Seminarians learning to cook

I have often opined that seminarians should be given workshops concerning some basic skills, such as some fundamental sewing, accounting, laundry, and most importantly… cooking. Many priests must live alone and the days of the old-fashioned housekeeper may be gone forever.

I noted with interest this story from UCANews:

New cooking class prepares priests to provide other types of nourishment
Tokyo Japan
July 11, 2011

It is a Sunday morning and five apron-clad seminarians are gathered in the kitchen at the Tokyo Campus of the Japan Catholic Seminary.  They are about to take part in a recent and rather unusual addition to their  curriculum: a cooking workshop. But they cannot start just yet; the teacher has noticed something is missing.

“Where’s the mustard spinach?” she asks. “I’ll go buy some!” says one eager student and scurries from the room.

These students  have only just started seminary life. As part of their focus on “communal life and service” in their first term, they are required to attend cooking workshops like this one.

Their instructor is Ms. Akiko Kojima, a registered dietician and parishioner of Seijo Church in Tokyo. Sister Kazumi Ozaki of the Society of Helpers, who has been tasked with the formation of these students, is also here to lend a hand. Today’s menu is Chinese sweet and sour pork, a Korean disk of seasoned vegetables called namul, soup and dessert.

The seminarians set to work, occasionally asking questions and helping each other out when needed. After nearly two hours of diligent work, the food is done. As Ms. Kojima turns off the burners on the stove, the students  give a cheer.

One of them, Munihiro Noguchi from Tokyo archdiocese, says, “It was pretty difficult, but in the end it’s for our own good. For my pastor at the church I belong to, breakfast is always just toast, and lunch is always just noodles.”

Kazuki Shimohara of Nagasaki archdiocese gives an embarrassed laugh as he admits that his cooking prowess is “just about limited to single-serving instant ramen. The stuff today is great!”

Japanese cooking has some quite distinctive regional variations. Perhaps that is what leads Takanori Toyoda, from Osaka, to say as he eats, “This food seems like it has a Tokyo flavor.”

Sulpician Father Mitsuru Shirahama, who is in charge of the first-year students, says the workshop got started three years ago after someone suggested that the seminarians themselves prepare food at the weekend, when the kitchen staff have a day off.

“It’s good practice,” he adds, “because when they are serving at parishes they may sometimes be asked to cook.”

Ms. Kojima uses her knowledge as a dietician to encourage the young men and help them choose a healthy diet. “When you’re living alone, it can be hard to get enough vegetables. But if you do it once, you’ll be able to do it again when the time comes.”

In the second semester, the seminarians will move on to dividing the workload, choosing menus and making the food themselves. “Their cooking skills are still iffy,” Father Shirahama says, “but still, I’m looking forward to it.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. A seminarian from the Archdiocese of Omaha, studying at Kenrick-Glennon in St. Louis, recently prepared a cookbook with quick recipes, with its primary purpose to help priests who have little time. He is a former chef. All proceeds go to pro-life causes. His book can be purchased here:

  2. jasoncpetty says:

    [S]eminarians should be given workshops concerning some basic skills, such as some fundamental sewing, accounting, laundry, and most importantly… cooking.

    All college students need this instruction.

  3. jarhead462 says:

    Iron Priest- “Allez Cuisine!”

    Semper Fi!

  4. Re: Iron Priest

    Shouldn’t that be “Fiat cibus”?

  5. I think that this is a GREAT idea! Not only for the practical aspects, but the theological aspects as well. Scripture opens with a garden full of food, and ends with the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. So many lessons, experiences, and events in Scripture involve eating and drinking. A few examples:

    Abraham offering hospitality to the Three Visitors.

    Moses and the institution of the Passover.

    Manna/quail in the desert; water from the rock.

    The oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard; the dew of heaven; the fatness of the earth; and plenty of corn and wine.

    The Wedding at Cana in Galilee.

    The feeding of the 5,000 and the Bread of Life discourse.

    The institution of the Eucharist.

    “Peter, do you love me more than these” over breakfast of fish and bread.

    The Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

    Again, an excellent idea!

  6. Ellen says:

    Get Father Leo Patalinghug to teach it. He beat Bobby Flay in a throwdown.

  7. Joan M says:

    It is a very good idea to teach seminarians to cook, but they should have learned this at home while they were growing up!

    When my son was in the seminary (he left 6 years ago), the seminarians did have to cook at least some weekends, so that the kitchen staff could have the time off. From his experience, there were quite a lot of seminarians there that badly needed cooking lessons!! Lunch on those Sundays were dicey affairs!!

    One of my perceived duties as a mother was to ensure that my offspring would be capable of looking after themselves without me around! So, I ensured that my two sons were able to prepare a few simple meals, do their laundry, use a vacuum, mop and broom, and be able to effect simple repairs to their clothing with a sewing machine.

    The seminarians should be capable of handling all the above chores before ordination.

  8. Phil says:

    See my blog at !

  9. Fr. Z, I had very similar arguments with seminary faculties at two different seminaries, and the responses I received were somewhere on the line of, “You’ll have enough time as associate pastor to learn all these things.” Well, I was associate pastor for 2 years, 1 year of which I spent in a distant parish from the pastor. One seminary (1200 miles from here) told me “We cover parish accounting practices at our new pastor program.” Yeah, that doesn’t help me much, does it?

    I really got the feeling that the seminaries were still operating under the belief that priests would have a lengthy time as associate pastor – at least 10 years – and every rectory would have a full-time housekeeper to handle cooking, cleaning, and various other domestic requirements. Of course, as most priests will tell you, just having the rectory cleaned once a week and the occasional invite for dinner or a meal dropped off by a parishioner is about as close as it comes now. Just wish the seminaries would realize the new reality of rectory life.

  10. jarhead462 says:

    suburbanbanshee: or maybe, “Ire Coquus”

    Semper Fi!

  11. lgreen515 says:

    Spray cooking spray on peach halves and sprinkle with cinnamon. Put face down on top shelf of grill while meat is grilling on the bottom. Turn over when you take the meat in for dinner.

  12. Jayna says: – There are seminarians from Mount St. Mary’s in a couple of his web episodes.

  13. RichardT says:

    A good idea.

    I’ve taught basic accounting to various trainee professionals (not priests, sadly); it’s very easy, and these days it’s very important that anyone who is responsible for money understands the basics.

    And this isn’t even a new proposal – I can’t remember for certain, but wasn’t basic financial training for seminarians one of Hadrian VII’s fictional reforms?

  14. priests wife says:

    It isn’t always practical, but some seminarians go to monasteries during the summer and help the monks there with basic daily tasks such as cooking- I bet they learn a lot

  15. Theodore says:

    It’s a good idea for everyone who has to live alone to learn how to prepare quick balanced meals. I saw a person who had been away for grad school for a semester with a complaint of bleeding gums. His diet consisted of ramen and cooked chicken breasts. Unfortunately, the lack of vegetables and fruit had resulted in scurvy. Treatment with Vitamin C supplements quickly cured his condition.

  16. MyBrokenFiat says:

    Ha ha ha – Ellen’s comment made me laugh so hard.

    Seriously, though, this is a brilliant idea. We always had a housekeeper at our parish who would cook and clean for our 6 priests, but even we’re down to just one now. Heartbreaking, but when faced with a waning pocketbook, it makes sense to learn these sorts of things.

  17. ray from mn says:

    While I can’t disagree with your list of those basic skills, Father, far more important would be to give
    seminarians at least a year’s training in parish management and accounting. New priests sometimes could learn from an experienced “old hand” but more and more it is the case that after one or two years a young priest is assigned to manage a business with many employees, dozens of volunteers and a budget of $100,000 or more, all by himself.

    I was discussing this just yesterday with a second vocation priest who was ordained three years ago and is in his second year of running a clustered parish with four chapels in four tiny towns. He had retired from government service and did have some experience of management (often, in how NOT to do it).

    He said his seminary told him that the diocese would give him training. But they didn’t. He told a story about a friend of his fromthe seminary who didn’t get much financial training from his pastor at his first assignment and when he went to his first parish and the person guiding him around opened a drawer with lots of paper in it and she said “These are the payables.” He asked “What are payables?” He was smart enough to know that he needed to get some training. He called my friend for advice.

    Young men who may never even had had one job are given a lot of responsibility with virtually no training. They really need training.

    Some dioceses are beginning to realize this and occasionally provide accounting and other logistical (plumbing, electrical, heating, roof, maintenance, etc.) help to individual parishes

  18. In the parishes that are fortunate enough to have more than one priest or a transitional deacon; isn’t the junior priest/associate priest/transitional deacon pretty much expected to run errands, cook, buy smokes, iron the senior priest’s vestments, deal with the run amok parish staff, fix the boiler, risk his life changing lightbulbs in the ceiling and do laundry? I’m only partially joking.

  19. jflare says:

    I’m wondering if my parents might’ve been somewhat unique on these matters?
    I’m not even close to being the greatest cook–BTW, I’m following that link, youngcatholicstl!– but I can do well enough to survive. I remember being quite surprised to begin college and learn that most of the guys had no clue how to wash laundry. That whole thing with sewing has been a surprise too.
    I’m sure my aunt could run circles around me–she used to make clothing for “fun” when I was younger–but I can sew holes back together if needed. ..Which reminds me, I need to look at those work pants..I’ve used the till key so many times, I’ve worn a hole near the belt line and endangered one belt loop. Hmm…should I try sewing it back together, or buy new ones?.. The fabric may not hold up and the bottoms (by my shoes) have been wearing too…
    Well, I might try it anyway….

  20. jflare says:

    PS. I can relate all too well to the horror stories of poor administrative training. During my first few years on duty, I recall wondering many times if senior leadership realized that accurate accounting and statistical procedures could easily help manage resources more effectively. They didn’t seem to realize that 2nd Lts might need some basic skills in these areas too, not only the Majors and the wing accountants….

  21. carl b says:

    As a seminarian, I agree wholeheartedly with classes on cooking, sewing, accounting, etc. Too many of us have never lived on our own.

  22. jeff says:

    In my parish, how about basic Admin? I’ve turned up at my rostered time to play music/read/acolyte on several occasions and been told that I’m not required. (Maybe there was a mass on for the school children that day, or the priest had picked someone else to read and hadn’t told me). Basic management skills and courtesy would dictate that you pick up the phone and inform the parish volunteers in advance of changes to the rosters.

    If this is the calibre of priests we’re getting now then God save us.

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