From Feeding Bodies to Feeding Souls
By Lynne Conner, Observer Correspondent
April 26, 2018
LOVES PARK—The fusion of food and faith played a powerful role in leading one young man to his priestly vocation.
During his teens, Father John McNamara said he gravitated to the kitchen during family gatherings. After finishing a degree in hospitality management at Harper College in Palatine, Father McNamara went to work as a corporate chef. 
A former boss offered a then-20-something Father McNamara a rare opportunity. 
“He told me that there was a gig coming up where I could cook for the country group Rascal Flatts. … I decided I would give it a shot,” Father McNamara said. 
From January of 2007 to late summer of 2008, Father McNamara was an on-tour chef for several musicians, including Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney, John Mellencamp and Alicia Keys. His first celebrity cooking experience, though, was in the early 2000s when he cooked for members of the World Wrestling Federation.
“The wrestlers ate a ton,” he said.
Celebrities, he said, had varying dietary demands.
“Rascal Flatts band members would tend to eat what everybody else was eating, but they always wanted to have special sub sandwiches … at the end of a show.
“Kenny Chesney would tend to eat healthier; so for every show we would cook him a grilled chicken breast, steamed carrots, steamed broccoli and brown rice. Sometimes he would splurge and have whole wheat pasta with turkey meatballs,” he said.
“On some occasions, I remember hunting through local stores for the specific kind of candy or alcohol that one of the performers wanted,” he said. “During one tour, there was a complaint that we weren’t using Heinz ketchup. Hearing that can be tough when you are working 17 to 18 hours a day.”
Even in the fast-paced lifestyle of a celebrity tour, Father McNamara said he found time to practice his Catholic faith, although attending Mass regularly was difficult.
 “Faith was always important to me. I was raised in a Catholic family. We went to Mass every Sunday. But when I was on the road, it got very challenging,” he said. 
“On the road, I was treated very well, I was making good money and it was an exciting lifestyle, but with the long hours came stress. … I started to think that there is more to life than this,” Father McNamara said. 
After the tours, Father McNamara managed a busy restaurant in northern Wisconsin until his vocation became apparent. 
“Many things started coming together and I started thinking that the Lord was calling me to the priesthood,” he said.
Father McNamara was ordained in June 2015 but says his career in the hospitality industry has helped him serve others. 
 “I saw how life is lived and the wide range of experiences that people have in their lives. It’s been a grace for me to take my background in hospitality into ministry.” 
Father McNamara still finds uses for his culinary talents, such as making pretzels during Lent with the St. Bridget School second graders, auctioning off his culinary skills for parish fundraisers and pitching in on parish dinners. He also cooks at least once a week for his brother priests at St. Bridget, where he is a parochial vicar.
 “What I have discovered is that the Lord takes those gifts and talents that He blesses us with and uses them even in a call to a (priestly) vocation or the religious life,” he said. “I’ve seen God’s hand in my journey and I am very grateful.”