Bolstered by cousin's bone, innkeeper awaits miracle

NATIONAL CLOSEUP

August 23, 1992|By Michael E. Ruane | Michael E. Ruane,Knight-Ridder News Service

MOUNT CARMEL -- In the kitchen of the restaurant at Fourth and Maple, tucked away near the refrigerator where his cigars are kept, is the portable cooler where Albert Visintainer keeps his sacred relic.

It's not that he's hiding it.

Lord, no. At the drop of a hat he'll get out the small brown finger bone taken from the deceased nun's left hand, kiss the stone reliquary encasing it and tell its story to anyone interested. The guys in the bar think he's crazy.

But he'll also, if asked, take the relic, protective cooler and all, to any of the three local hospitals to comfort the sick and urge prayers in the blessed woman's name. (Prayer is like playing the slots, he believes: You don't always hit the jackpot, but you got to keep pulling the lever.)

The reason for all this is that Mr. Visintainer, 66, cook, bartender, raconteur and, by his own admission, the unlikeliest of religious advocates, is seeking a miracle.

The Roman Catholic nun whose relic he owns was beatified by Pope John Paul II last fall in Brazil, where she founded an order of sisters dedicated to the poor. Beatification, the last step before sainthood, means the church has found her life to be of great virtue.

The nun, who was known as Mother Pauline and who was a distant cousin of Mr. Visintainer's, has one miracle already attributed to her: A comatose Brazilian woman, declared clinically dead, recovered after prayers were offered for her to Mother Pauline.

Such miraculous events are seen by the church as evidence of holiness. Mother Pauline needs one more to be declared a saint.

And here, in the hills and anthracite fields, the burly, mustached innkeeper, who smokes Honduran cigars and makes a good chicken cutlet with cheese and a side order of spaghetti, believes the miracle may be found.

"We're going to have it around here somewhere," he said.

Wherever it happens, Mr. Visintainer will hear.

Reigning behind the bar, or schmoozing in the restaurant, Mr. Visintainer has his hand on the pulse of the area.

The tale begins in the mid-1870s in the little town of Vigolo Vittaro in what is now northern Italy. In that time, two hard-pressed brothers, Luigi and Napoleon Visintainer, left home for the promise of America.

Napoleon, who had a 10-year-old daughter, Amabile, headed south, to Brazil. Luigi headed for a small Pennsylvania coal town where it looked like home, and where he had heard a man could earn $5 a day in the mines.

As the years passed the families thrived at opposite ends of the hemisphere.

Amabile grew in religious devotion, founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, became Mother Pauline and after a lifetime of holiness died in 1942.

In Mount Carmel, Luigi had learned that, in the mines, a mule was more valued than a man. So he borrowed $6,000 and in 1906 bought a tavern at Fourth and Maple.

In 1962 the Mount Carmel Visintainers, still operating the business Luigi had founded, heard from the family's ancestral town in Italy that Mother Pauline was on the road to sainthood.

They knew little of this lost branch of their family, but soon began to learn. Albert Jr. wound up leading the way.

In 1981 he visited the headquarters of the order his cousin had founded. In the decade since, he has been an advocate for Mother Pauline's cause. Last fall he was invited to attend her beatification. During the ceremonies he was given the inch-long bone from one of her fingers. Her body had been exhumed for veneration years before.

He makes generally modest claims for the relic. "I make no promises," he said. There seem to have been "favors" granted, he said -- a woman whose cancer diminished dramatically; a newborn, apparently brain-damaged, now doing well.

In other cases, though, the outcome was not so good. "Many people I went to see with this, they died," he said.

Still, Mr. Visintainer gets upset. A priest friend told him to try not to get emotionally involved. He tries. Because, really, he said, "I have nothing to do with this. . . . Why I got the job I don't know.

"I'm just an ordinary guy."

Roger Simon is on vacation. His column will resume Sept. 9.

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