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

An extraordinary historian

Chapter 18 of my book is titled “The Real Gaetano.” It describes my search while in Calabria two summers ago to find the man behind the saint, to gain insights into Padre Gaetano Catanoso that went beyond hagiography and into the heart and soul of the real human being who endured such difficult times in the first half of the 20th century. As I wrote:

“For weeks I would try occassionally, gently, to scrape off a bit of the saintly patina gilding the life of Padre Gaetano. I had this notion that I would recognize him more fully, and relate to him more clearly, if I could somehow glimpse the man who walked the earth like the rest of us, foibles and all…Yet who alive would know the real Gaetano? Who would be old enough now, forty-three years after the saint’s death, to have known him as a peer, not as a child? Who would have seen him through clear eyes in the context of his time and in concert with other priets toiling in the same troubled fields?”

Well, you’re looking at her here, on the left, Maria Mariotti, of Reggio Calabira, 91 at the time, and sharp and feisty as someone 30 years younger. I was led to her by Enza Catanoso, on the right, a cousin of mine. Maria Mariotti was a rare breed for her generation in Italy (or anywhere else, really) — a college-educated woman, a scholar and historian, independent and strong-willed. I spent an spellbinding morning with her, as my interpreter translated her wisdom and insight for me. Maria Mariotti knew the real Gaetano (“He was not the only priest doing good; don’t create these idols!”.) And she told me as much as she could.

The inset photo is of her desk in the modest and spare room, filled with books and papers and lit by a single bare light bulb, where we spoke with her.

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