He’s a man of the cloth, but today his frock is more likely to be a chef’s apron or a painter’s smock. Monsignor Paul Canonici may have retired from the Priesthood, but his current life is overflowing with colorful art, extensive writing, luscious culinary creations and an active connection with countless friends he has amassed over a lifetime.
Stepping into his world in South Mississippi, one is greeted by his magnetic warm-heartedness, and engulfed in his creative energy and deep passion for life. Enticing aromas waft from his spacious kitchen, where he skillfully prepares meals heavily influenced by his Italian heritage. His home, traditional in another’s hands, is contemporary and alive with color and energy in Paul’s.
Vibrant art and memorabilia fill every available space in the captivating home, where he thrives on cooking for and entertaining his friends. Recipes he has gathered from friends, family and travel easily come to life in his competent hands, and are garnished with the love he has for its preparation and for the lucky diners. Delicious banquets are served on functional pottery he’s accumulated, and is artfully arranged to fashion the perfect presentation for even the simplest fare.
Paul’s pulsating art surrounds his guests and plays a starring role in every occasion. A serious interest in painting has matured during his retirement, and he has arrived at his own technique, often combining watercolor, acrylic and made and found objects to form collage assemblages.
Countless small leather journals bulge with notes and vibrant watercolor sketches that serve to document his extensive travels, especially to Italy, the home of his ancestors. The publication of two of his four books is the result of the notes and sketches in those journals. His vivid, primitive watercolors fill the pages of La Befana, an enchanting Christmas story which Paul has altered to include a guided tour of the Italian countryside.
Recipes gathered from the many people he’s friended on his numerous trips to the country have brought about a cookbook, So Italian, also beautifully illustrated with his lively, intriguing watercolor sketches and numerous other paintings. Clark Brennan of New Orleans’ Brennan’s Restaurants fame, writes in the Foreword to the book: “Paul’s book is about the interests he pursues in his retirement and his interests are rooted in his philosophy of life. Paul’s personal recipe for life is: Retreat to a favorite place; Do art inspired by that place; Cook and celebrate with friends; Exercise the body daily. For a healthy mind and body, thoroughly integrate all of the above with daily prayer.”
Life began for Paul Canonici near the small Delta town of Shaw, Mississippi, a life which provided him with countless stories and knowledge of the customs of his descendants and of the lives they carved for themselves in the Deltas of Mississippi and Arkansas. Subsequent research in the area has provided him with mountains of material from which he has crafted two impressive books, The Delta Italians, and The Delta Italians, Volume II. The books chronicle the hardships, joys, struggles and everyday lives of the people who left their Italian homes to make a better way for their families, and how they impacted the area to which they journeyed.
“What’s important to me right now, is what I’m doing right now.” Paul Canonici is restrained when it comes to discussing his impressive life in the priesthood and as an educator. He chooses rather to focus on his present full life which is dedicated to art, travel, writing, cooking, spending time with his friends, and to helping other “seniors” realize meaning and joy in their retirement years. His mission is to make others aware of how much control they have over their own happiness. “It’s important for me to tell people to make their senior years exciting. It’s up to each of us to make every phase of our lives exciting. My family and friends make my senior years the most joy-filled of my life.”
All of the books written by Monsignor Paul V. Canonici can be found at: Laurelwood Booksellers/Memphis, TN; Square Books/Oxford, MS; Lemuria Books/Jackson,MS; The Crown Restaurant, Indianola, MS; Cotton Row Books, Cleveland, MS; TurnRow Book Co. Greenwood, MS; and Paul’s site: www.soitalian.com, or 601-898-8743.