Maryland priest plugs food, family connection in Hot Springs mission

Father Leo Patalinghug, a faculty member at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and author of "Grace Before Meals: Recipes for Family Life," greets Sarah Rudder March 2 in Hot Springs.
Father Leo Patalinghug, a faculty member at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and author of "Grace Before Meals: Recipes for Family Life," greets Sarah Rudder March 2 in Hot Springs.

HOT SPRINGS — One minute, the priest autographed his cookbooks.
The next minute, he chatted with a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church about the faith-food connection.
A minute later — wearing a black sports coat — he crunched down for a break dance number on the floor.
The endless bundle of energy that is Father Leo Patalinghug won hundreds of new fans during the Feb. 28-March 2 mission at St. John Church in Hot Springs. It’s all a part of the promotion of his mission to unite families at meal time through his national organization Grace Before Meals.
“What I try to do is have parish missions that bring families together,” Father Patalinghug said. “Do we have something for the whole family? We call it the Mass, but we have something extra … it’s food.
“In the fast-food mentality, we need to spend time with the people we love. If we deny people something to eat, we’re no better than Hitler. If we would be more like Jesus and feed people, even if they’re our enemies, it’s a sign of love,” he said.
Patalinghug has appeared on the Food Network’s “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” “ABC World News with Charles Gibson” and “Fox & Friends Weekend.”
More recently, the Feb. 5 online edition of Psychology Today referenced a study by The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University that proved Father Patalinghug is onto something big. The study found that the number one factor against an increase in addictions and substance abuse was a regular family meal. A decade earlier, a Cornell University study made a similar discovery.
The growing awareness of the importance of the food and healthy family connection may have explained the overwhelming success of the mission. Planners of the joint mission between the parishes of St. John and St. Mary of the Springs hoped to have 150 people nightly. The first night, about 250 people came. By the third night, more than 300 attended.

Penne alla Vodka recipe
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Women of both parishes prepared the food. The third night of the mission, this task included the Penne alla Vodka that was a smashing success.
Of course, Father Patalinghug’s antics with flaming vodka that appeared to leap into the air held people’s attention, too.
Still, his message resonated with many people.
“His energy” is what impressed Arthur Patterson of Royal. He came to the mission with his wife, Amparo, and their 13-month-old daughter, Gabriel. Amparo said she liked very much the way Father Patalinghug tied together food and faith.
One of those people impressed with the faith-food lessons was Angela Isaacs of Hot Springs Village, a wife and mother of two children. She said what was interesting is that Father Patalinghug expresses the food-faith connection in ways that haven’t been put into words any time previously.
“It’s so neat because he’s bringing in things that we know,” Isaacs said.
“Obviously, he has talents that the kids relate to,” said Katie Hurst of Hot Springs, who attended the mission with her daughters, Sarah and Sophie Rudder. “I’m just impressed that they were inspired and with how much they learned.”
Father Patalinghug also visited students in the classrooms to teach lessons about spirituality. He told one story about how he discerned he shouldn’t go skiing. He did, anyway. Father Patalinghug later decided from his hospital bed that he needed to listen better to God in his life.
“He’s very funny,” Sarah Rudder said. “We’re with him. He’s very funny. He’s the best priest we’ve heard.”
Her sister, Sophie, added, “He’s fun and gets your attention. That was the best preaching that we ever heard in our whole entire life.”
Parishioners of St. John and St. Mary also knew that pastor Father Erik Pohlmeier studied in the seat next to Father Patalinghug when the two of them were in seminary in Rome. Father Patalinghug also traveled once previously to Hot Springs.
“When I knew that Bobby Flay was going to happen,” Father Pohlmeier said, “I called Father Leo to set up something here before he got too busy.
“I think there’s a strong sense of the importance people have of faith. And, people like to celebrate. It’s an easy way to bring the family together and acknowledge faith,” he said.
The mission also became a well-timed reunion and farewell event of sorts for Father Pohlmeier. He was appointed pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Parish in Little Rock beginning March 15. Parishioners had heard of the parish change before the start of the mission. Father Pohlmeier served at St. John and St. Mary for four-and-a-half years.
Sherry Asbell, event coordinator, said God’s hand definitely was at work in the timing of Father Pohlmeier’s new assignment and the mission.
“He (God) knew we needed Father Leo to come at this time,” Asbell said. “We are sad to lose Father Erik. We have faith that God’s going to send us the right person.
“We could have been sitting around all crabby, but Father Leo has brought a great spiritual message with laughter.”
And it succeeded. Nobody could remember a mission in recent memory that brought together both parishes and with such a large turnout of people.
Nor, for that matter, a priest who could break dance.
For information on Father Patalinghug, his Web site is www.gracebeforemeals.com.

Penne alla Vodka
Serves 4-6 people
1 box penne pasta, cooked al dente (not whole grain or rice flour pasta)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup white onion, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped (not dried parsley)
16-oz. can tomato sauce
3-4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup vodka
4 teaspoons kosher salt
4 teaspoons black pepper
2-4 pinches red pepper flakes
Heat olive oil in a large pot or pan over medium heat. Saute garlic, onions and parsley until onions become translucent (approximately 2-3 minutes). Attention: Cooking with alcohol is flammable! Add tomato paste and vodka. Introduce flame to flambé until flame dissipates or allow this to simmer away from an open flame until the smell of alcohol is not so strong. Add tomato sauce and cream and allow this to heat and simmer. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Incorporate cooked penne pasta and mix. Garnish with parsley and an extra drizzle of olive oil.

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