How does someone become
a saint? And if you discovered that a distant relative was to become one, how would it affect you? When Justin Catanoso learns
that his grandfather’s cousin is to be canonized, he decides to find out more about Padre Gaetano Catanoso. Justin travels
to Italy, connects with his Italian relatives, and finds the importance of faith and
My Cousin the Saint
chronicles Justin’s story as he researches the path his grandfather Carmelo Catanoso took when he immigrated to America in 1903, and the life his cousin Gaetano chose in Reggio
Calabria, Italy, and the steps leading to his canonization.
Justin deftly pieces together the family history, tracing his lineage back to the mid-1700s when two brothers from Spain migrated to Calabria.
He recounts Padre Gaetano’s tribulations as a priest – from the early days, traveling on his donkey from one small
town to another; to his transfer to Reggio, where he served as chaplain of the hospital and prison; to his founding of the
Congregation of the Veronica Sisters of the Holy Face.
In America, Carmelo Catanoso is building a new life, and like
many Italian immigrants, discarding the old. With a wife, a family, and a business on the New Jersey Shore; he is American, and his children
– tired of the prejudices that surround them, discard their heritage, too. Justin ties the family history, on both sides
of the Atlantic, into the history of Italy, and provides an interesting
look into the culture of Italy and the sociocultural fabric of Italian
immigrants in America.
The book, which includes
a map of Calabria and photographs of family members, is
divided into three sections. With “Faith,” Carmelo, Gaetano, and other family members persevere, led by their
beliefs, to achieve their goals. Justin writes, “So as Padre Gaetano was riding his donkey high into the Aspromonte
in search of southern Italian souls to save, his cousin Carmelo was settling down with his wife in a South
Philadelphia row house at 1520 Dickenson Street and beginning to raise a family
full of American children. … Like their parents, the children of Carmelo and Caterina Catanoso looked in just one direction;
Justin relates his experiences in reconnecting with his Italian relatives. His plan in Italy
includes visiting the church of Father
Gaetano, and asks, “‘When is it open?’ ... ‘We can go anytime,’
Paola said with a laugh. ‘It’s our church! For Catanoso, it’s always open.’” In this section,
Justin also delves into his ideologies about faith and religion, and recounts the ordeal of losing his brother to cancer.
we attend a private Mass at St. Peter’s Basilicata
and the canonization of Padre Gaetano in St. Peter’s Square. Justin recalls, “There are few public gathering places
on earth more grand and gorgeous than St. Peter’s Square. The arching colonnade seemed to embrace us. Organ music filled
the air. The five banners, hanging from the sixteenth-century basilica, just beneath the tall statues of Jesus and his apostles,
looked ethereal in the distance. The fog was beginning to lift. It was cool and overcast, and the dome of St. Peter’s
was completely shrouded in mist.” And through it all, Justin is still trying to come to terms with his religion.
If you have an Italian
heritage, reading My Cousin the Saint may evoke a desire to learn more about your ancestors in Italy. For those who aren’t Italian, the story of Justin’s journey
provides a fascinating view of Italian history and Italian America culture. In My Cousin the Saint, Justin Catanoso
weaves a story of personal recollections with a rich family history, explores his beliefs, and provides a look into the differences
and similarities of families separated by an ocean, and how they were brought together by the canonization of Padre Gaetano