When a priest walks into a restaurant, he often becomes the most honored person in the room. Father Leo Patalinghug has experienced this many times firsthand. But now he's turning the tables.

On Sept. 26, he will help lead a special church service in New Orleans at St. Louis Cathedral called the Olive Mass, which was conceived as a tribute to people in the hospitality field.

“We want to celebrate food and bless the hands that make it,” said Patalinghug. “We want to be faithful foodies and recognize how cooking food, serving it, washing the dishes, how it’s a lot of hard work but it’s something we share in common as part of our culture, and that these people are building our culture.”

The Catholic church holds similar services for the legal profession (the Red Mass), for law enforcement (the Blue Mass) and the medical field (the White Mass).

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Contributed photo from Grace Before Meals - Father Leo Patalinghug has focused his work at the intersection of food, family and faith. He is helping lead the first Olive Mass to honor people in the hospitality field.

The Olive Mass is new, and according to the Archdiocese of New Orleans it will be the first of its kind in the United States.

Patalinghug, a priest based in Baltimore, has focused his ministry on the intersection of food, family and faith and he's adopted the modern media tools of celebrity chefs to spread his message. His campaign, called Grace Before Meals, has led to a web series and cookbooks, all exploring how cooking and eating together strengthens relationships. He’s appeared on the Food Network, besting the host of “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” in a cooking competition, and he travels the country for events.

Respite and recharge

Patalinghug believes the Olive Mass will serve as a respite and a recharge for people in the hospitality sector, and the start of possible future initiatives connecting people through food.

“I work with a lot of people in the hospitality industry who do struggle with their personal life, their family life, their emotional life. They have demanding jobs. Why can’t we pray for them?" he said. “More than anything, this is us, as a church, focusing on people in this industry and tapping into their passion, and connecting that with the passion of the church.”

New Orleans chef and restaurateur John Besh and his wife Jenifer Besh have been working with Patalinghug on Olive Mass plans, and they are chairing the event. John Besh said he hopes it will serve as recognition of the contributions of people in the hospitality sector.

“For years, we as a society have neglected to honor those that give so much of themselves and their families so that others may enjoy themselves,” Besh wrote in an email last week while traveling overseas. “I can't stress enough for us to show appreciation for the families that sacrifice all nights, weekends and holidays so that others might celebrate life's biggest occasions.”

The Olive Mass will follow the lines of traditional Catholic liturgy, with readings selected with the hospitality field in mind. Archbishop Gregory Aymond will be the main celebrant, along with Bishop Gregory Parkes of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. Patalinghug will give the homily.

The service begins at 10 a.m. and will be followed by a reception at the Ursuline Convent from noon to 3 p.m., which, like the Olive Mass, is free and open to all.

Chefs for Peace to cook

Patalinghug said New Orleans was a natural choice for the first Olive Mass because of the city’s strong affiliations with food and Catholicism. However, he underscored that people of any religious affiliation, or none at all, are invited to the Olive Mass.

“If a Jewish person thought of it, I’d go to the synagogue. If a Muslim person thought of it, I’d go to a mosque. I’m Catholic, so we’re at the church,” he said. “But I minister to people who are not Catholic at all.”

Guests at the service include a delegation from Chefs for Peace, a collaboration of chefs from Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths based in Jerusalem. The group hosts meals to strengthen ties among people of different faiths in the Middle East. Before attending the service, its chefs will be cooking in New Orleans  too.

In conjunction with the Olive Mass, Besh’s Uptown restaurant Shaya will host a benefit dinner on Sunday, Sept. 25. Chef Alon Shaya will collaborate with visiting chefs from Chefs for Peace on the meal. The dinner is from 7-10 p.m., and tickets are $250 each.

Proceeds benefit the Table Foundation, a nonprofit that Patalinghug formed this year and which is the sponsor of the Olive Mass. The new foundation is intended to support and collaborate with other people and groups using food in their work with communities and families. Jenifer Besh serves on the Table Foundation board. 

“My goal is to get the food and beverage industry thinking, talking, connected to their understanding of faith, no matter what religious affiliation they have or lack there of,” said Patalinghug. “I want them to know there is a place, an organization, a movement that connects food and faith together. We want to be able to connect with them to do good things.”

To register for the Olive Mass and reception or get tickets for the benefit dinner, go to thetablefoundation.org.

The Olive Mass

At St. Louis Cathedral, 615 Pere Antoine Alley

Monday, Sept. 26, 10 a.m.

Reception to follow at Ursuline Convent

1100 Chartres St., Sept. 26, noon-3 p.m.

The Table Foundation Benefit Dinner

Sunday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m.

At Shaya, 4213 Magazine St.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.