had been St. Francis of Paola, a hermit known for strange miracles such as being able to levitate and sail across water using his cloak as his only means. He died in 1507, the year before Michelangelo began painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. What a shame, Sorrentino thought, that the Church of Calabria, rich as it has been for ages with priests, monks, and nuns of extraordinary holiness, could not lay claim to a single native-born pastor from the region who had risen to sainthood. He and D'Ascola knew who should become the first.

If you are not familiar with the technical, Vatican-sanctioned definition of a miracle, you might be inclined to say that it was miraculous that a future saint could emerge from a remote and impoverished Calabrian mountain village such as Chorio, a place so small that it's usually excluded from Italian maps. Its history dates back to the fifth century and the Byzantine Empire following Roman rule. "Chorio," meaning "town" or "village," has its origins in Greek; indeed, Greek influences on the language and culture of the region ripple through the centuries.

Chorio sits in a swale of the lower Aspromonte, the mountain range that rises through the middle of Calabria. The Aspromonte, or "sour mountains," are so named because the steep, rugged terrain, prone to winter mudslides, made farming difficult for endless generations. The name fittingly describes the plight of the people there in the late 1800s and early 1900s when millions fled southern Italy for a chance at a better life in America. Chorio's western edge is tucked in against a mountainside that is brown and barren with gnarled fig and olive trees, and patches of prickly pear, which spread like cactus weeds. Its eastern edge is hugged by the bend of a small river, the Tuccio, which, like most rivers in southern Italy, rages in winter with heavy rains but is dusty-white and dry during the . . .

My Cousin the Saint
A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles
. Copyright © by Justin Catanoso. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 20, 2012

    great read, especially for Italian Americans

    Justin Catanoso does a brilliant job illuminating for all the deep connection the Italian people have for family, near and far and newly discovered. He also educates us on one of the mysteries of the Catholic Church that elude most...the process for canonization. He tells his story eloquently and brings in many facets of life, faith and the struggles involving faith. Mostly, he brings forth the strength of family ties in an Italian family and what it means to be part of one.

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  • Posted October 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer


    I was somewhat disappointed with this book. I thought it would have more stories of WW 2and how the Priest helped his village. It was interesting learning how a person becomes a saint for the catholic church.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 8, 2011

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