Fall 2017 Newsletter

Food, Glorious Food

Fr. Buonopane at work in his lab

Fr. Buonopane at work in his lab

It’s not every day that a seminary can offer a course on food and faith.

Immaculate Conception Seminary in South Orange, New Jersey, is able to pull it off because of a felicitous combination: the presence of chemistry professor Rev. Gerald J. Buonopane, who holds a Ph.D. in food science from Penn State University, and the seminary’s active affiliation with Seton Hall University, where the legacy of Fr. Stanley Jaki, O.S.B., anchors a longstanding commitment to science. Jaki, a highly respected astrophysicist and theologian, was the 1987 recipient of the Templeton Prize.

A year ago, the seminary, in collaboration with the university, hosted Fr. Leo Patalinghug, author of Epic Food Fight: A Bite-Sized History of Salvation. He not only lectured to an audience of seminarians and other students, but also provided a cooking demonstration on “Grace Before Meals,” a movement to bring families back to the dinner table.

Encouraged by the response to the Patalinghug lecture and the potential for continued collaboration between the seminary and the university, Buonopane submitted a proposal for a full-fledged three-credit course. Seminary rector Monsignor Joseph Reilly, along with seminary and chemistry faculty at Seton Hall, greenlighted the project. We did, too.

“To be well-rounded priests, seminarians need to be competent in both theology and science, able to embrace their mutual dependency,” Buonopane says. “Particularly in a world that is ever increasing in science and technology, a priest needs to have a strong understanding of the relationship between food science and faith to optimize his effectiveness as a pastoral minister and homilist.”

With a grant from us in hand, Fr. Buonopane will kick off the course (CHEM 3550 / CORE 3252 / THEO 3515) with a reflection on a question posed by Duke University’s Norman Wizba in his book, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating: “Why did God create a world in which every living creature must eat?” An invitation to Professor Wizba as a guest lecturer is in the works.

The course has generated buzz at the seminary and on the Seton Hall campus, with 40 students enrolled, including a dozen or so seminarians. Through the course, all will gain a comprehensive and integrative view of food from scientific, theological, cultural, and ethical dimensions, covering such topics as metabolism, special diets, eating disorders, theologies and practices of food in biblical times, food taboos in religious practice, feasting and fasting, Shabbat, and, of course, the Eucharist as sacred meal.

Buonopane thinks students will be prepared to “develop working strategies to improve ‘feeding the poor and hungry’ [beyond] ‘starting a parish food pantry.’” The success of the course will be measured by a long-term goal: the professor’s hope is that at least a few students will contribute to something larger — perhaps an end to the crushing imbalance of a system in which 30 percent of all food is thrown away while so many others go hungry. Only then will the plea of many — echoing Oliver and his ragamuffin mates in a London workhouse — for food, glorious, nutritious, life-sustaining food, be answered.

Fall 2017 Newsletter Table of Contents