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My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles

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An inspiring story of faith and family across two continents Like millions of other Italians in the early twentieth century, Justin Catanoso's grandfather immigrated to America to escape poverty and hardship. Nearly a hundred years later, Justin, born and raised in New Jersey, knows little of his family beyond the Garden State. That changes in 2001 when he discovers that his An inspiring story of faith and family across two continents Like millions of other Italians in the early twentieth century, Justin Catanoso's grandfather immigrated to America to escape poverty and hardship. Nearly a hundred years later, Justin, born and raised in New Jersey, knows little of his family beyond the Garden State. That changes in 2001 when he discovers that his grandfather's cousin, Padre Gaetano Catanoso, is a Vatican-certified miracle worker. After a life of serving the poor and founding an order of nuns, Gaetano had been approved by Pope John Paul II to become a saint, the first priest from Calabria ever to be canonized. A typically lapsed American Catholic, Justin embarks on a quest to connect with his extended family in southern Italy and, ultimately, to awaken his slumbering faith. My Cousin the Saint charts the parallel history of two relatives—Justin's grandfather, Carmelo, and his sainted cousin, Gaetano. While Carmelo leaves his homeland to pursue New World prosperity, Gaetano stays behind to relieve Old World misery. Justin reunites the two halves of a sundered family by both exploring the life of the saint in Calabria and uncovering the untold story of his grandfather's family, raised in New Jersey between two world wars. Justin confronts his own tenuous spiritual moorings in the process. After meeting with Vatican officials in Rome, he is astonished by the complexity of saint-making. After hearing one miracle story after another, he struggles with the line between the mystical and the divine. After seeing his brother fall ill with terminal cancer, he questions the value of prayer. And after reveling in the charm and generosity of his newfound Italian relatives, he comes to learn what it means to have a saint in the family. A compelling narrative written with grace and honesty, My Cousin the Saint is a testament to the challenge of being Catholic in twenty-first-century America. More than a biography, more than an immigrant memoir, more than a chronicle of renewed faith, it is a love letter to a family now reunited across oceans and years.


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An inspiring story of faith and family across two continents Like millions of other Italians in the early twentieth century, Justin Catanoso's grandfather immigrated to America to escape poverty and hardship. Nearly a hundred years later, Justin, born and raised in New Jersey, knows little of his family beyond the Garden State. That changes in 2001 when he discovers that his An inspiring story of faith and family across two continents Like millions of other Italians in the early twentieth century, Justin Catanoso's grandfather immigrated to America to escape poverty and hardship. Nearly a hundred years later, Justin, born and raised in New Jersey, knows little of his family beyond the Garden State. That changes in 2001 when he discovers that his grandfather's cousin, Padre Gaetano Catanoso, is a Vatican-certified miracle worker. After a life of serving the poor and founding an order of nuns, Gaetano had been approved by Pope John Paul II to become a saint, the first priest from Calabria ever to be canonized. A typically lapsed American Catholic, Justin embarks on a quest to connect with his extended family in southern Italy and, ultimately, to awaken his slumbering faith. My Cousin the Saint charts the parallel history of two relatives—Justin's grandfather, Carmelo, and his sainted cousin, Gaetano. While Carmelo leaves his homeland to pursue New World prosperity, Gaetano stays behind to relieve Old World misery. Justin reunites the two halves of a sundered family by both exploring the life of the saint in Calabria and uncovering the untold story of his grandfather's family, raised in New Jersey between two world wars. Justin confronts his own tenuous spiritual moorings in the process. After meeting with Vatican officials in Rome, he is astonished by the complexity of saint-making. After hearing one miracle story after another, he struggles with the line between the mystical and the divine. After seeing his brother fall ill with terminal cancer, he questions the value of prayer. And after reveling in the charm and generosity of his newfound Italian relatives, he comes to learn what it means to have a saint in the family. A compelling narrative written with grace and honesty, My Cousin the Saint is a testament to the challenge of being Catholic in twenty-first-century America. More than a biography, more than an immigrant memoir, more than a chronicle of renewed faith, it is a love letter to a family now reunited across oceans and years.

30 review for My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dhanaraj Rajan

    May be 4 and half stars. Will write a review soon. The Review: It is a moving story about a family. An Italian American family had lost its connection to its place of origin (Calabria in Italy) and after two generations when the children no more knew Italian - in other words when they were thoroughly American - a strange person, a newly Canonized Saint brings them to the place of origin. The newly canonized saint happens to be one of their family members, St. Gaetano Catanoso. And the story of reu May be 4 and half stars. Will write a review soon. The Review: It is a moving story about a family. An Italian American family had lost its connection to its place of origin (Calabria in Italy) and after two generations when the children no more knew Italian - in other words when they were thoroughly American - a strange person, a newly Canonized Saint brings them to the place of origin. The newly canonized saint happens to be one of their family members, St. Gaetano Catanoso. And the story of reunion is very moving. The meeting of so many relatives on the other side of the Atlantic in Calabria literally evoked tears, tears of joy. I felt like one in the Catanoso family in such scenes. I had been to Calabria once and so I could all the more associate the events and emotions conveyed. I think this family reunion is the major premise of the book. There is also the spiritual struggle of the author splattered everywhere in the book. He is a kind of person who moved away from Catholicism and later when he saw some connections to it, he wanted to come back. But certain doctrinal beliefs in Catholicism acted as big roadblocks to his complete return. He is Catholic now but not a complete Catholic. This travel is also presented in this book. But this was not my favourite part. All the same it added flavour to the narration. It is also about the Canonization process. This is very informative and very thorough. Though it is a bit theological and academic in parts, Justin Catanoso has found a way to present them in an appealing and not-so-intimidating manner. This section could be of help for both Catholics who are not fully acquainted with the process and non-Catholics who want to understand about the Catholic Church's teaching on communion of saints/canonization process. These three premises are splendidly woven in a novel-like-story that it races like a bullet. That is where lies the success of the book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    After reading an article by the author in a in-flight magazine, I actually bought this book (unlike me, as that's what libraries are for), and gave it to my daughter. Several years have passed...I picked it up at her home and snagged it back (temporarily). I was expecting the book to be hilarious as was the original article that enticed me. Its not. Its a meaningful account/memoir of the author's experience reconnecting to his family and faith. There's a fair amount of Italian history and accoun After reading an article by the author in a in-flight magazine, I actually bought this book (unlike me, as that's what libraries are for), and gave it to my daughter. Several years have passed...I picked it up at her home and snagged it back (temporarily). I was expecting the book to be hilarious as was the original article that enticed me. Its not. Its a meaningful account/memoir of the author's experience reconnecting to his family and faith. There's a fair amount of Italian history and accounting of the USA immigration as a result of the polico-economic circumstances in So.Italy during the period of his cousin/saint. The appeal for me is that we have similiar backgrounds and I relate to his experience being swept up by the Italian family in Italy as a member of their tribe. Though they never met me, nor knew much about me, it was the instinctive familial bond that just magnetized us. I'm half way into the book and find myself caring for him, for his family. There is a certain magnitism lurking here.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marija

    This is a must read for any Catholic...devout, mediocre, prayerful, casual, recovering, exploring, and all the rest. A very interesting look into the process of saint-making at the Vatican, but more so a powerful personal story of an Italian family reunited. Part faith journey, part history, part travelogue. Good read if you plan to travel to Italy or are American descendants of immigrant parents or grandparents. I want to go back to Croatia...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I got a copy in the mail a few weeks ago and devoured this book. It's just that good. What would you do if you found out that your grandfather's cousin in southern Italy was about to become a saint? When this happened to Justin Catanoso, he went on a mission to find the miracles his cousin performed (both Vatican-sanctioned and internal family stories), his long-lost extended family in Calabria, and his own lapsed Catholic faith. What emerged from his journey is a wonderfully written, engaging book I got a copy in the mail a few weeks ago and devoured this book. It's just that good. What would you do if you found out that your grandfather's cousin in southern Italy was about to become a saint? When this happened to Justin Catanoso, he went on a mission to find the miracles his cousin performed (both Vatican-sanctioned and internal family stories), his long-lost extended family in Calabria, and his own lapsed Catholic faith. What emerged from his journey is a wonderfully written, engaging book that reminded me a lot of Gay Talese's Unto the Sons, one of my favorites in this genre, not only because of the Calabrian setting but also because of the family tales told from impressively objective viewpoints. Even though Justin is in Italy for much of the book, his family back in the States plays a large role; they are so obviously a cherished, integral part of his life. The parts of the book about Justin's brother Alan, who died of cancer leaving behind a wife and young children, are some of the most poignant and touching in the book, and rightfully so. It seems this event, possibly more than all the other reasons Justin might have had, pushed Justin to come to Italy in search of miracles-particularly as it seemed one had been denied his own family despite prayers to their cousin the saint. As for the saint, Justin does a fantastic job of detailing Padre Gaetano Catanoso's rise to sainthood from his early days as a traveling parish priest to the founder of an order of nuns. I'm not religious, but I admit I love saints and their stories-and now I particularly love Padre Gaetano. Sure the fact that he's the first saint from Calabria in 500 years means he has a special place in my heart, but it's more than that. Padre Gaetano was, to me with my Roman Catholic upbringing, what priests should be-humble, devoted, pious, and, quite simply, simple. Not simple-minded by any means, as he was obviously an intelligent man with his volumes of writing, but simple. He lived in near poverty his entire life when surely he could have moved on to higher offices and better conditions than those in Calabria. But Padre Gaetano remained faithful and committed to preaching to his fellow Calabrese-they who have such interesting mixes of beliefs from intense devotion to the Virgin Mary to the belief in malocchio. He even shunned the appellation "Don," keeping the humble term "Padre," showing his deep connection with his parishioners. I also enjoyed Justin's tales of finding of his Calabrian family and becoming one of their own. I laughed out loud when Justin was presented with a box of family photos by his aunt; I had a remarkably similar experience when I started researching my family history. "Take whatever you want," his aunt said, as did mine. I found my great-great-grandfather's US citizenship papers, which started my path to Italian citizenship and to living in Italy; Justin found a photo of his Uncle Tony, who had gone AWOL in World War II to go find his aunt in Calabria only knowing her name-and he found her! This is often referred to as the first miracle of Padre Gaetano among family members. 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. And so Justin explores this old religion, returns to church, talks to priests, reads up on the subject, and clearly thinks about it, a lot-and then he shares the experiences with us, step by step. I love reading about spiritual journeys, and Justin delivers. I can imagine for the sake of the book, he may have felt pressured to offer up his conclusions with a pretty bow: the prodigal son returns to the Catholic faith because there's a saint in the family! Score one for Catholicism! But that's not what happened with Justin, and even though it would make for a nice television movie, that's not how he wrote it. He wrote about the truth, the reality, the struggle of wanting to believe and yet just not being there quite yet. And that is the biggest reason why I loved this book. I'm a sucker for honesty. I give My Cousin the Saint 5 espresso cups out of 5 and encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself and/or for someone else. You won't regret it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    William

    Justin Catanoso has written an utterly delightful memoir/hagiography about his discovery of his relatives in Italy, including a cousin canonized as a Catholic saint. Justin's grandfather emigrated from Calabria and put his life there behind him. Justin grew up knowing almost nothing about his relatives there, until he received an email at work from a cousin who'd been searching for people with the same last name. And what of the saint? Padre Gaetano Catanoso lived among the poor in Calabria, ser Justin Catanoso has written an utterly delightful memoir/hagiography about his discovery of his relatives in Italy, including a cousin canonized as a Catholic saint. Justin's grandfather emigrated from Calabria and put his life there behind him. Justin grew up knowing almost nothing about his relatives there, until he received an email at work from a cousin who'd been searching for people with the same last name. And what of the saint? Padre Gaetano Catanoso lived among the poor in Calabria, serving them, and trusting in God. Always thought of as a holy man by those who knew him, his reputation continued to thrive after his death. As Justin comes to know his Italian relatives, he also comes to know Padre Gaetano, who has always been a point of reference in their lives, even among those who never personally knew him. And this causes Justin to wonder what a saint is and what it means to be related to one. And though they have this connection to a saint, neither they nor Justin are spared life's sorrows. So why read this book? Is it because it shows an author embracing the lapsed religion of his youth? No. Justin does return to the practice of Catholicism, but as a priest-friend of his says, he's a mediocre Catholic. Read this book because it's ultimately about family, both longstanding and newly-discovered, and the love that exists between them in life's joys and sorrows. And also a saint who affects them all.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

    My family has a Calabria connection, a Catholic connection and a Wildwood connection. This book was made for me - I loved it!!!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This book sparked my interest in getting my Italian citizenship and talking to my Dad more about his life in Italy .. brought tears to my eyes and fond memories of visiting my family in Abruzzo .

  8. 4 out of 5

    John P

    Note that it is quite likely that others will rate this book higher. I found it interesting but not compelling. A slow starter, the novel is a dry read and it took many pages before I actually decided to plow ahead and finish it. The author chose to jump around in time on several occasions causing me to stop and carefully re-read to figure out when certain events occurred. I was able to learn some interesting details of the history of the extreme southwest of Italy and got a good feel for the life Note that it is quite likely that others will rate this book higher. I found it interesting but not compelling. A slow starter, the novel is a dry read and it took many pages before I actually decided to plow ahead and finish it. The author chose to jump around in time on several occasions causing me to stop and carefully re-read to figure out when certain events occurred. I was able to learn some interesting details of the history of the extreme southwest of Italy and got a good feel for the life of the author's Sainted familial ancestor. The pictures included were very welcome.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Reed

    I also have roots in southern Italy, so I enjoyed this memoir with its themes of family and spiritual faith. Well written, and an unusual story.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Dixon

    This was a very good read. We have biography, autobiography, learning about one's past and about another culture, and a spiritual journey through all of it. As I said in one of my updates, it didn't always grip me, but despite that I wasn't ever tempted to stop reading - I wanted to know how Catanoso got on in his search for understanding what being a saint is all about, and what it might mean to him. I don't understand sainthood myself. My only experience with a person that others thought saintl This was a very good read. We have biography, autobiography, learning about one's past and about another culture, and a spiritual journey through all of it. As I said in one of my updates, it didn't always grip me, but despite that I wasn't ever tempted to stop reading - I wanted to know how Catanoso got on in his search for understanding what being a saint is all about, and what it might mean to him. I don't understand sainthood myself. My only experience with a person that others thought saintly was a slightly negative one. I felt that that person judged me lacking (which I also felt about myself, but that's not the point) and that didn't seem to me to be how a saint should view anybody. I still haven't quite processed that fully, because it still takes me back into a sort of huffy resentment. It may actually be that my feeling that I was judged was actually my own judging of myself (as I said, a negative one, and correctly so) being reflected back at me. Ha! Maybe there's some insight coming here. This book has been good for me!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Justin Catanoso, an Italian-American, discovered that his cousin was declared a saint by the Vatican. This news sent him on a journey to explore Italy, his family history, and his shaky beliefs in the Catholic Church. A touching story with some bittersweet moments. An interesting read if you what to learn more about Italy or how someone becomes a saint.

  12. 4 out of 5

    DJ

    This is a wonderfully engaging book; many stories rolled into one great book. The author, a young Italian American man, searches to find out more about his family here in the US, his family in Italy and his sainted cousin while teaching us a bit about the saint-making process and inviting us to share in his questions about his own faith evolution. A really great book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Written by my friend and former professor, Justin, I really enjoyed this non-fiction piece. He is a journalist by trade, so his ability to dig deep for interesting facts and stories is evident. However, the book reads like a family drama story rather than a news piece, which I appreciated. Great job, Justin!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brian Clarey

    As a reformed Catholic with Italian relatives in New Jersey, I identified strongly with the book — but not as strongly as y grandmother, who liked it so much she forced herself to read it slowly so she could savor it. My favorite part was about his uncle, who while in Europe during WWII appropriated a Jeep and drove down to the family's ancestral home in Italy. As a reformed Catholic with Italian relatives in New Jersey, I identified strongly with the book — but not as strongly as y grandmother, who liked it so much she forced herself to read it slowly so she could savor it. My favorite part was about his uncle, who while in Europe during WWII appropriated a Jeep and drove down to the family's ancestral home in Italy.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    expected more out of this book that I got from it. The parts of Padre Gaetano's life were dry in the beginning until he came alive through the stories of members of the author's family. I found myself struggling with this book just because it dragged on way too long. Padre Gaetano was a good man, but no offense to Justin, this book didn't do him as much justice as it should have. expected more out of this book that I got from it. The parts of Padre Gaetano's life were dry in the beginning until he came alive through the stories of members of the author's family. I found myself struggling with this book just because it dragged on way too long. Padre Gaetano was a good man, but no offense to Justin, this book didn't do him as much justice as it should have.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    Very good so far! Occasionally teary-eyed as his writing reminds me of the family ties that bind us and the stories of this saint's life move me to consider the power of simple and profound faith poured out in service. The author lives in NC. Very good so far! Occasionally teary-eyed as his writing reminds me of the family ties that bind us and the stories of this saint's life move me to consider the power of simple and profound faith poured out in service. The author lives in NC.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Grier

    Really connected with this book's message! Lots of historical details on Catholicism and making of a saint but the family stories were so wonderful. I couldn't put book down. Reminded me of my family! Thanks Justin for a great read. Really connected with this book's message! Lots of historical details on Catholicism and making of a saint but the family stories were so wonderful. I couldn't put book down. Reminded me of my family! Thanks Justin for a great read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    Loved this story about an Italian family, a faith journey and a saint that brought them all together. Saw this author speak at my church and bought several copies of this for my Italian cousins. Wonderful story.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Nice read to pick up and read a chapter every now and then. Had my favorite element of history mixed with digging into family history and throw in a dash of spritual/ theological crisis.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Frank Thomas

    EXCELLENT READ

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jean Becconsall

    I loved it; great true story, very family oriented even though they're miles apart and inspirationally spiritual I loved it; great true story, very family oriented even though they're miles apart and inspirationally spiritual

  22. 5 out of 5

    Therese Collins

    Interesting non-fiction about a family history, and how different generations and cultures deal with immigration.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Renée

  24. 5 out of 5

    Maura

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  26. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  27. 4 out of 5

    JFS

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emily Millard

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sam Holyome

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