Posted July 30th, 2014 | Faithful Foodie, Pilgrimages

 A Sneak Peek at the 2015 Italy Pilgrimage

The summer is more than half-way done, and there is still a chance to sign up for Napa Valley and for the Holy Land pilgrimages, so check them out soon, as they are truly wonderful and fulfilling experiences, both in terms of your faith and your belly.
I wanted to offer a sneak peek at the “Taste of Italy” Pilgrimage coming June 21- 25, 2015, with more information coming next month. Joining me on the pilgrimage is Gus Lloyd, Host of “Seize The Day” Radio program on The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM. Take a look:
The trip will be 12 days of culinary and faith-filled adventures, truly qualifying all those who go to be Faithful Foodies. But this is truly a once in a lifetime journey as we will be traveling to The EXPO Milano 2015 in Milan, the largest worldwide event ever organized on the theme of food!
After Milan, we go to visit The Shroud of Turin and see the Tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati while in Turin, among other great cathedrals and landmarks. Then, in honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Bosco, we will spend time at the Basilica in Modena before having a special dinner with authentic Modena cuisine. Following that, we make a trip to the vineyards of Tuscany and remember St. Pio of Pietrelcina, better known as Padre Pio, seeing his tomb and confessional at the Capuchin Monastery. The final days of the trip will be spent in Rome, with opportunities to see the ruins of Pompeii, along with the Vatican Museum, all ending with the Papal Audience with Pope Francis. An incredible journey for anybody, especially those with devotions to these saints and to the Catholic Faith.
As mentioned, more information will come soon, and you will have your chance to register, but I hope that this incredible opportunity whets your appetite for adventure, spiritual growth and some fine Italian Cuisine.

Quotes from each of the saints to be featured on the trip:


In order to be Christian, our lives must be a continual renunciation and sacrifice. However, we know that the difficulties of this world are nothing compared to the eternal happiness that awaits us, where there will be no limit to our joy, no end to our happiness, and we shall enjoy unimaginable peace. And so, young people, learn from our Lord Jesus Christ the meaning of sacrifice.”

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati


“[In a moment of delirium, as he was dying] Pray! Pray, but with faith – with living faith! Courage! Onward, ever onward!”

St. John Bosco


“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”  

Padre Pio


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Posted in Faithful Foodie, Pilgrimages | 4 Comments »

Posted July 23rd, 2014 | Blast from the Past, From the Feedbag

The Art of Constructive Critique for the Family

Originally Published February 23, 2011

Most of my e-mails are very, very encouraging.  However, like most people, I’m not without my critics.  A movement for the force of good will always have challenges.  Perhaps the most common complaint or critique I receive is from people who just don’t understand the purpose of the Grace Before Meals movement.  To some, the idea of a “cooking priest” reduces the priesthood to a gimmick.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Yet the fact that I receive these challenging words shows just how much we appreciate your support, comments, and prayers.   So for this first “From the Feedbag,” I thought I’d share my response to a rather critical e-mail I received around the New Year.

While no one wants to be criticized in that special time of the year, you will hopefully see how my response gave me the opportunity to better reflect on our mission and explain why I do what I do with this movement.  As you will read, I never shy away from responding to criticism, simply because that’s what a family is supposed to do:  listen to each other and respond.  Conversation can bring out conversion.  And while I am willing to hear anyone’s comments and critiques, I recommend we learn the art of critiquing each other “well.”

Critique – especially around the family dinner table, is supposed to be constructive, not destructive.  This somewhat dramatic and sensitive topic gives us all a chance to consider how we are supposed to help build each other up rather than bring each other down.  And where is the best place for this loving, but at times challenging, exchange to occur?  You guessed it.  The dinner table!  Hopefully in sharing this exchange, you will be strengthened in your resolve to share our movement far and wide.

A few years ago, I set off the fire alarms during a presentation – for a group of senior citizens. The fire chief gave me a constructive critique: Don’t flambé directly underneath a smoke detector! The only reason I didn’t get a fine was because the fire chief said, “That’s darn good pasta!”
Fr. Leo:
I’m sorry but I find the tone of your grace before meals website nothing short of blasphemous.  Since when do we equate human nourishment with the sacrifice of the Mass? This is going too far and the appearances on TV seem to be even more sacrilegious and foolish. Get back to your parish or seminary and learn something more correct about the Catholic Faith!

“J”   (Obviously I’m going to keep these letters anonymous.)  

Dear “J,”

Thanks for your note.  I’m truly sorry you don’t like the Grace Before Meals message.  By calling it blasphemous; however, you are saying that I’m trying to disrespect God and make profane the things that are sacred. That is not my intention, nor do my actions reflect that accusation. Before I can accept your suggestion to stop the movement of Grace Before Meals, I’d rather learn more about what you find blasphemous.

Theologically, Jesus tells us His Flesh and Blood are true food and true drink.  Jesus’ greatest lessons were taught around the meal.  He even became our sacred meal! Does that go, as you suggest, too far?  Granted, our language about food and faith is only analogous, but the Sacred Scriptures make the same references.  As a “Pastor” it is my job to “feed” the sheep.  As Christ changed water into wine and multiplied loaves and fish as a prelude to His teaching, he showed how something as seemingly insignificant as food could teach us something far more meaningful.  He revealed Himself when he broke bread! Our objective with Grace Before Meals has encouraged people to remember how God is part of their family dinner table – the “altar” of the “Domestic Church.”  We are best in communion with God through food, i.e., the Bread of Life and Cup of Eternal Salvation.

You see J, food and faith go hand in hand as ordained by God Himself.  What I do on TV, in our book, or on our website is not my idea – it’s God’s.As a Catholic Priest, I’m always willing to hear how I can be a better priest.  I’d be happy to hear your suggestion.  However, the approach you seem to have taken in your e-mail sounds more disrespectful to my pastoral experience and my priestly office.  And your tone makes it difficult to accept your advice as sound or helpful.

In case you had any doubts, I became a priest because I love God and His Catholic Church. Your comment about “blasphemy” not only offends me, it makes me take pity on your inability to judge wisely the things of the earth.  I’m not saying that you blaspheme the priesthood, but the tone of your e-mail sounds more rude than helpful.  I can only trust that you wrote me in order to help me be a better priest in this art and discipline of evangelization.  Do you have evangelization experience to share ways for me to improve? “J”, while you may not believe me, or agree with our statistics, I can say that Grace Before Meals has helped many people make a connection to the Eucharist as the true source of Food.  God has actually used this movement to help people with eating disorders.  We now dialogue with the secular world about seeing food as a “blessing” rather than a “right.”

We’ve supported families that struggle to spend some quality time together.  We’ve helped families return to the practice of praying grace before meals.  We’ve provided a way for people to discuss faith around the dinner table again.  We’ve showed people how the purpose of food brings us together, as the Eucharist does each Sunday.  And we’ve helped people convert to the Catholic Faith.  Should I take your advice and let this all stop?  We can judge by the fruits.  Are these good “fruits” to you? Again, as a priest my job is to feed people.  Not all can/should receive the Eucharist.  But I must still feed people in body, mind, and spirit.  Blessed Theresa of Calcutta showed that simple acts done, with lots of love, help people to become saints.

Can feeding someone human food with Godly love be a way to sanctity?  The Gospels say ‘”Yes!'” I hope this dialogue helps. I hope you don’t think I’m “angry” about your e-mail. As I mentioned before, you may want to work on your communication skills, especially since people deserve a bit more respect than you communicated in your very sharp sounding e-mail. Hopefully you’re a bit more patient if you have disagreements with family and friends around your dinner table. If I did something to offend you, please let me know what that is and I’ll be quick to apologize. After all, as God’s human family we will need to exercise that virtue of patience and forgiveness.

The fact is, you may not like my style, my heritage, my way of speaking, or even my cooking abilities.  Should that be the case, I suggest that you simply turn off the TV when they air my episodes,  and take a moment and to say a prayer – for the both of us.  But again, if you have concrete ways on how I can improve the Grace Before Meals message, please share that them with me in a more prayerful and respectful way as I hopefully have tried to do for you. In the meantime, I hope that your encounter of with my website on the day that marked our New Year was not a moment of frustration, but truly a moment of Grace. Sometimes, they are not mutually exclusive.  Perhaps, before you eat a meal today, you can say grace before your meal and say a prayer for me, the dedicated people who serve with me, and the people who can be helped by our message.

With Mary’s Prayers and Christ’s Blessings,

Fr. Leo

There you have it.  How do you think I did with my response to this critic?  Do you have advice on how to better handle criticism and critique, especially in your own family?.   Let me know your thoughts and questions.  Send me questions at .  Click HERE to post your comments.


READ: The Mandan News Reviews Epic Food Fight 

Read the review from The Mandan News. Do you agree?

This Week’s Recipe:


Sweet Chipotle Grilled Shrimp 

Click for the recipe!



 7/26/14 – 8/4/14

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Posted in Blast from the Past, From the Feedbag | 21 Comments »

Posted July 16th, 2014 | Blast from the Past, Dinner Discussion


Tastefully Truthful

Originally Published May 2, 2012

This week, I want to talk about a challenge for people who love food and God.  I call them faithful foodies.  How do you make truth taste good? 

Recent taping on the set at FOX 45 Baltimore, promoting the Baltimore Health Expo 2012. Healthy food doesn’t always taste as good as the not-so-good-for-you foods. This TV spot gave us a chance to build up flavor and our movement.

In the culinary world, food should be pure, clean, and fresh tasting.  Salad ought to taste like lettuce and vegetables and not be overwhelmed by heavy salad dressing.  If we are eating fish, it shouldn’t taste like chicken nuggets, like most breaded seafood.  Masking the authentic flavors is a big no-no in the modern food world.  Manipulating ingredients – salt, pepper, oil, vinegar – to highlight natural flavors separates novices from top chefs.

House salad at ABC Kitchen in NYC. Rising star executive chef Dan Kluger is known for bringing out great flavor from simple ingredients. For example, the carrots took on a whole new meaning when perfectly caramelized. Dressing for the salad was so light, you could taste freshness.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we had that same attitude and skill towards proclaiming the truth?  But in a world when political correctness is like another form of religion with its own set of dogmas (we have to be inclusive; we can’t say this; we always have to say that, etc., etc.), we tend to manipulate the truth in such a way that we distort and, in some cases, destroy it. This is especially the case with language about protecting the dignity of human life!  But in these challenging times, we also have to recognize that our objective is not to cover up the beauty of truth but to understand and manipulate the other factors, like ingredients, to highlight the beauty of it and make the bitter truth more palatable.

With the Sungenis Family after Easter Sunday Mass at St. Louis Church in Clarksville, Maryland. Listen to part of my homily. The grand finish unfortunately got cut off on YouTube.

Don’t feel guilty about doing that.  When proclaiming the truth, we have to be as smart as parents who top broccoli with little buttered breadcrumbs or incorporate cream and cheese with some spinach to help kids to eat it.

With my new goddaughter, Lillian Hickey, to be baptized on Mother’s Day. I have to make sure she is spiritually fed. That’s what godparents do.

You get the point.  Jesus certainly understood the art of making eternal truths bite-sized and appetizing.  People came in droves just to savor some of the crumbs that would fall from the Master’s table.

The Last Supper.

Each May 2, the Universal Church celebrates St. Athanasius who struggled to learn how to present the truth.  It wasn’t easy for him.  He was a fiery speaker with a temper.  Other religious leaders even sought his death. To his credit, he volunteered his own exile, but continued to teach through writings and debates and taught creative and engaging classes to a growing number of students.  Eventually he won over hearts and minds of his enemies, similar to the way parents eventually get children to eat their vegetables.  

With a crew of really “tough guys” at the Youth Spectacular held at the Fairgrounds for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Today, St. Athanasius provides a unique example for faithful foodies – people interested in proclaiming truth unmasked but creatively prepared and beautifully presented.  There will always be detractors and hostility towards the Faith.  However, our good example will at least get them to appreciate what we hold dearly as uncompromising truths, even if they don’t agree with or fully understand us.  Using a cooking example, I still don’t enjoy eating liver, but I realize that different forms of preparation make it a bit more palatable.  Depending on how it’s prepared, I can accept liver in bite-sized portions.  With a maturing palate, I can also appreciate those who have a penchant for it. 

One of the dishes that will be featured in the upcoming [*Editor’s Note: now published] book, “Spicing Up Married Life.”

By our good example, our evident joy in celebrating the sanctity of life, and by developing the skill to present the truth of our faith more joyfully, we can win over hearts and minds of people.  Maybe they won’t eat up everything we’re serving, but, at the very least, they can learn to nibble on bite-sized truth. 


Father in Heaven, make us instruments of Your peace and grace. When we get frustrated about how people reject the beauty of truth, may our patient example inspire us to present it more creatively to win them over.  We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. 



Jack Belby, from St. Mary’s Church in Hudson, Ohio, a master at milkshakes.

Do you have a technique that helps your children eat something they don’t like?

What is the food that you just can’t stand eating?

Was there a food that you eventually began to appreciate when you matured or at least learned better ways to prepare it?

Your comments encourage our movement and tell us that you are being fed by these Blasts.  Please post your comments and questions below.  


 7/18/14 – 7/20/14


 STEUBENVILLE Main Campus #5

Steubenville, OH

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Posted in Blast from the Past, Dinner Discussion | 1 Comment »

Posted July 9th, 2014 | From the Feedbag, Recipe, Recipe- Dessert

Cookies fit for a Pope

This week, I wanted to share a recipe and an article sent to me by some GBM fans (or as I refer to them, ‘fams’ since it just seems fitting that you are part of the family). I always appreciate hearing from each of you, as the movement is truly for all to partake in. So if you have a delicious family recipe you want published, advice for family life, a great experience at a restaurant or an adventure you want to share, send them to me at

The recipe I’d like to share is from Gloria Piantek, who had these cookies madde and presented to now Saint Pope John Paul II. Click on the following link for the recipe or watch the video she made by clicking the image below.

Click to watch Gloria’s video to show you step by step how to make the cookies.

I also wanted to share an excerpt from an article written back in 2002 by Sean Wright called “Intimate Dining with Family – And Jesus”. It was published by the Archdiocesan paper The Tidings in Los Angeles. He shares about his ‘Roman feasts’ with his son DeForeest and just how beneficial that time was for them, both in learning and in appreciating time with one another.

Intimate Dining with Your Family – and with Jesus

By Sean M. Wright

…My former wife, Kelly, had come up with having Roman feasts when DeForeest was yet a toddler.  He was so taken with ancient Rome after watching episodes of I, Claudius, that Kelly made this kind of meal as a fun and educational follow-up.  It worked.  DeForeest was reading the histories of Tacitus and Suetonius by the age of eight.  Our son now knows more about the first five Roman emperors than most Americans know about the first five US presidents.


DeForeest placed four pillows on either side of the bed, with the board in between, to suggest a triclinium, the couch on which Romans reclined for their meals.  Leaning on our left arms facing each other, we said grace, talked about his schoolwork, my writing, the latest news, and – well – the stuff that gives a shared meal a happy intimacy.   


Reclining at table is civilized, inducing diners to savor, not gobble, their food.  Reclining at table is a touchstone with our forebears, it being the usual way in which Romans, Jews, Greeks, North Africans and just about everybody of consequence ate meals 2000 years ago.  Reclining at table is relaxing.  Servants stood to eat at a high-standing table in the pantry so as to be ready at their masters’ beck and call.  Reclining at table is therefore a distinguishing mark of freedom. For this reason alone people all along the Mediterranean borrowed the custom from the otherwise detested Roman conquerors.


Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”

DaVinci’s famed fresco to the contrary, Jesus and his apostles celebrated their last Passover Seder while reclining, so close that St John describes himself as leaning against Jesus.  There, Jesus explained Scripture to His apostles, sang and prayed with them.  It was in this manner that Jesus first gave Himself to His friends [the editor added the word “before” here] imparting Himself in bread and wine become His true body and blood.

For their followers in the Faith, the apostles continued the intimacy they had known at table with Jesus through their proclamation of whatever Scriptures they had at hand. They eventually offered a prayer of thanksgiving in remembrance of what had occurred at that last supper with Jesus.  In the breaking of the bread and in the sharing of the cup, the same Lamb of God came into their midst – body, blood, soul and divinity… 

We thank Gloria and Sean for sharing with us food and faith, and we hope to hear from more of you as we try and bring more families back to the dinner table. God bless!



  • Do you have any recipes that you make for large gatherings or occasions?
  • What is dinner time like for you and your family?
  • Have you ever seen the Pope in person? When and where?

Please post your comments HERE, as these help our movement learn and grow.  

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Posted in From the Feedbag, Recipe, Recipe- Dessert | 2 Comments »

Posted July 2nd, 2014 | Pilgrimages, Video, What's On the Table

Family Summer Fun and Faith

 I’m heading out to my second Steubenville Conference, this time in Nova Scotia (!), but I wanted to share some videos and suggestions for improving family life and opportunities for growing in your faith together as a family. There are so many ways to strengthen the family, which is what Grace Before Meals is all about. Regular family meals are only the beginning to spending more time with your kids, spouse or loved ones. Praying together more often, being involved with your church or community, taking time out of your busy schedule to let others know that you here for them are all vital to bringing home the faith, and making your family the “domestic church”.

My friends Greg and Jennifer Willits, of The Catholics Next Door fame, have a video they just created for The Archdiocese of Denver to provide tips and resources (which you can get at to strengthen your family, and you got it, family meals are very important. Watch the video below and start using some of these tips to let those you love know just how much they mean to you. And that includes God.

Greg and Jennifer clearly had fun making their kids help them make this video. Click to watch.

Another great way to grow in your faith with friends and family is to host a special Spiritual Event to share the film The Blood & The Rose with your community. The film is a powerful documentary that really shows the incredible history and undeniable miracle of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of Life.  The 225 is a celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the nation’s first Catholic Diocese, which is Baltimore. To celebrate, Leo McWatkin’s Films has created a special package which includes the film, video reflections from me and Fr. Steven Roth, 20% of merchandise sales, and promotional materials to help communities and organizations raise money for their cause while evangelizing, all for $525. This is half as much as it normally costs, which means you will be able to raise even more money for your cause, parish or group.

It is as simple as purchasing the license agreement by going HERE and setting up an event at your parish or school. The goal is to feature it in over 225 locales this year, so please promote this spiritual event to your parish priests and committees, as it truly serves as a way of growing in your faith.

Finally, family vacations are a great way to take time out of work and to spend it with your kids and spouse. It may seem like a lot of stress (and it is) but it is truly a great way to be present for your kids. Not everyone can afford the luxury of a vacation, but as long as you break away from your computer or TV long enough to communicate with your family, it goes a long way in helping them to grow in love and faith.
For those who may not have the kids at home anymore or are just looking for a great adventure to go on, please consider coming with me to Napa Valley (November 9-14, 2014) or The Holy Land (February 1-12, 2015). Registration ends soon for Napa Valley, so sign up today! And the Holy Land will be here before you know it, so check it out and let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment HERE or emailing me at



  • What do you like to do over the summer with your family?
  • Have you seen The Blood & The Rose
  • Do you have a cause, event, group or parish that could benefit from a spiritual event?
  • What are other ways to make your family the ‘domestic church’?

Please post your comments HERE, as these help our movement learn and grow.  





Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Posted in Pilgrimages, Video, What's On the Table | 1 Comment »