News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Lara Sabatini and her mother, Harriet Sabatini, collaborated on a children's book project inspired by the Rev. Joe Cullota, former pastor of the Annunciation of the Lord Catholic Church. Harriet wrote 'Joseph's Hands' and Lara illustrated the book.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Lara Sabatini and her mother, Harriet Sabatini, collaborated on a children's book project inspired by the Rev. Joe Cullota, former pastor of the Annunciation of the Lord Catholic Church. Harriet wrote "Joseph's Hands" and Lara illustrated the book.

Father Joe's story
Priest anecdote inspires 'Joseph's Hands' book by local women

By Melanie B. Smith · 340-2468

The cover of the children’s book “Joseph’s Hands” shows a little boy sitting expectantly, his fingers linked.

He’s 6, and he wants to try all sorts of things with his hands.

His older brothers are all good with their hands. But not Joseph — or so it seems.

Actually, many Decatur people got to see the grown-up Joseph use his hands to serve others.

The boy in the story is based on the Rev. Joe Culotta, the former pastor of Annunciation of the Lord Catholic Church. His hands held the host, the bread, each week at Mass. He performed baptisms and did many other tasks as a priest.

The book, written by a Trinity woman, Harriet Sabatini, and illustrated by her daughter, Lara Sabatini, is dedicated to “Father Joe,” who is now pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Birmingham.

Harriet Sabatini said she heard Culotta talk in a Sunday homily of his growing-up struggles to be like his older brothers, who were handy at making and fixing things. The anecdote stuck in her mind.

“On the way home, I thought, ‘That would make a good children’s book,’ ” she said.

Lara Sabatini said she’s always loved art and found it a joy to work with her mother on their first publication. The two said they had little disagreement about the words and art.

Little touches of humor show in their work. Lara wrote “Can I?” over and over as a border to one drawing of Joseph pleading to help his brother repair a clock. Her mother wrote that Joseph’s efforts at kneading dough left his hair white with flour.

Culotta described the book about him as delightful and said he is happy to see it supporting Catholic vocations.

He said he is the youngest of four brothers and never learned to do things with his hands because he was always sent for tools. It was interesting to see how the Sabatinis took a story he told and turned it into a children’s book about the priesthood, he said.

Lara, who used her middle name “Marie” on the book cover, joked that her mother was using a pen name so she wanted one, too. Harriet Sabatini said she used the nickname “Kety,” given by a friend. It comes from the Spanish version of Harriet.

Bishop David Foley of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama endorsed “Joseph’s Hands,” calling it a beautiful introduction to the priesthood. He said Culotta is as depicted in the book — a dedicated, loving and humble priest.

“Father Joe Culotta is loved and admired by all who meet him. He is the perfect model for children to love and follow,” Foley said.

She said she paid $675 for the book’s publication through Bezalel Books. The company based in Waterford, Mich., does not accept all books submitted and did editing, layout and printing.

Harriet, the mother of five grown children, said she had written novels but had no luck with publishers. Her husband heard about Bezalel and encouraged her to contact them. Owner Cheryl Dickow loved “Joseph’s Hands” and put it out quickly, Harriet said.

She said that Catholic Connections radio show put her on for a phone interview, and bookstore, the book’s main outlet, had a spike in sales after that. Harriet said she was amazed to see that Amazon paired her book with the pope’s recent book on Jesus, although her husband explained that a computer generated the match.

A reviewer at said the book “aptly illustrates God’s love and creativity.”

The mother and daughter are already at work on “Isabel’s Sister,” a children’s book about babies, life and death without political overtones, according to Harriet.

“Joseph’s Hands” is available at as a print on demand book. Some Catholic bookstores also will carry it.

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