À la Carte!

À la Carte!

Meals for mind, spirit and mission
By Erin Rose Hennessy '07

What is the last thing you ate? Ask that question on most college campuses and the answers you’ll most likely hear are “a candy bar,” “a slice of pizza” or “a bag of chips.” Convenience foods are staples in a student’s diet as they rush from class to lab to activities, and finally, to tackle that giant load of homework. But at St. Kate’s, you’ll receive a deeper, more thoughtful answer.

Students are inspired to make mindful nourishment a priority. In addition to the University’s dining room and Pulse café, they seek out wholesome meals — and good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation — with these three organizations:

MIPS CORNBREAD AND CHILI

Each month, the Multicultural and International Programs and Services (MIPS) office host cornbread and chili nights. Students plan and facilitate these meals as a safe and positive opportunity to not only build community, but to tackle tough, often controversial topics that affect their lives. Last spring, “Feast or Famine: Does Hunger = Obesity?” addressed the link between food insecurity and physical health. In February, students discussed “It’s Not Skin Deep: Rising Above Colorism” and its effect on women around the world. Other subjects include activism, mental health and breaking the silence. 

“I always wonder if students will come, because some of these topics are not easy or comfortable,” says Kimberly Muñoz, MIPS outreach coordinator. “It never fails to surprise me when they do show up. Students yearn to have these conversations, to have an opportunity to come together, ask questions and raise awareness.”

Just ask Alice Fasnacht ’13, a regular visitor during her years as a student. “I found myself in conversations about topics I didn’t know existed,” she recalls. “And that was great. That’s part of what the college experience should be.”

Why chili and cornbread? Why not fish and chips?

Well, according to Muñoz, they are both “practical and a source of comfort.” Easy to make and serve, chili is also a staple of a Minnesota diet. (Think hot dish or casserole, without the baking.) That familiarity, Muñoz says, makes chili and cornbread ideal for creating a welcoming environment and nourishing a sense of a second family.

“Food in general brings people together, builds relationships and strengthens community,” she adds.

EMMAUS DINNERS AND SOULFUL SHAKES

Chicken Soup for the Soul had the right idea. The spirit needs fuel, too! Students at St. Kate’s can nurture their spirit with Campus Ministry through evenings of community cooking and mid-day milkshakes.

Its Emmaus Dinners are modeled after the scripture reading “Road to Emmaus” (Luke 24:13-35), in which the apostles don’t recognize Jesus until they share a meal together. At these monthly dinners in the Rauenhorst Hall seminar room, everyone is welcome. The only requirements: wash your hands and get ready to cook! 

For Our Lady of Guadalupe Night, it’s a Mexican taco fiesta. For Passover, enjoy traditional Jewish foods such as matzo. Once the meal is prepared, conversation continues to flow. Discussion topics often touch on the evening’s theme, and also include select Bible passages and current events. No food goes to waste. Participants leave with leftovers, if there are any delicious morsels left.

“We are feeding the spirit and finding purpose in life, and making sense of the complexities in the world and the values students hold,” says Laurie Svatek, Campus Ministry director.

If you aren’t up for a full meal, how about a shake?

In “Shake It Up,” guests gather for milkshakes and dialogue with three to four panelists, including nuns from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ).

Monthly topics are typically contemporary and focus on everyday matters, such as the Catholic Church, immigration and the environment.

“The goal is to challenge preconceived ideas and encourage students to think differently about topics,” Svatek notes.

CELESTE’S GARDEN

In Celeste’s Dream Community Garden, a sense of belonging blossoms as students, staff, faculty, Sisters and neighbors gather to grow healthy produce and share bountiful harvests. Currently in its 11th growing season, the two 400-square-foot plots bordering the University’s St. Paul campus are a partnership between the CSJs and St. Kate’s Food Justice Coalition.

“This is a way we can come together to learn skills, engage in community and contribute to the common good,” says head gardener Jennifer Tacheny.

Fasnacht, the MIPS cornbread and chili fan, didn’t need much convincing. “The mission is wonderful,” she offers. “I joined [this horticulture crew] because I love nature, gardening and access to [whole, organic foods].” 

During harvest season, volunteers get to pick some produce for themselves. The lion’s share goes to Sarah’s… an Oasis for Women, a CSJ ministry that offers transitional housing for women survivors of violence, abuse, war and trauma.

“Healthful food is a continuous part of their growth toward self-empowerment,” says Cathy Steffens ’67, CSJ. “The community garden helps them with that and reduces the need to buy fresh food when it’s available in season.”

To encourage greater student participation, Tacheny collaborates with St. Kate’s Center for Community Work and Learning and faculty who teach “The Reflective Woman,” “Environmental Ethics” and “Rhetoric, Civic Participation and Social Justice” classes.

“The garden is an opportunity for students to lead, influence and tackle both food insecurity and food systems education,” she says. “It is a living symbol of our commitment to Catholic Social Teaching — care for creation or Laudato si’ — and the values of our founders.

This fall, Food Justice Coalition and BioClub members are tending to a new garden outside St. Kate’s dining room. The raised bed is a test plot with vegetables, herbs and bee-friendly flowers. If the plants thrive, the students will install more beds.

“Gardening is one of the great community builders in history. People bonded over their gardens,” says Esther Swanson ’18. “It’s an ancient art form, and I’m glad we’re going back to it. Gardening is a good life skill to have. We really need to know how to cook more than macaroni and cheese.”

Food prep is part of St. Kate's Emmaus Dinners.

Food prep is part of St. Kate's Emmaus Dinners.


This handmade banner for the community garden at St. Kate's went missing a few days after it went up. If you know its whereabouts, please email mag@stkate.edu.

This handmade banner for the community garden at St. Kate's went missing a few days after it went up. If you know its whereabouts, please email mag@stkate.edu.


An evening harvest at the CSJs' garden, bordering St. Kate's, yields 52 pounds of tomatoes and 5 pounds of beans!

An evening harvest at the CSJs' garden, bordering St. Kate's, yields 52 pounds of tomatoes and 5 pounds of beans!

See more photos at St. Kate's Mag Flickr Album.

Photos (banner & harvest) by Ryan Johnson '19


“We are feeding the spirit and finding purpose in life...” 

— Laurie Svatek, St. Kate’s Campus Ministry director


“We really need to know how to cook more than macaroni and cheese.”

— Esther Swanson ’18, St. Kate’s BioClub member

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