A saint in the family

When he packed his bag for a trip to Rome, Philadelphia Msgr. James T. McDonough brought along two advance copies of a book written by a relative. The copies were quickly given away, and his suitcase will be a little lighter going back home.

“My Cousin the Saint” was written by Justin Catanoso, who is the nephew of the spouse of the monsignor’s cousin — or something like that. The genealogy of it all was pretty complex for our passing conversation.

I stopped by Msgr. McDonough’s table Thursday evening at a dinner attended by about 150 members of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States. They were on a once-every-five-year pilgrimage to Rome, and seemed to be having a great time.

Being handed an uncorrected proof of a book with the words, “A relative of mine wrote this,” does not always augur well. But I began paging through it after the dinner and today found myself reading big chunks of it at the office.

St. Gaetano Catanoso (Photo from Vatican Web site)Essentially, it’s the story of what happens when Catanoso, an Italian-American journalist, discovers he has a saint in the family — his grandfather’s cousin, St. Gaetano Catanoso (left), a humble priest who built a reputation for holiness in a Calabrian village in southern Italy. He died in 1963, and was among the first group of saints canonized by Pope Benedict in 2005.

Justin Catanoso eventually went back to the Italian village and met the rest of his extended family, along the way trying to figure out what it takes to be a saint, and to be recognized as one. The story is all the more poignant because the author’s brother was dying of cancer at the time, and the family was hoping for a miracle.

“My Cousin the Saint” contains some not-to-be-missed accounts of the author’s meetings with the Vatican’s “saintmakers” (yes, yes, we know, the Vatican recognizes saints, it doesn’t make them.)

According to Amazon.com, the book’s due out in May.

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