MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — It’s been said there’s a saint for everyone and every situation, yet for a Cape May Court House family, the choice of a patron saint is clear, as they have one in their family tree.
Nicholas Gaetano Catanoso, an 8-year-old student at Bishop McHugh Regional Catholic School, even bears the saint’s name as his own.
“Nicholas is the great-great grandson of the saint’s cousin,” said the boy’s mother, Anne Catanoso.
Nicholas' hair is dark, cheeks sprinkled with freckles. He’s got a wide smile that bears a startling resemblance to that of St. Gaetano Catanoso.
“I think it’s really cool,” Nicholas said. ”There are only a few people in the world related to a saint, and I’m one of them.”
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Not to be outdone, his younger brother, Andrew, said: “So am I.”
St. Gaetano was an Italian Roman Catholic priest who was born in 1879 and died in 1963. He was beatified in 1997 by Pope John Paul II and canonized in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI after two miracles attributed to him — in which two different people were healed of illnesses that were given up on by doctors — were discovered and documented by the Catholic Church.
Neither of the boys expressed any interest in one day becoming a priest, let alone pursuing sainthood, yet they joined their mother, Anne, in saying that being related to a saint is an important part of both their faith and family.
“It hasn’t really changed me or the boys much,” she said. “We’ve always had really strong faith.”
Yet the knowledge of having a close relative named a saint touches their lives, Anne said. They’re proud of the relationship, and in some ways it brings them closer to their faith.
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St. Gaetano served as a parish priest for much of his life and was responsible for the founding of the Veronican Sisters of the Holy Face, an order of nuns called to spread the devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus, said Lenny Catanoso, who is related to the saint on his father’s side of the family.
“St. Gaetano was my dad’s father’s cousin,” Lenny said. “When he was canonized, there were about 70 of our family here in the States that flew to Italy in 2005 to see it happen.”
Yet just as many families lose touch with their relatives over time after immigrating to another country, so too had the Catanosos.
“If it wasn’t for the internet, we might not have made it to Italy,” he said. “Nobody here knew about him as a priest.”
A fortuitous tidbit of information had found its way into one of Lenny’s aunt’s newsfeeds sometime after the padre’s beatification, he said. From there, the news spread among the U.S. branch of the family that one of their own would be elevated to sainthood.
“It was huge for my mom,” Lenny said. “No matter what was happening, she couldn’t wait to tell the story of St. Gaetano.”
In October 2005, about 70 American Catanosos traveled to Italy to join about 80 of their Italian cousins at Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City to watch as Gaetano and four other men were canonized.
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“It was like an Olympic event,” Lenny said. “There were more than 300,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, and they all got Communion in less than 40 minutes.”
It was a cloudy day, Lenny said. Overcast, with a heavy fog.
“It was like you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face,” he said. “But by the time the ceremony started, we had a clear sky. A blue sky.”
While Lenny is a religious man, he isn’t so certain about miracles. He doesn’t discount them, but when he’s asked directly, Lenny shrugs his shoulders, raises his eyebrows and smiles.
Discovering that a long lost relative via the internet is about to be a named a saint is science in action. A cloudy day gone blue likewise can be attributed to wind and sun and a rising temperature.
Even St. Gaetano’s two documented miracles could be disputed by a Doubting Thomas.
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But for Anne, faith extends to miracles.
“When there are things inexplicable in science, I think there must be a spiritual being,” she said.
Nicholas Gaetano Catanoso also believes in miracles.
In a recent basketball game against Upper Township, the 8-year-old boy, just barely over 4 feet tall, took a shot from center court with just 11 seconds left in the game.
“I made it,” he said. “And even the other team cheered.”
Miracles happen, he said.
Or it could be skill.