Almost 10 years ago, parishioners at St. Veronica Catholic Church in Chantilly, Virginia, approached their pastor, Fr. Edward Hathaway, with a novel request: using food—preparing it and then sharing a meal—as a form of apostolate. They proposed holding cooking classes corresponding to saints’ feast days in the liturgical calendar, showcasing the Church’s diversity through international cuisine associated with the homeland of each saint, as well as the Church’s oneness in ultimately coming together to break bread.
The ministry that resulted, called “Cooking with Our Saints,” became very successful—so popular, in fact, that it gave rise to a new book called Cooking with the Saints. The classes began with a speaker sharing stories about the culture whose cuisine would be highlighted that day—easy enough to find in Washington, D.C., where people from all over the world make their home. After learning to cook an exotic meal, eating together, and cleaning up, the students got to take home a packet of recipes, a note about the saint of the day, and a prayer card for that saint.
The inclusion of a speaker to educate attendees about the different cuisines being showcased led to extraordinary cultural experiences.
“We had many fascinating classes, but the most memorable was dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Alexandra Greeley, co-author of Cooking with the Saints. Greeley is a food writer/editor, cookbook author, and restaurant critic in Northern Virginia. She said, “A friend of Mexican heritage came and decorated the hall like a Mexican fiesta, played Mariachi music, and showed us photos of pilgrims going to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.”
One wonderfully memorable speaker was Father Maurice Henry Sands, Executive Director of the Black and Indian Mission Office. Father Sands is a full-blooded Native American belonging to the Ojibway, Ottawa, and Potawatomi tribes, and grew up on Walpole Island (Bkejwanong First Nation). He came to the class on the feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha and shared history and anecdotes from his Native American heritage.
Another time, Greeley said, the speaker was a Catholic from Cambodia—a rarity given that it was a Communist nation when the speaker lived there.
All the joy and wisdom of these classes is found in the cookbook, and how lucky we all are that the authors saw fit to share their culinary expertise. This book is a treasure. It features recipes from just about every country and culture you could think of, and is organized to follow the calendar year, making it an invaluable resource for anyone interested in living liturgically. The stunning photos alone are a delight to peruse.
Collecting these recipes—from Japan, Normandy (France), Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Italy, and dozens of other countries—was a labor of love for Greeley.
“There was a lot of back and forth with chefs from all over the world,” she said.
The recipes included offer a moving witness to the immense diversity of Catholic saints; Greeley said, “I was a convert and had no idea about the universality of Catholicism.”
The cookbook could stand alone as a showcase for gourmet international recipes. What takes it to the next level, however, are the thoughtfully-written biographies about, and prayers concerning, the saints who hailed from each land. These details offer the chef an opportunity to share stories of the saints and our Catholic faith with family and friends—a gentle (and delicious!) means of evangelization.
“I always say there’s a connection between food and faith,” Greeley said, “because all food comes from the generosity of God.”
This connection is made manifest in Cooking with the Saints, making it an especially good resource for parents. In the family, which since ancient times has been called the “domestic church,” parents have a privileged opportunity to be the first heralds of the faith to their children, teaching the Gospel and showing their children how to live it out. This book offers a delightful way to do that, which indeed is one of its intended purposes.
“I hope that the parents who cook will talk to their children about the saint of the day and the lives of the saints,” Greeley said.
For those who enjoy entertaining, one especially useful feature of the book is the inclusion of a monthly “Saintly Meal,” that is, a three- or four-course menu, perfect for a dinner party. With even a complete shopping list included, these menus are a dream for any host or hostess.
Any Catholic cook would find in Cooking with the Saints a perennial source of inspiration and enjoyment, guaranteed to become a beloved favorite in any cookbook collection. I’ll add that I made the Swedish Vanilla Cookies (in honor of St. Ingrid of Sweden, of course) with my children, and we found them exquisite.
If you’d like to see the recipes in action in Catholic homes, publisher Sophia Institute Press has organized a series of Catholic writers testing out recipes from the cookbook and sharing the results on social media. You can find the schedule below, and you are welcome to cook alongside them, sharing your meals with #CookingWithTheSaints and #SophiaPress:
July 9, St. Augustine Zhao Rong
Rebecca Frech, Catholic Conspiracy
July 12, St. Veronica
Caroline Bortle, Church Pop
July 14, St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Joan and Roger Galles, National Council of Catholic Women
July 31, St. Ignatius of Loyola
Laraine Bennett, National Council of Catholic Women
August 4, St. John Vianney
Emily Stimpson Chapman, Author of The Catholic Table
August 10, St Lawrence
Allison Gingras, Reconciled to You
August 11, St. Philomena
Cindy and Chris Fulmer, Diocese of Palm Beach Family Life
Sept 27 – St. Vincent de Paul
Society of Saint Vincent de Paul Los Angeles
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