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My Cousin the Saint

Justin Catanoso

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 family.


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; forward.”


In “Family,” 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.


Through “Miracles,” 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 Catanoso.

Justin Catanoso Website


Saint Gaetano Bio


All About Saints


Separate Paths (Video)


Uncle Tony (Video)



2009 Janice Therese Mancuso






Copyright 2007-2015 Janice Therese Mancuso
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission except when published with this credit: Excerpt from Thirty-One Days of Italians, 2015 Janice Therese Mancuso.