Father Leo


KIM LAWTON, correspondent: Roman Catholic priests deal a lot with spiritual food, but Father Leo Patalinghug works with food of a more earthly nature as well.

REV. LEO PATALINGHUG (at Delaware State Fair): And I’ve got myself here a nice, beautiful piece of flank steak.

LAWTON: Father Leo is a chef who has his own Web-based cooking show called “Grace Before Meals.” It gets more than 10,000 hits a day from around the world. He’s written a cookbook with the same title.

REV. PATALINGHUG (on “Grace Before Meals” show): We ask God to bless us this holy season and the food we’re about to receive.

LAWTON: He says food is very much part of his priestly ministry.

REV. PATALINGHUG: Theologically, this is what Jesus did. Most of his greatest lessons were taught around a dinner table.

LAWTON: In his day job, Father Leo is director of pastoral field education at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, the second oldest and second largest Catholic seminary in the country.

REV. PATALINGHUG: Sometimes I like to say I’m teaching future shepherds how to feed their hungry flock.

LAWTON: He teaches classes on a variety of subjects, such as how to give a good sermon, and even here, he finds a connection with food.

REV. PATALINGHUG: I teach a preaching class, which means I can’t have guys dishing out stale, boring leftovers, but dynamic things that are going to make their appetites just expand, and to whet their appetites to show that what we have to offer is good news

LAWTON: Father Leo says his mother taught him how to cook when he was a kid.

REV. PATALINGHUG: My love for cooking started just because I like to eat!

(Cooking at state fair): I love that sound.

After doing my activities I would get bored quickly. Mother would invite me to help her with cooking because it’s a multi-tasking thing, and that actually piqued my interest.

LAWTON: Father Leo grew up in Baltimore, where his family had emigrated from the Philippines. He says faith and food were both very important in his family’s life.

REV. PATALINGHUG: My family style of eating is very much a feast day celebration and yes, we prayed before every meal, and it was something serious, because in my country not everyone gets a chance to eat, and so they reminded us that even though we were living in America, a land of plenty, there are a lot of people who don’t have the blessings on the table as well as the blessings around the table.

LAWTON: He didn’t always know he would become a priest. He first dabbled in several other fields, from break dancing to martial arts.

REV. PATALINGHUG (at state fair): I used to be a martial artist. I still practice a little of it. Third-degree black belt instructor in tae kwon do, as well as a full-contact Filippino martial art called arnis. So if you asked what I did for fun before I became a priest, I used to beat people up with sticks. That’s what I did.

LAWTON: In the midst of it all, he says a series of events, including a skiing accident and a breakup with his girlfriend, had him turning to God in prayer. Then, he says, he traveled to the Philippines with the US stick-fighting team.

REV. PATALINGHUG: I remember going to this one village, and we were handing out candy to people, and there was one little boy who only had a t-shirt, on and he came up to me, and I gave him a piece of candy, and I looked in his eyes, and I thought to myself, had it not been for my dad bringing us to America, that could have been me.

LAWTON: He felt that God was calling him to help people like that boy, and to do so by becoming a priest. He entered seminary and was ordained ten years ago when he was 29. Father Leo says the food part of the ministry evolved naturally as he began building relationships with his parishioners. He often scheduled counseling sessions around meal times.

REV. PATALINGHUG: They call me Father. I’ m supposed to be part of their family. So I would help them, we would gather in the kitchen, we would cook, I helped set up the table, and they saw the human side to me and not just the spiritual side.

(on “Grace Before Meals” show): Bless this food.

LAWTON: The idea for a cooking show was born just after the attacks on September 11, 2001.

REV. PATALINGHUG: So after a very tragic weekend worth of Masses where the churches were full, hungering for an inspiration of hope, we ourselves, the ministers, we were spent. So we went on a little retreat together, and I did all the cooking—comfort food. So one of the priests suggested, “I love watching you cook. It would be great if I had a video camera and taped all of this. You could talk about food, faith, family and culture.” And I looked at him and said, “That’s one of the dumbest ideas I have ever heard.”

LAWTON: But his fellow priests didn’t think it was so dumb. Father Leo says they kept nagging him about it and eventually connected him with a producer and a production company who loved the idea of a priest cooking show.

REV. PATALINGHUG (on “Grace Before Meals” show): Ketchup—do you see that slob right there? That’s what confession is for.

LAWTON: He now does “webisodes” of the cooking show online, often with the help of his seminarians, and his Web site has recipes and blogs.

REV. PATALINGHUG (on “Grace Before Meals” show): Cleanliness is next to…you know what I mean.

LAWTON: He’s also become a much sought-after speaker, and he does cooking demonstrations around the country, such as this appearance at the Delaware State Fair.

REV. PATALINGHUG (at state fair): This beef is going to—oh, my gosh, it’s making me pray already.

LAWTON: His motto is feeding people, mind, body and soul, and he believes that families are strengthened when they share meals together.

REV. PATALINGHUG: We know that families are buying so much into the fast-food mentality that they spend no time with each other. My objective for “Grace Before Meals” is to create mini-Thanksgivings throughout the year.

LAWTON: When he speaks to a secular audience, he tries not to be aggressively religious.

REV. PATALINGHUG (at state fair): We all are hungering for something, and that’s why people go everywhere to find something to satisfy them. What I would like you to consider is to make sure you have a balanced diet for your body, your mind, and your soul.

Unidentified woman at state fair: I loved how he brought the spirituality into the mealtime and the family. I think that’s what drew everybody’s attention. And the food was delicious!

LAWTON: He’s gaining international attention and was just challenged to a cooking competition by celebrity chef Bobby Flay. I asked him how he keeps it all from going to his head.

REV. PATALINGHUG: I guess the celebrity status can be a temptation for anyone, but as a priest I’m somewhat protected in this. I’m required to spend time in quiet prayer and reflection. A holy hour a day gives me a great perspective. I’m just me doing something good for God.

LAWTON: Father Leo does get criticism from some Catholics who think it’s inappropriate for a priest to be doing what he does. But he asserts that his food ministry is deeply Christian.

REV. PATALINGHUG: We believe, at least in the Catholic Church, what binds us together and what binds God to us is food: a piece of bread turned into the body and blood of Christ in which we are incorporated into his family.

(at state fair): I’ve got to tell you that I know that the collar freaks people out a little bit.

LAWTON: Father Leo says for him, one of the most important parts of his cooking ministry is reaching out to people who may be uncomfortable with priests and helping them learn a little about God.

REV. PATALINGHUG: He can take a break-dancing, board-breaking, bread-breaking priest and, you know, give hope to people who might not understand the church or who might not understand the priest.

LAWTON: And that, he says, is a grace that extends beyond every meal.

I’m Kim Lawton in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

  • james a toner

    love your cooking where can i buy your cook cook book thank you james, from st patrick armagh

  • joanne

    Father Leo is awesome! He is reaching out to souls in a very unique way!

  • Nancy McCord

    Fr. Leo was part of the St. John community in Westminster, MD. His homilies were usually humorous and thought provoking. I didn’t know he was a chef but I do know his love of God will always be shared. I will definitely purchase his book and look for his show on tv.

  • Jessie Wheeler

    I love religion and ethics and this particular show with the cooking priest is just wonderful. Keep up the good work

  • Bob

    I am a Catholic, and I wish all parishes did something for the people as you do Fr.Leo. It is so refreshing to see someone doing what Christ wanted us to do. And teaching the true meaning of being a Christian.
    Thank you and I enjoy watching you on PBS.
    I love you recipes.

  • Mary Ennis

    May God bless us all in thanksgiving for this gifted man who can show the true nature of our Catholic Faith and love for Jesus Christ and each other.

  • Rebecca Alexander

    Bless Fr. Leo! What he is doing is extraordinary and I salute him. I watched and heard him for the first time and he sounded so genuine and enlightening. He is a rare breed of a priest. Father, you make God happy in what you are doing. Keep on and my prayers for you.

  • Janet Carlen

    Fantastic Story !! Thank You !! Go Father Leo !!

  • celia patterson

    ilove eating well, and because of that, i love to cook. i think of food as medicine for the body. it’d be nice to think of food as medicine for the soul, too.

  • Ruth Burns

    Better than the State Fair, better than the Drake Relays, and better than Lebowski Fest, heck, better than all 3 rolled into one! Go Fr. Leo, Go!

  • Ruth Burns

    Go get ‘em Fr. Leo! I am telling everyone in a five state radius to watch the 09/09/09 throwdown!

  • Donna

    I love seeing features like this! I hope you continue to feature positive work on the Catholic Church!

  • John T McCabe

    Great story just watched ThrowDown, great win Father. As a catholic it was a very moving show and showed how the simple things of life, family,friends,faith and food can a does provide all we need in life.Will be ordering the book

  • Christine Collins

    Loved watching you on Throwdown and Love your web site. Keep up the Grate work,and God Bless you,Keep enlightening people with your extraordinary gift and your shining smile.

  • Maria Trujillo

    Looking for the receipe on steak fajitas with
    avacado. Looked so yummy, I can’t wait to try
    it. P.S. God Bless You!

  • albert miranda

    Excellent job Father Leo. Being a Catholic and Filipino I am very proud of your accomplishments! Mabuhay Ka…

  • Eileen Reges

    I heard Father Leo one time on the EWTN and loved
    his whole philosophy Thank God we have him.

  • Fely Padua

    Very inspirational approach to know God’s love. Thanks Fr. Leo for sharing with us your talent in cooking with a touch of spirituality. More power to you.

  • josie javier

    fr.leo’s style leads me to think what i can do to serve God using what i love to do? It’s very inspirational. Go go go Fr.Leo

  • Winsome A. M. Allen

    Masterful! Fr. Leo. Continue your unique and wonderful way of walking in faith and doing the work of our Father. God Bless you and your ministry. Giovanni and I love your “Grace Before Meals Cook Book. Thanks WAMA

  • terry

    Are you sure you’re not Italian?
    Thank you so much for verbalizing what my family has always believed mealtime to be:a time to gather in His name and to share His blessings. And always remembering loved ones passed and the promise of one day all being together in Heaven at the BIG banquet table of the Lord!

  • Linda Weiss

    Dear Fr Leo, I just found out bout you and you are a breath of fresh air. I love that you are a Catholic priest, but that you are reaching all people throught your cooking ministry. God has blessed you in a special way in a time in which people need strenght in God, family, and community. I will pray for you everyday. God Bless Linda

  • Kay Bauer

    God Bless You for all you are doing to win souls. I will look for your program on TV and certainly look for your cook book. His Love and Mine, Kay

  • melissa

    Picked up this link on Facebook in the UK.Inspired..makes me proud to be a Catholic.Love what you’re doing Father Leo.

  • Teresa Avelino-Lu

    Kudos to Fr. Leo and his producer! This is all in God’s plan. Our Father is ever so creative…; keep up the good work!

    PS – I am very proud of you; not because you are Filipino (and because I am a Filipina), but because of your passion to reach out and spread out the message of hope through food, body and soul! Just really love it! Even Meister Eckhart and Thomas Merton would be joining in!

  • fred

    I love how Fr. Leo’s analogy between his topic( food) and spirituality.

  • dee wolo



  • Lina

    You are a wise man Father Leo. I wish you can come to my house and help me with my family, who are lost due to their false pride and stupid actions. Please talk to me. Thank you.

  • Judith

    Dear Father Leo….Saw you for the lst time on the Food Network with Bobby Flay…..It was hilarious! Your recipe was simple and delicious and you kept us on the edge of our seats……YOU Father….will bring the flock back with your manner….Wish you were here in South Florida…..Fire and Brimstone gets old real fast, especially for the young adults and kids too…..Continue to spread the word and also the recipes!!! Thanks again…
    God Bless….J

  • Tom Tosti

    Dear Father Leo, I also saw you on LIFE ON THE ROCK. Although I’m way past “young adult” age I watch it often. But it was the most delightful show they’ve ever done! You truly are a joy and an inspiration. God Bless You.

  • Nilda S Hidalgo

    March 8 2010
    Dear Father Leo,

    Keep on sharing the good food from our Lord Jesus Christ and from the heart. With your popularity in the web and on the television, you will find that many people will envy you. Chin up and continue doing what you are good at and I am sure God will reward you not here but in the next life.

    More power to GOD.

    God bless and take care,
    Nilda S Hidalgo
    Manama, Kingdom of Bahrain

  • Kahuli Hoha

    Father Leo,

    Your story left me with a smile and a tear… very touching! We need more priests like you!


  • Sol V. Tierra

    Fr. Leo,

    Sharing your gift is a great blessing to all who take it as a means of getting close to God. God who is love wants us to be happy and one way of enjoying life is eating good food. I will pray for your continued success in your ministry. God bless!

  • delia salud

    Fr: Enjoy watching you cook. Keep up the good work! God bless