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June 14 - 27, 2015

Pizza, its mission, ministry and ‘mangia’

By Michelle Martin

Staff writer

On April 13, Father David Simonetti, associate pastor of St. James in Sauk Village, prepares spaghetti and meatballs for a recent meal with family and friends at the parish school. Simonetti has been cooking for years, and makes a point of cooking for friends and parishioners. He says his informal table ministry helps create a sense of relationship between priests and parishioners. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Father Simonetti slices his homemade pizzas. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Simonetti made homemade pizza as part of a recent dinner. The priest said that his cooking could also turn into a way to raise money for people in need, perhaps by creating a line of frozen or packaged foods that could be sold in grocery stores supermarkets, with all profits going to support non-profit church organizations. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Spaghetti and meatballs were on the menu too. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Father Simonetti gathers the group for prayer before sitting down to eat on April 13. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Want to know the best kind of tomatoes to use for pasta sauce? Or are you craving a deep dish pizza loaded with toppings on a crust that manages to be crispy and thick and flavorful all at the same time?

If you know Father David Simonetti, associate pastor of St. James Parish in Sauk Village, you’re in luck.

Simonetti has been cooking for years, and he makes a point of cooking for friends and parishioners. Well, friends really, because that’s what people are, once they have cooked for one another and eaten together.

Simonetti, who learned to cook by watching his mother as a child, says his informal table ministry helps create a sense of relationship between priests and parishioners. He’s writing a thesis on it as he studies for a doctorate at University of St. Mary of the Lake.

“It’s a way of building community,” Simonetti said, while urging people to eat at a meal he prepared for family and friends and served in the St. James School library. “This does bring people joy, and I can enter into people’s lives this way.”

Sitting across a dining table is different from seeing one another across a church, Simonetti said. Making and bringing a pizza or dinner can make a huge difference for a family having a difficult time, whether from illness or a death or even losing a job. Food also can have a starring role in celebrations, or as a social mortar to bring people together.

The meal he prepared for that evening — spaghetti with meatballs and sauce, sausages and peppers and four kinds of pizza — took most of the day, he said. Shopping took time the previous day, as well, he said. Guests included his parents and sister, friends of the family, and a mother and son who plans to attend a new Catholic high school Simonetti is starting in the fall, as well as the school’s principal.

Other days, he brings the groceries to the home where he is going to prepare dinner and cooks there.

“I go up to the door with the groceries and start cooking,” Simonetti said. “They just see you in a different way.”

Sitting down to a meal together with family was an integral part of Simonetti’s childhood, he said. “When dad came home from work, the family sat down and ate together as a family.”

By making a point of cooking for and eating with people, Simonetti follows the path of Jesus, whom the Scriptures describe eating with tax collectors and feeding 5,000 men with five loaves and two fishes. After the resurrection, when he appeared to the apostles, he ate with them.

His mother, JoAnn Simonetti, said both her sons learned to cook from watching her in the kitchen. She at one time wondered if they would marry women who would cook, but both of them learned their away around a stove.

“I’m glad they learned to cook. He enjoys it,” she said of David. “He enjoys cooking. He enjoys eating, too.”

None of Simonetti’s fare is what anyone would call fancy. There’s no sense of artifice or pretension, just good, home-style Italian food.

Simonetti said that his cooking could also turn into a way to raise money for people in need, perhaps by creating a line of frozen or packaged foods that could be sold in grocery stores supermarkets, with all profits going to support non-profit church organizations, similar to the way Paul Newman used his Newman’s Own products.