MY COUSIN THE SAINT
A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles
by Justin Calanoso

Reviews

“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.”
—James Martin, S.J., author of the best-seller My Life with the Saints

“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.”
—Gay Talese, author of Unto the Sons

“My Cousin the Saint is a reminder that the word “work” is as crucial as “miracle” in the phrases they share. But in order to work those miracles, we probably all need that “point of reference”: that person who keeps us in line, who keeps us striving and growing, who keeps us faithful and in thrall to the goodness of life—whether that person is Jesus or a saint or a spouse, or some more distant light. Love is never enough and faith is never enough: If a miracle has already happened, it’s surely because work was done. And if you need another one, you have to do what Justin Catanoso did. Figure out what your work is, and do that.” Adam Sobsey, The Independent, Raleigh, N.C., October 15 2008

“In some ways, Catanoso’s story is the dream of every American whose family lost their roots when they came to this country. He receives an email one day from a woman who wonders if they might be related. It turns out that the American branch of the family has long been missing a deep heritage rooted in the Italian countryside. As well, Catanoso discovers that his grandfather’s cousin, Padre Gaetano Catanoso, is being considered for canonization. This unbelievable news, prompts a family visit to Italy where they are lovingly embraced by their newly found relatives and where they begin hearing stories about ‘the saint’ … This is an absolutely fantastic book by a talented, honest, and compelling writer. It is going to be on my list of top books of 2008. Highly recommended.” Happy Catholic blog, October 17, 2008

“The real miracle on display in this book is the life of Gaetano Catanoso. Here was a man unaffected by theological subtleties, spouting no mystical mumbo-jumbo, content to pray, celebrate Mass, and be unwaveringly good and kind. In short, a good priest … The family history is often fascinating and even Catanoso’s own spiritual questionings are interesting – if exasperating – but the soul of the book is Padre Gaetano. We all need to become better acquainted with him.” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 10, 2008

‘My Cousin the Saint’ is beautifully written and deeply moving with threads of faith even in the face of death. Catanoso isn’t afraid to expose his own emotions, fears and joys, making this story-with-a-saint as human as it can be. News & Record, Greensboro, NC, June 1, 2008

“Many religions reserve a special enmity for nonbelievers. In recent years, nonbelievers have returned the favor with a series of belief-skewering books. Now comes Justin Catanoso, ambling onto the scene with an open heart and a reporter’s notebook, to offer a different take on faith and skepticism.” Ed Cone, writing in the News & Record, June 8, 2008

My first thought was, I wish I had a saint as a cousin. How cool would that be? Then, it occurred to me that the title was misleading and meant something else entirely. Then at last I read the dustjacket and discovered that the author meant exactly what he said. Catanoso, a noted journalist whose grandfather emigrated from Italy as a youth, discovered in 2001 that grandfather’s cousin was a miracle-worker. Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Gaetano Catanoso (whose image, redolent of a medieval icon, graces the cover), making him the first priest from Calabria ever to receive that distinction. Gaetano stayed behind to serve the poor while his cousin sailed for America and in so doing established an order of nuns. The author’s discovery led to a fascinating quest for ancestry and an illuminating wrestling with faith. Christopher Schoppa, Book World Short Stacks column, washingtonpost.com June 5, 2008

“Through Justin’s words, I was right there with him and his Calabrian family in both good times and bad from the canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square to his newly found relative’s funeral. Justin’s descriptions are vivid and moving but not over the top, offering the perfect balance so that scenes are emotional, yet not overly nostalgic and cliché. But the aspect I enjoyed most in this book is Justin’s personal journey of faith or lack thereof. Probably because I can identify with Justin as someone brought up Catholic but no longer practicing for a variety of reasons, I loved the way Justin handled this delicate subject with candor, honesty, and such rawness, exposing his thoughts and doubts about the religion in which he was raised.” Michelle Fabio, bleeding espresso blog, December 15, 2008

“Ever since I read the hardcover version of this book, I have been recommending it to friends who are Catholic, friends who are Italian, friends who like adventure travel stories because it is at once a story of pilgrimage, a story of heritage, a story of newly discovered family love. Justin Catanoso’s search for the history behind Padre Gaetano Catanoso, his grandfather’s cousin who was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI, unfolds in beautiful prose that allows the reader to enter into the author’s own spiritual struggles and family celebrations. You will walk away from the book wondering how it is possible you didn’t know about Padre Gaetano long before you joined Catanoso on his quest for faith and knowledge.” Mary DeTurris Poust, Our Sunday Visitor, July 2009

Just let me say that I have seldom been as captivated by a personal story as I was by this one, finding it hard to put my iPad on ‘off.’ Every proud Italian American should read this book just to grow in love and appreciation of the absolute best of what it means to having been born Italian. Every serious adult Catholic should read this book to appreciate even more their own gift of faith. Every struggling Catholic or non-practicing Catholic should read this book for a source of hope for the journey.” Bishop Robert Lynch, St. Petersburg, Fla., diocese blog, November 14, 2010

“Catanoso … gives an authentic account of how being Catholic has changed for him, and those things that continue to hold him to the church, and those things that make him want to run from it. Written in a decidedly lay, non-theological voice, the journalist Catanoso covers his story with graceful prose an a sure eye for telling detail.” Gavin Ferriby, library director, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Conn., December 21, 2010

“I found myself laughing, biting my nails and crying-all on an airplane, thankyouverymuch — as the story of Justin’s American family intertwined with the Italian ancestors his grandfather had left behind. His depiction of southern Italy, both the landscape and its people, were flawless and more than once I recognized my own Italian family members in his descriptions.” Cherrye Moore, My Bella Vita blog, August 10, 2009

“Justin Catanoso’s remarkable journey comes to light for all in ‘My Cousin the Saint.’ It chronicles a search in family history that is literally amazing, unique and undeniably interesting. Catanoso calls his book ‘A Search for Faithy, Family, and Miracles,’ and it can safely be said that all three elements were found during his journey and chronicled elegantly in his book.” Italian Tribune, Newark, N.J., September 4, 2008

“Mr. Catanoso’s book is a family saga of faith, ambition, determination, hard work, illness, death and success on both sides of the Atlantic. Crowded Sunday afternoon pasta dinners at the family homestead merge with tense family conferences in hospital waiting rooms. The family camaraderie Mr. Catanoso experienced as a youth when his family moved to the Jersey shore is revived on successive trips to Calabria to research and reaffirm his Italian roots. These familial experiences, mixed with some Church politics, make absorbing reading. The author’s maturing Catholic faith is integral to the narrative as well.” Rhode Island Catholic, September 11, 2008

“Catanoso weaves his story of My Cousin the Saint with threads from Padre Gaetano’s life amid the villages of southern Italy, and the American story of Carmelo Catanoso (the author’s grandfather and a cousin of the saint) who fled Italy in 1903 and never looked back. Equally compelling are the author’s confessions as he seeks to understand his God, church and the river of questions that dilute his faith.” Main Line Times, Ardmore, Pa., September 22, 2008

“So, how can Padre Gaetono be a saint, and yet seemingly ignore all the intercessory prayers for Justin’s brother? It’s not an easy question, and there are no easy answers. While much of the Italian branch of the family follows Saint Gaetono’s motto in domino (In God), Justin finds it hard to be that accepting. There is no sudden epiphany or world changing moment for him, only a realization that he may never be totally satisfied yet still be able to believe. And that may be all right in the end.” Anniston Star, Anniston, Alabama, November 9, 2008

“(T)he stories are firmly rooted in historical facts, but Catanoso does a brilliant job of writing in a lyrical, compelling way – so much so that you have to remind yourself you’re reading about real people, not characters in a gripping, plot-driven historical novel. … I recommend My Cousin the Saint. It’s a good read and from a more pragmatic standpoint, the book enlightened me about what it means to be a saint (both according to Vatican standards and in God’s eyes) as well as prodded me to reexamine what it means to be a faithful Catholic. It is a book for the faithful, the doubtful, and everyone in between.” Catholic blogger Kate Wicker, November 24, 2008

“What can we learn from Gaetano’s life? His complete trust in God’s providence, wholehearted dedication to his priestly calling and his humble example of loving service can draw all of us to emulate this gentle soul.” St. Anthony Messenger magazine, November 2008

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) Publishers Weekly, March 23, 2008

“Justin Catanoso has written a beautiful book that brings with it the joy and recognition of family and of faith. As an Italian immigrant of the new wave in America, it is a thrill to read about the ideals, desires, and even struggles of past immigrants and of those who remained behind. This is a great text that I hope my own children will read and learn from, of a proud people, their history, and their legacies of faith and family that can overcome barriers of language and separate experiences.”
—Antonio Monda, author of Do You Believe?: Conversations on God and Religion