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

Posts Tagged ‘“My Cousint the Saint”’

June 18, 2006: Meeting great Aunt Maria

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

cemetery photo,jpg
On this day two summers ago, I met my great Aunt Maria Portzia Catanoso, in a manner of speaking. She was my grandfather’s sister, the only member of his family to not emigrate to the United States in the early 1900s. She stayed behind in the village where she and her two brothers were born, Chorio. That remote mountain village is also the birthplace of their cousin, Gaetano Catanoso, who became a saint.
cemetary long shot
On June 18, 2006, I traveled up to the cemetery on a hot day with my cousin Daniela and my friend and translator Germaine. Daniela was leaving flowers on the above-ground grave of her mother, Pina, who had died the previous fall. I was stunned by what I saw. Catanosos on nearly every row of place, dating back years and years. Presumably all relatives in some form or fashion, but lives lost to me forever because of immigration divide. So much unknown history. My heart ached for this knowledge.

This cemetery, high on a hill in the Aspromonte, surrounded by fig trees and olive groves, is a fascinating and peaceful place. Land is too scarce and the soil too rocky to bury anyone. Instead, the departed are stacked in these vaults. I knew my great Aunt Maria was there somewhere, and I wandered the rows until at last I found her. I was years late, of course. She’s been gone for 50 years. But my Uncle Tony, in one of my favorite stories in my book, found his Aunt Maria in Chorio during World War II. It took remarkable luck to find her and meet her. But he doesn’t look at it that way. He calls it a miracle. The first miracle of a future saint.
Maria's grave

Sacred relics

Monday, June 16th, 2008


This video on sacred Catholic relics offers elements of faith and mircles, shot on location mostly in Reggio Calabria and Chorio in Italy, and also in Greensboro, N.C. Surprising scenes at the end. UNC-Greensboro film professor Michael Frierson filmed and produced.

Journal: June 14, 2006

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

patrizia and angela and orazio

From left: Patrizia Catanoso, her friend Angela and Patrizia’s husband Orazio Velardi

From my journal, written late at night after a full day of reporting in Reggio Calabria on June 14, 2006. A long day ended with a gathering of cousins at a trattoria near the city center:

“So I’m sitting in the corner at this restaurant, letting the Italian spoken at the table wash over me like coins dropped on a metal chute – they run right off. I stare at the faces, most of them truly Calabrian faces. Dark hair, usually straight, often jet black. Almond shaped eyes. Naturally olive complexions. Strong chins and jaw lines. There is so much touching in Italy — the natural, expected cheek kisses, where don’t really kiss, just touch cheeks, left than right. So many women are over-the-top beautiful, dark hair and skin and eyes, sexiness flowing naturally like water from a spring.

Calabrian delicacies

“I tire of observing and decide to ask some questions, even though I know the answers will be nearly impossible to understand. My Italian stinks. I ask Daniela – ‘Do you ever think of America? Do you ever think what your life would be like if your parents or grandparents had left here like my grandfather and grandmother?’ No, she says right off, a homebody through and through. She says: We think of America as a nice place to visit, but not live there. Patricia leans over and asks what we’re talking about. When she hears, she puts her hands together as if praying and shakes them up and down – ‘No, I always say, why didn’t my grandfather go to America? Why not? Why not? If he had, I would be there now.’ She’s serious. She turns to me and says, you find me a job in America and I will come. What about your husband’He can stay here!” she jokes. ‘I like Reggio,’ she goes on, ‘but maybe it would be better in America.’

“I ask her to speculate on why my grandfather, Carmelo Catanoso, left Calabria when so few other Catanosos did the same. ‘No lo so,’ Patricia says. ‘Non lo so. (I don’t know) It was very poor here, very poor. So much misery. That’s why Gaetano is a saint.’

“I want to know more. So much more. But now the conversation can’t go any deeper. It is the curse of showing up so late on the scene and suffering from this language divide. My meager Italian skills are a bit like torture, enabling me to crack the surface of a topic or thought, but like parched ground baked in the sun, not able to let me dig much deeper. Not at all. The curtain is still pulled across the past. And I’m struggling to yank it aside.”

Sky magazine

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

My mother-in-law flew to North Carolina from Texas yesterday for a visit. I was thrilled that she was on Delta because this month, my book is featured in Sky magazine, Delta’s in-flight. Getting that kind of exposure for a new author and a new book is priceless. When she called from Atlanta, though, to tell me her flight was being delayed, she also shared that there were no magazines on the flight — in what appeared to be an attempt to save on fuel costs by trimming the weight of several hundred magazines. Perhaps that was the case on that one flight. But magazines were on the flight from Atlanta to Greensboro, and they are on flights internationally today. Yes, airlines are carrying less water, fewer bottled drinks, and even swapping out seats to save weight. But the magazines, especially Delta Sky, are still in the seatback pockets.

Martin Luther and saints

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Martin Luther In 1517, Martin Luther bolted the Catholic church in the most dramatic fashion, nailing 95 reasons to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany and fleeing. Among his myriad problems with the church at the time was the apparent abuse of naming and invoking saints. Too often, Luther believed, too many saints were detached from the moorings of Christ’s example. Too often, saints were named and invoked for specific earthly favors, not to meditate on God’s message. He also despised the sale of relics and indulgences, rightly believing that any rational Christian would be appalled by such immoral practices.

Luther’s split with the church sparked the Protestant Reformation and the establishment of the Lutheran faith, where there was no role for saints. A lot of those Lutherans, when they emigrated to the United States, settled in the Midwest, particularly Wisconsin.

At 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. CST), I suspect some Lutherans will be listening to a program produced by Wisconsin Public Radio called “Here on Earth.” I will be the guest of Host Jean Feraca (who like me has Calabrian roots) and we will be talking about saints, Catholicism, faith and doubt in the context of my book. Martin Luther may not have accepted the Catholic notion that my cousin is a saint, but I believe he would have admired the life of heroic virtue led by Padre Gaetano Catanoso in his unrelenting Christ-like service to the poor.

The show is streamed live.

Balancing faith and doubt

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

News & Record (N.C.) columnist Ed Cone writes about and reviews “My Cousin the Saint.”

“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.

“Catanoso, the executive editor of the local Business Journal and a much-respected former writer for the News & Record, has a new book out called “My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles.” It’s a story with multiple threads, including the life and works of his grandfather’s cousin, Gaetano Catanoso, who was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2005; the relationships Justin establishes with the family his grandfather left behind when he emigrated from Italy to the United States almost a century ago; and the progress of the Catanosos in this country.”

Washington Post Book World

Friday, June 6th, 2008

The Washington Post Book World takes note of My Cousin the Saint in a recommendation of new titles.

The cover clearly drew the reviewer in. Like so much else with this project, I have been blessed with the good fortune to have remarkably talented people contributing along the way. James Iacobelli at HarperCollins is responsible for the gorgeous cover design. And the lovely image of Padre Gaetano on the cover is the work of noted Austin, Texas illustrator Marc Burkhardt.

The image was actually commissioned in 2004 by Holly Holliday and Lance Elko at Attache magazine, US Airways former in-flight title, for an article I wrote about the saint and my Italian relatives. For those interested, Marc has agreed to make available high-quality prints of the iconic Padre Gaetano illustration.

Barnes & Noble

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

On Tuesday and Wednesday nights this week, I spoke at Barnes & Nobles in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, respectively. Both events drew standing room crowds, and both sold more than 100 books. Last night in Winston-Salem, we actually sold out! 120 books. Greensboro sold out the next day.

Thank you Becky and Jane, the community relations managers in both cities, for doing such a great job of promoting and organizing the events. Both stores are reordering books, which I really appreciate. In the meantime, there’s always Amazon and Barnes & Noble online.

Thank you all for coming out.

Piazza in Chorio

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

Piazza in Chorio
Chorio is a tiny village in the lower Aspromonte in southern Calabria. It’s the birthplace of both my grandfather and his cousin, Gaetano Catanoso, the saint. The statue, a wonderful likeness of Gaetano, was commissioned by the Catanoso family of Reggio Calabria. Villagers contributed as well. I have visited this village several times, most recently in March, where I was invited to speak at the adjacent church, St Pasquale of Baylon. The mayor, Lillo Sapone, a doctor in Reggio, has become a friend. The villagers are wonderful — friendly, open and down to earth.

Chorio is not a tourist destination by any stretch. But the village is diligently restoring a property and house just a short walk from this square where Gaetano lived with his family as a child. I got to see the restoration in progress in March. They hope it will be a magnet for the faithful. So do I.

Examine and reveal

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Writing a memoir is an act of self examination, self revelation. People I trusted in writing my own memoir persuaded me early that I must be prepared to examine and reveal. It did not come naturally. As a journalist, I have always enjoyed the distance I could keep from the subjects I was/am writing about.

Now comes the time to put the memoir out there for people to see, and I am reminded that the examining and revealing continues. And I am finding, gratefully, that far from being a burden, it’s an honor — an honor to be open and candid with people eager to connect with my story at some personal or spiritual level.

Keeping this blog is part of that act. It’s a new form of communication for me. But I have a couple of great role models: fellow journalist Ed Cone, whose blog I am been reading for years, and singer/songerwriter Molly McGinn, who has been tutoring me in not only the technicalities of blogging, but the spirit of it as well.

The important thing is being honest. I hope I can do it as well as they do.