Cookbook a tribute to friendship

by Paul Braun | New Earth

Father Damien Schill loves to cook. In his years as a priest of the Fargo Diocese, and in his current position as Chief of the Chaplain Service at the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Health Care System, Father Schill has tried, traded, and compiled hundreds upon hundreds of recipes.

Now, Father Schill is making those recipes available through a new cookbook called Cooking and Eating with Father Damien and Friends, and it is the “friends” part of his collection that makes this book so special to him. Several of the recipes in the book are from the late RaeAnn Lehse, a friend of Father Schill who worked as a housekeeper and cook at Cardinal Muench Seminary in Fargo and at the Bishop’s Residence.

Father Schill first met RaeAnn in 1987 when she was the cook at Holy Spirit Church in Fargo, when he was first ordained and assigned there as Parochial Vicar. She was the cook for Father Jack Conway and Father Damien, and Father Damien and RaeAnn immediately hit it off with their love for cooking and creating new things. This relationship continued over the years no matter where their paths led.

Father Damien Schill (submitted photo)

When Father Damien was the pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Sanborn and St. Mary’s Church in Dazey, he used to have a dinner once a week called “Dinner with the Pastor.” He would cook a meal and six random people who were on the parish roster were invited to the rectory for a dinner. Some of the people on the rolls had not been to church in years for one reason or another. After the dinner, which he made and served, everyone was given the opportunity to say and talk about whatever they wanted in regards to the parish or their questions about the faith. This was a very successful program, with a number of people returning to the faith who had been away for some time.

In the front of the book, which was released in May, Father Damien describes the reason for writing and releasing it:

“Several years ago I decided to write a cookbook. I talked to my friend RaeAnn and she wanted to do one with me. We decided to call it Cooking with RaeAnn and Father Damien. As things go, we put it off. When I was really sick a number of years ago, I decided the time to do it was now, or it was never going to get done. RaeAnn thought we should get moving too, so we began. Unfortunately, RaeAnn got sick and died before we really got moving on it.”

RaeAnn Lehse (submitted photo)

Father Damien also states that RaeAnn added some recipes before she got sick, and he included those recipes in the format that she wrote them in, in tribute to her. When the time came to publish the first volume, Father Damien says he toyed briefly with the idea of not including her recipes due to her death. He called Jim Lehse, RaeAnn’s husband, and he told Father Damien that this was something RaeAnn always wanted, and he would be happy if Father Damien included her recipes in the book. The cookbook is the first in a planned three-volume series, and it is filled with recipes for appetizers and beverages, soups and salads, vegetables and side dishes, breads and rolls, and countless other delights. Father Damien says volume two will have recipes for entrées and volume three will cover sweets and desserts.

Cooking and Eating with Father Damien and Friends is available at Hurley’s Bookstore in Fargo and through the St. Patrick’s Guild in St. Paul, Minn.