A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles
by Justin Calanoso

Posts Tagged ‘Pentidattilo’

Piero Catanoso, 1941-2006

Friday, June 25th, 2010

So many things about this time of year that remind me of the amazing and memorable month I spent in Italy exactly four years ago in doing research for my book. This day particular day, June 25, was both joyful and tragic. My day started with my cousin Giovanna, who drove me the 25 miles from Reggio Calabria to the hillside village of Pentidattilo, where Padre Gaetano had his first church and parish. We spent a few hours that morning wandering through the abandoned village. It was spectacular. On the drive home, however, I learned that Piero Catanso, the family patriarch and  legend of the legal community in Reggio, had died suddenly that morning of a heart attach at age 65. Late that afternoon, my interpreter, Germaine, took to me Piero’s niece’s apartment, where the viewing took place just a few hours after Piero had died at the hospital.

My emotions that day were so conflicted and confused. I wondered if in doing the research for my book if I had actually encountered more than I was prepared to handle, whether I really was a part of this Italian family, whether it was necessary for me to return home to America a week early and put this entire book project on hold. But while my spiritual faith was always up for grabs, my faith in my Italian relatives held strong. The week I spent in Reggio after Piero’s death gave me incomparable insight into what it means to be a Catanoso in Italy, what it means to be part of such a large and loving family, and not incidentally, what it means to be related to a saint. A real saint, as in St. Gaetano Catanoso. I will always be profoundly grateful for that.

I know Piero’s wonderful wife Adriana and his grown children, Claudia, Allesandra and Natale, miss him as much today as they did the day he died four years ago today. The fact is, I miss him, too. And all of them as well.


Sunday, September 13th, 2009

Shot in Calabria, Italy, by Michael Frierson.

The first parish

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Padre Gaetano Catanoso, ordained in 1902, was sent to Pentidattilo in 1904 to lead the hilltop parish at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul. He served there for 17 years.

New Video: Pentidattilo

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

I am thrilled to able to post a new video (with a few more to come!). This one gives you a glimpse of Pentidatillo, a hillside village above Melito di Porto Salvo at the very bottom of Italy. This short video opens with a view from Pentidattilo of Mount Etna, which lies across the Ioanian Sea in Sicily.

This village is where Padre Gaetano Catanoso was sent as a young priest to lead his first parish in 1904, a year after my grandfather emigrated to America. Pentidattilo was a rough and hopeless place at the time. The young priest faced enormous challenges, including Mafia threats inside the church. He served there for 17 years, before being called down to Reggio.

Pentidattilo has been abandond since the 1950s when there were fears that earthquakes would cause a rock slide and crush the homes. It never happened. The European Union is now working to restore some of the homes. A private effort is underway to restore the church. It’s an incredible place to visit.

This video was shot and produced my Michael Frierson, a friend and filmmaker at UNC-Greensboro.

A review: Italian Tribune

Monday, September 8th, 2008

The Italian Tribune, published in Montclair, N.J., and which bills itself as “the premier Italian American weekly since 1931, reviews “My Cousin the Saint” in the Sept. 4 issue, page 25. The review is not online, but here’s an excerpt:

“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.”

Philadelphia Inquirer

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

The Philadelphia Inquirer writes about “My Cousin the Saint” in today’s edition. Religion writer David O’Reilly, whom I met and interviewed with in the Inquirer newsroom on July 25, does an exemplary job. No surprise. He’s among the best religion writers in America.


So why did his immigrant grandparents never talk about the southern Italy they fled a century ago? Had they left some family secret in the impoverished mountain region of Calabria – a home to the Mafia?

They had, but never knew it.

And it was no dark secret at all, but luminous.

The clan they left behind in 1903 had spawned a holy man, the Rev. Gaetano Catanoso, whom the Roman Catholic Church would proclaim a saint in 2005.

And in the course of discovering his long-lost cousin – a parish priest born in 1879 who grew into what he calls an “ethereal, holy being, so virtuous that he is hailed as a miracle worker” – Justin Catanoso would discover his larger family, his Italian roots, and the faith he hardly knew.

“It was an experience that pulled me into the heart of the family,” Catanoso, now a 48-year-old North Carolina journalist, said during a recent visit to Philadelphia. He recounts his journey of discovery in a new book, My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family and Miracles.

Read the whole story here.

A saint’s first parish

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

This is Pentidattilo, a tiny hillside village up from Melito di Porto Salvo on the tip of Calabria. It overlooks the Ionian Sea and offers an unimpeded view of Mount Etna on the east coast of Sicily. It is beautiful and haunting and, since the mid-1950s when rock slides threatened, abandoned. But it is also the place where a saint got his start.

In 1904 — two years after he was ordained, one year after my grandfather emigrated to America — Padre Gaetano Catanoso was assigned to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (look, you can see it clearly) in Pentidattilo. There he found a people beyond poor. They were illiterate, jobless, bankrupt of all hope. This is the place where the young priest began his outreach, where he started his first school, where he stood up for the first time to the Mafia goons in town. He somehow survived the earthquake of 1908, which leveled Reggio and Messina and did its share of damage in villages like this. He stayed here for 17 years, and often hiked to other remote Aspromonte villages to preach and help out. At that time, Italian priests were usually called don, as in Don Francesco. Not Gaetano. The people called him padre, or father.