Book Giveaway: My Cousin the Saint by Justin Catanoso

Cherrye of My Bella Vita and I teased you yesterday with an upcoming contest and today I have the details:

Book Giveaway:

1. Justin Catanoso, author of My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles, will guest blog here today (below) and at Cherrye’s My Bella Vita tomorrow.

2. In order to be eligible to win a free, signed copy of Justin’s book, leave a question for Justin in the comments on one or both of his guest posts. You can leave as many questions as you like, but only one comment on each blog will count toward the contest (maximum of two entries per person).

3. Justin will pick some of your questions to be answered at his blog,, and we’ll let you know when to look for the answers.

4. You must leave your questions at or before 11:59 pm CEST on October 17, 2008 to be eligible for the contest. This contest is open to all readers around the world.

5. One winner will be drawn randomly from the eligible comments at Bleeding Espresso, another winner will be drawn from the eligible comments at My Bella Vita, and winners will be announced on the respective blogs October 20, 2008, marking the day of St. Gaetano’s canonization.

For those who look forward to a guest blogger on the 15th of every month, we’re featuring this month’s a little early (thanks Justin!) to make way for Blog Action Day on October 15th. You, too, can join the cause and blog against poverty. Sign up here.

And now, welcome Justin!


It’s a genuine thrill to be hosted here on Bleeding Espresso to talk with you about my new book, My Cousin the Saint: A Search for Faith, Family, and Miracles (Morrow/HarperCollins). What could be better? This lovely site is managed with great skill and passion by a fellow Italian-American writer who lives in the same region where my Italian family is from and which is the setting of so much of my book. What I would like to share here is how this book came into being. The fact is, the idea for it wasn’t even mine!

On Oct. 20, 2005, I delivered a bittersweet commentary on National Public Radio titled “Our Cousin the Saint.” In 500 words, I tried to articulate some powerful forces that had been stirring in me for nearly two years. In late 2003, my family and I traveled to Italy and were lovingly embraced by long-lost relatives I never knew I had. One relative I learned about for the first time was Gaetano Catanoso, a contemporary of my grandfather’s, born in the same tiny Calabrian village of Chorio. Gaetano had been a priest for 60 years, and his service to the poor had been so extraordinary that he had been beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1997. At the time of our visit, he was one miracle shy of sainthood.

In 2004, back in the United States, my family found itself in desperate need of a miracle. My older brother Alan had been diagnosed with brain cancer, which took his life by Christmas of 2004. My NPR commentary aired ten months later, just three days before Gaetano’s canonization in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. In that piece, I spoke about my brother, my Italian relatives and whether our soon-to-be sainted relative had in any way answered our prayers. I had written elements of this story previously in several national magazines, including the Catholic Digest. I thought I was done with it.

But listening to my commentary in California was Randi Murray, a literary agent. She believed she heard the makings of a book and called to ask if I was interested in pursuing the story. I was flattered, and doubtful. I tried to put her off. I was busy. I have a wife and three daughters. I have two jobs–running a newspaper, teaching at a university. I had plenty of reasons to say no.

But during the canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square, where I was surrounded by relatives as well as pilgrims from around the world, I remembered being moved to ponder so many things I didn’t have answers to: where was my brother? What happened to my Catholic faith? Who was this saint in our family and why had I gone most of my life having no idea he ever existed? What does it mean to have someone so holy in the family tree? Does it mean anything?

That call from Randi Murray soon came to feel more like a gift, the means by which I could possibly set out in search of some answers. I put aside any notions that my now-sainted cousin was working his intercessory powers through a Jewish literary agent (even though my mother certainly believes that St. Gaetano has guided this entire project!) But I did come to believe Randi’s initial instincts that there really was a good story in all of this. HarperCollins thought so, too, and with a contract and advance in hand, I got started in the spring of 2006.

While my story sits within the context of a couple of centuries of Italian history and Catanoso family history, much of the contemporary action takes place between 2003 and early 2007. Special research and travel was required. To learn why saints are needed and how one becomes a saint, I spent several days in Rome and interviewed three vastly experienced Vatican saint makers. Then I headed deep into the toe of the boot of Italy– the region of Calabria–for nearly a month.

That’s when I slowly came to understand the life of the saint and the extraordinary way he still lives in so many of my relatives, of all ages. It was an extraordinary learning experience as my Italian relatives, who welcomed me into their hearts and homes as if I lived across the street, not across the ocean, revealed to me in so many ways the depths of their souls. Along with searching for the remnants of my own faith in Italy and America, I was also hunting for clues as to why my grandfather was among the very few Catanosos to emigrate, leaving Calabria in 1903 as a teen-ager, and ultimately making my American birth possible.

For me, a newspaper journalist for more than 25 years, this book represents the story of a lifetime. People the world over are charmed by the kind of humor and hospitality, the kind of love and simple zest for life that is purely Italian–la dolce vita. I was fully immersed in all of it, with the added benefit of being surrounded by newfound relatives. I met the recipient of a Vatican-sanctioned miracle and later interviewed her doctor. I heard miracle stories from so many Catanoso cousins. I shared long meals lovingly prepared and had in-depth conversations about their faith and our family. And tragically, I mourned with them as well, as the family patriarch died suddenly during my visit.

By the end of my month in Italy and coupled with my years of research, I knew I had a powerful story to tell–a story of faith, family and miracles.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Justin,
and best of luck with My Cousin the Saint!

Be sure to head over to for a video recounting Padre Gaetano’s “First Miracle,” and don’t forget to leave a question for Justin to be eligible for the contest!

30 Beans of Wisdom to “Book Giveaway: My Cousin the Saint by Justin Catanoso”
  1. I have a lot of questions but i’ll keep this short. 🙂

    Before your trip to Calabria in 2003, did you spend a lot of time Italy? What role did religion play in your day-to-day life?

    Congrats on your book. I cannot wait to read it.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Giovanni Bellini Exhibit Rome

  2. 10.07.2008

    What a great story. I am looking forward to reading the book.

    Do you believe in miracles?

    Beatriz’s last blog post..Learning Italian with the butcher (not to be confused with butchering Italian)

  3. No question here, but thanks for sharing the background of your story, Justin. I look forward to hearing your replies.

    Cherrye at My Bella Vita’s last blog post..Travel Tip Tuesday: Help TripAdvisor Donate One Million Dollars

  4. 10.07.2008

    Very fascinating read. I’m not really a practicing Catholic but I do have a few nuns and priests in the family.

    I was just wondering what you think are the main reasons behind the Western world’s general lack of faith.

    Milanese Masala’s last blog post..Gnocco fritto and Vasco

  5. 10.07.2008

    I have no experience of living in the south where questions of sainthood and holy miracles figure larger, but I question whether telling people to have faith is not a way of keeping them from having inconvenient expectations of society.

    What is your take on this? Do you think that establishing saints is a way of not taking real care of the living?

    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..Guess who is hosting Presto Pasta Nights soon?

  6. 10.07.2008

    I look forward to reading this book. It sounds like a great story. I cannot imagine having a saint in the family. My grand father was confirmed by Padre Pio as my grandparents village is in Puglia which is the next town from Padre Pio’s…so that is my families holy claim to fame 🙂

    My question: Do you feel that the Vatican is a hypocrite?

    There are those like your cousin and Padre Pio who probably lived their lives in poverty, spening their time and energy helping others. They probably took the vow of poverty literally…while these days you have Vatican being one of the richest countries in the world doing nothing to help the poor etc… It makes you wonder….

    Leanne’s last blog post..Tipping in Itay

  7. 10.07.2008

    Your story sounds amazing and I look forward to reading it. My father was born in a very small town in Calabria and I find these little towns have so much history to them it bursts from the seams!

    My question for you is…

    After having met this whole new family in Italy…what are some other interesting things about your family history that you’ve learned that you can now pass down through to the generations to come?

    Congratulations on your book! 🙂

    LuLu’s last blog post..The continuing saga of dual citizenship…

  8. 10.07.2008

    Sounds like quite a journey you’ve made, on many levels.

    My question is…are you a victim of Stendhal’s Syndrome, or do you feel that you are able to take an objective look at Italy, Catholicism and saints in general?

    (Maybe I have to read your book myself to find the answer to my question!)

    saretta’s last blog post..Massimo D’Alema

  9. Elisa

    Hi – great post! Like Leann, my family has ties to Padre Pio and it made a difference in our faith growing up…

    What is the biggest difference you see as far as faith between the US and Italy in the 21st century?


  10. 10.08.2008

    What a wonderful story. I can relate to parts of it as I traveled to rural, southern Italy and found family members who immediately embraced and accepted us (in Basilicata, so we’re *almost* paesani 🙂

    I’m wondering how easy or difficult it was to accept that miracles occurred (and still occur), especially as an objective long-term journalist.

    Valerie’s last blog post..A Few of My Favorite Things

  11. 10.08.2008

    Justin- I cant wait to get my hands on your book!
    The short blog along with the video clips on your website brought me to tears!
    I can relate to so much you talk about.
    My question is this: What has this whole experience done to and for your children and has it changed them at all?
    Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us!

    Susan’s last blog post..I am an O Foods Contest Winner!

  12. 10.08.2008

    I got so excited after reading this post, that I rushed to read the other…and I left two questions over there. Hmm. Excellent interview, Michelle. Thanks for bringing Justin to our attention. I’m plumb out of questions until I’ve had another cup of coffee.

    This Eclectic Life’s last blog post..Win Tickets To Celtic Thunder Concert!

  13. Carla

    Your book sounds very interesting…looking forward to reading it.
    My question is: Were you always involved with your faith/religion or only after discovering this (amazing) piece of family history?

  14. 10.08.2008

    Of all the stories you heard as you did your research, which one affected you the most, and why?

    Your book looks absolutely fascinating. Thanks for guesting here!

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday: World Food Day Entry – Apple Maple Corn Muffins

  15. 10.08.2008

    As an aspiring novelist, I’m interested to know what your biggest hurdle in publication was? How did you go about finding an agent? Are you happy with the process? Do you have any advice?

    Kelli’s last blog post..Jars of Renewal: Pumpkin Style

  16. 10.08.2008

    Congratulations on your book Justin, I’m sure it was a true labor of love.

    Could you speak the Italian language when you went over to research your book? If not, what types of challenges did this bring to the process and what were the ways you worked around this?

    Ice Tea For Me’s last blog post..a belated post

  17. 10.08.2008

    Ciao Justin,

    did your trip to Calabria, finding new/old relatives, discovering Italian lifestyle and the research about your cousin the Saint change your attitude towards religion? Do you believe in God (now?/before?/at all?)

    Grazie & saluti

    Suzie’s last blog post..Outside In

  18. 10.08.2008

    Had you prayed to saints before you found this out about your family?

    Suebob’s last blog post..I know, I know

  19. Rosina Ronne

    My question is simple.
    Do you think you reconstructed the episode exactly or do you think you were guided in part from Saint Gaetano who motivated you to write your book?
    Thanx From Australia

  20. 10.12.2008

    What was Gaetano’s miracle? You kind of jumped from him being 1 miracle short of canonization, to 3 days before canonization… maybe we should read the book to find out? I enjoyed your post very much and will look for the book when Stateside. Why do you think Americans are always so shocked (in a good way) by the warm hospitality they receive from their Italian families; have we become cold and untrusting in the US? Can we hear the NPR interview somewhere? Have I exceeded the question limit??

    Fern’s last blog post..The Best Thing We Ate This Week – Barley Mushroom Casserole

  21. 10.17.2008

    Hi Justin. The book and your story sound fascinating. I look forward to reading it. It sounds like it talks about some crises of faith I have struggled with over the past few years since my mother died. And so my question is, how has your journey writing this book affected the way you look at your brother’s death? Did it affect that? Did it put it in a different light? Did you come to a conclusion about “where he is now?”

    Virtually There’s last blog post..What’s cooking Wednesday

  22. anna

    Congratulations on your book, I can’t wait to read it.
    My question to you- If you had a choice of country of birth, which would you choose, US or Italy?

  1. [...] Can you imagine having to be around a saint all the time? What if you were kin to a saint?? Bleeding Esp...
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  7. [...] Catanoso. Justin wrote a couple of guest posts on two of my blogging buddies’ sites recently (Blee...
  8. [...] for Faith, Family and Miracles by Justin Catanoso. Yes, you’ve heard about this book before here, ...
Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

Calabria Guidebook

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